Through my coursework in the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program, I came across the work of Frank Ostaseski. He’s a Buddhist teacher, a leader in end-of-life care, and founding director of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. He wrote an engaging book entitled The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully. He notes that life is short and precious. As such, we’re advised to cultivate thoughts and habits that lead to wholeness and steer clear of those that engender separation and suffering. He invites us to consider 5 strategies to do just that (which I’ll cover in individual posts).
The First Invitation: Don’t Wait.
Life is a study of constant change. The breath arises and falls away. Thoughts, emotions, and sensations come and go. Relationships have their ebbs and flows. Mother nature has changing seasons along with unpredictably cataclysmic events. We don’t have the power grasp on to what we enjoy and keep unpleasantness at bay. We receive it all. As such, we are invited to live in harmony with life’s impermanence and experience the wonder and beauty of each moment in gratitude. For each dissolving brings forth an opportunity for becoming.
Don’t wait for permission, encouragement, or the “right” conditions to step fully into life. Don’t sit on the sidelines hoping to rewrite history or secure guarantees for the future. Don’t waste life on meaningless activity.
What does “not waiting” look like for Ostaseski?
It means living in an open, receptive quality of mind. It means allowing objects, experiences, states of mind, and hearts to unfold with neither a penchant for grasping or avoidance. A life lived in openness provides a sense of freedom and an ability to sustain continuous contact with reality.
For the naysayers among us, I’d interject that a state of openness implies neither inaction nor aimless wandering. Living fully demands that we clarify our values, find meaning in the course we set for our lives, and move forward with positive action. We do that with a relaxed and spacious attitude that allows for the revelation of the moment, not wrestling with it. We participate in life’s unfolding.
A substantive player in Ostaseski’s “not waiting” philosophy revolves around forgiveness. Speaking from personal experience, I find forgiveness difficult, especially when the underlying hurt and pain are acute. It takes strength to shine a light on the underlying issues and explore my role in them. And I can get stuck in being right about the matter; forgiveness feels like capitulation.
Ostaseski reminds us that forgiveness is not about forgetting or condoning bad behavior. It’s not about securing acknowledgment or recompense from the party or parties toward whom we feel aggrieved. He says resistance to forgiveness is like grabbing a hot coal and saying, “I’m not going to let go until you apologize and pay for what you did to me.” No! Forgiveness is for forgivers. It releases us from the contraction of bitterness and frees us to rediscover our inner peace. It shakes loose the calcification around our hearts and opens us up to experience more love. Reconciliation need not be part of the equation.
Ostaseski deems forgiveness a form of self-acceptance and self-care. It’s an invaluable tool for releasing pain that only hurts ourselves. He does not want us to wait to do it until we’re knocking on death’s door.