At the end of last year I almost died. It was in the news, but that’s not really the point. The short version of the story is that I took a trip in a friend’s small plane which ran out of fuel. We were fortunate to land successfully on the highway. It was, to be sure, a scary experience that would encourage anyone to re-evaluate his or her life goals and choices – or at the very least, make one leery of flying again anytime soon.
Those tense moments between realizing we were out of fuel and landing remarkably smoothly in the midst of traffic seemed to go on for a very long time. During them, I was surprised not by what did happen, but by what didn’t. I didn’t feel panicked or afraid of dying (though I thought we likely would all die). I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes. I didn’t think of all the things left unfinished, unsaid, or undone in my life. In short, I was ready. Don’t misunderstand me, I didn’t want to die. But I felt that my life was complete. I wasn’t thinking of all the things I had yet to experience, or all the changes I wanted to make.
Here’s what did happen: I remember breathing. I remember asking silently for help. I remember checking on the people I was with. I remember encouraging our pilot. I remember being surprised and grateful when we landed safely, as smoothly as we might have on a runway.
Later, my traveling companions commented on how calm I had been throughout the experience. It’s probably relevant for me to add here that I have not been, historically, a calm person. In fact, when I first began my own spiritual practice in 2003 it was to cope with anxiety and depression. After further reflection, I realized that my practice has benefited me in ways that were surprising, even to me.
In the last 8-9 years I’ve experienced my share of frustration, loss and disappointment. But fundamentally, it would seem that everything is in its right place, in divine order. While my life doesn’t look the way I thought it would, or the way I wanted it to, I’m living free from the tyranny of the past: free from intense regrets or incompletes that drain my energy. I have a history of authentic and varied relationships and life experiences. Most importantly, I’m living the choices that reflect my values. And these are the true benefits of a spiritual practice, examples of what it means to live a whole life.
I’m happy with who I have been, who I am now, and who I am becoming.
It was – and it is – well with my soul.