“The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one’s curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day. Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and, despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours, life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length. It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country likes in between.” —Diane Ackerman
Perhaps one of the greatest and most daunting of the spiritual disciplines is this: To be in love with life. On the surface, it seems this should be an easy enough thing to do. After all, life is a gift, stunning in its preciousness, heartbreaking in its beauty. One needs only look at a child to recognize this. It’s incredible to be here.
But as Ackerman rightly points out, this gift we’ve been given—this mysterious expedition through time that each of us must travel—is as savage as it is beautiful. We see its savagery almost everywhere today. Mass shootings in schools and public centers. Disasters, both natural and unnatural, ravaging the earth, threatening our very existence. Nations systematically oppressing their own people for the gain of a selfish few. People systematically hating other people because of race or religion or politics or some other self-righteous badge of difference. The world can be so dangerous and so dark that even our children, whom we all agree are precious and innocent of this madness, suffer as sex slaves and die in child armies.
How do you cultivate a love for life in a world like ours?
Especially in the current climate of our times, cynicism and despair can have a way of sneaking up on you. There’s much to be concerned over, and much to fear, and much to be angry about. Yet, it’s precisely in times like these that the world most needs people who are courageously in love with life, who are willing to live with their hearts wide open to the world, to keep in their view all that is good and true and beautiful about living, and through their words and actions remind us that life truly is a wonder and is very much worth fighting for.
Becoming a lover of life necessarily requires that you practice those disciplines that ignite and magnify your love for living. In essence, you must tend your life in the very specific ways that help you become a light of love and faith and hope for others.
What are those ways? Thankfully, there are very many—several you no doubt already know, and so I’ve no need to attempt an exhaustive list here. But I’ve curated these 10 in particular to share with you, because they each involve an action or practice you can start right now. They require no special preparation or training or supplies. They sit at your feet right at this moment, simply waiting to be picked up.
As you read through the list, notice the one or two that resonate most with you. That’s very likely where you ought to begin:
Be grateful at least once every day. There are many wonderful things that happen to us every single day, but because there is also pain, it can be difficult to notice them. Bring your love for life into the world by calling attention to the things that are worthy of your gratitude every day. Say it out loud, at least to your own heart and to God; but, whenever possible, also to someone else.
Get lost in wonder. Seek out questions that spark your childlike curiosity back to life. Ponder things. Cultivate your own capacity for awe. Then invite someone else into your wonder. Awaken them as you awaken yourself. “The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper” (Eden Phillpots).
Slow down and be silent. Even if it’s only for a few minutes each day: Stop. Breathe. Be quiet. Really look at the world around you just as it is in this present moment. Listen with your whole heart. See without judgment. Be curious. Be here. Notice everything. Then breathe it out to God as an offering and a prayer.
Try on a better perspective. Pay attention to how you are looking at things, and when you notice your perspective is negative or fearful or cynical or despairing, try on a better one. Think, “How would someone full of faith in God look at this?” Or “How would someone in love with life look at this?” When you look at things in more empowering ways, new possibilities and solutions emerge.
Be vulnerable. On a regular basis, let those you love and trust feel the vulnerability of your heart. Take time together. Lower your shields. Lay bare your soul. Tell them you love them. Lay your burden down. Speak your unvarnished truth. Hold nothing back. Rest in your belonging. Invite others to do the same.
Become a Beauty Hunter. You go where you’re looking. This as true in life as it is in riding a bike. Make it your practice, then, to look for Beauty every day. Be on watch for whatever strikes you as beautiful—a cloud, a song, a gesture of kindness, a turn of phrase—and when you see it, call it out. Invite those around you to see it too.
Help someone. Constantly be on the look out for ways you can sacrifice your time, energy, and treasure to serve the needs of someone else, and as often as you can, do it. Let your gift serve as a reminder not only of your power to impact the world for good, but also of our inescapable interdependence as human beings. As Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Always be learning. You might be surprised to hear this, but you are most certainly wrong about a great many things you think you’re right about. (Don’t take it too hard: It comes with being a human being.) In addition, there are a great many things you know next to nothing about. Of course we cannot hope to learn all there is to know in our time here, but the richest and most hopeful lives are had by those who fill them with the adventure of discovery. Life is a gift. Become an active student of it. Learn. Grow. Expand. Then inspire others to do the same.
Forgive regularly. Unforgiveness is a poison, and those who suffer with it inevitably become toxic to everyone around them. To be in love with life, you cannot live in unforgiveness. Therefore, make it your regular practice to ask for forgiveness whenever you need to. Then forgive yourself, for all the stupid, prideful, thoughtless things you’ve done. Then forgive others for all the stupid ways they did the same. Then, forgive the world, for not being what you needed, or bringing you the day you wished. Keep short accounts. Keep your heart clear.
Practice blessing. Every day, look for just one way to bless another person, preferably without them knowing it was you. Inspire our collective belief in the presence of love and goodness in the world by serving as its secret agent just once every day.
How will you begin to love your life more deeply this week?