Last week, waiting for a dentist appointment, I couldn’t help but overhear an 80 year old woman standing in front of the receptionist’s window of the medical building, loudly explaining that she needed a note from her doctor. She planned to go skydiving the next morning, but the skydiving company wouldn’t let her unless her doctor could confirm that she had no major medical issues.
It seems this woman had a bucket list. “I’ve already done the hot air balloon and the whitewater rafting,” she said. Now she was on to skydiving, and she made it a point to let the receptionist know that her priest was going along (maybe so he’d be on hand to administer Last Rites if needed?). She also said she’d be wearing a girdle, though I missed the reasoning behind that one.
After making her case, she walked out, and as the door closed behind her the woman sitting next to me, who had been holding her head in disbelief while listening to this conversation, looked up and said, “Good for her!”
I have to admit it was inspiring; I’d like to be that fearless when I’m 80. And I also know that fearlessness takes practice. It takes stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone time and time again.
Myself, I’ve never gone up in a hot air balloon, nor gone skydiving, nor ever seriously considered doing either, but I’ve done other things that have forced me to face down my fear: leaving home for two years to live in the Andes as a Peace Corps Volunteer, stepping off the metaphorical cliff of preaching extemporaneously, going to jail for a cause I believed in, leaving a meaningful vocation to follow my heart’s promptings.
I’ve heard it said that life begins where our comfort zone ends, and I actually think there’s some truth in that. Inside our comfort zone we’re not really alive, because we’re letting fear dictate our choices. Fear sets the boundaries beyond which we dare not stray.
But there are two illusions happening with the idea of a comfort zone. One is the illusion that if we stay inside it we can avoid any unpleasant surprises. You and I both know that’s a lie.
Life is made up of surprises. Our days are filled with all sorts of things we didn’t plan on, and every once in a while life throws us the kind of curve ball that knocks us off our feet. If we’ve never had any practice facing our fears, those curve balls will terrify us. Courage is something we need to practice.
The deeper illusion at play in all this, though, isn’t that security is an illusion, but that danger is. In Ultimate Reality, in the core of who we are, we cannot be harmed. As the Tao te Ching says, “Whoever can see through all fear will always be safe.” This is also what the apostle Paul was getting at when he said that nothing could separate us from Love. Love, by it’s nature, is inseparable; nothing does or can exist outside of it, ever.
Sure, in this dream we call our earthly existence terrible things can happen, but this world is a dream, and when we wake from it we will see that we are as we always have been: already perfect, already whole, already One.
The term “bucket list” comes from the movie of that name, and it’s become part of the vernacular, meaning the list of things you’d like to do before you kick the bucket. I’d never thought about making a bucket list, but my encounter in the waiting room last week has got me thinking. What would I put on my bucket list?
What would you put on yours?
As I’ve pondered that question for myself, I have a feeling my bucket list would have less to do with outer adventures — like skydiving and hot air ballooning — and more to do with the wisdom and the qualities I’d like to have fully integrated into me by the time I die. I’d like to experience within myself, as a constant reality, the freedom the skydiver must feel when in free fall, and the hot air ballooner must feel upon lift off.
I guess you could say mine is an inner bucket list, and I still have quite a ways to go, but thanks to years of practice of leaping beyond my comfort zone, I’m happy to report that I’m on my way. Care to join me?