Big Life and little life


Sunset 2This is kind of an odd title, right? But I wanted to reflect on something that doesn’t seem to get much air time in recovery. I kind of stumbled onto this way of describing an important difference in two ‘sides’ of life: that is, what I’m calling “Big Life” and “little life.” Let me explain.

I’ve noticed that very often (maybe almost all the time), Recovery Coaches and Life Coaches are highly preoccupied with what I’m calling the Big Life questions. You know, like what is your overarching Life Purpose, what is your fundamental Life Mission, what are your Life Goals, what is your Plan For Achieving Those Goals, is your Life Truly Authentic, etc., etc. I think you know what I mean.

Such questions are in fact very, very important, and they are a core foundation of my work. It’s really a good and truly important thing to really know who you are, what your life is about, where you want to be headed, and whether your actions are congruent with all of that.

But it occurred to me the other day, rather vividly, that that is NOT all there is to life! In fact, it hit me that in a strange way, if that’s ALL you ever think about you just might be a boring, one-dimensional, even tedious person to be around. And, you just might be so preoccupied with those questions all the time that you are completely missing the actual EXPERIENCE of life, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, with all of its absolutely incredible MAGIC. But (and here’s the secret): YOU HAVE TO ACTUALLY BE PAYING ATTENTION to the ongoing flow of what I’m calling “little life.”

“little life” is NOT about the Big Questions! Let me ask you a few simple questions to shed some light on what I’m trying to convey:

Can you, do you, truly and vividly feel the absolutely wonderful feeling of a gentle, cool breeze on your face while the sun is shining? Do you truly feel joy hearing the wonderful cacophony of birds singing their songs in the early morning? Is there nothing more relaxing, beautiful, and even spiritual than a long walk in the woods? Do you feel fully and vividly ALIVE when you are able to talk with a friend, deeply, openly, and genuinely about what is going on with you and how you are feeling, with no pretense whatsoever? That is, do you feel the powerful heart and soul-filled joy of truly being REAL with somebody, and having that returned by them? Do you ever have the feeling of the vividly alive presence of God in a meeting when there is lots of real, honest, genuine, deep sharing? Have you ever felt the incredibly powerful cell-level joy and satisfaction of taking a long drink of very, very cool, pure water? Can you really, really SEE and FEEL the sheer joy of life in a dog’s face, and wagging tail, and playing? Does your heart feel like it might burst when you see a particularly gorgeous, colorful garden? Can you laugh your ass off at really good joke? Can you play with your kids and be just like YOU are a little kid, too? Can you listen really deeply to music in such a way that you feel like you are actually becoming “one” with it, and have it move you or fill you with joy? There are a thousand questions like these.

I think maybe what I’m talking about is really, really, really being IN life – really, really, really letting it in, and actually EXPERIENCING it, AS IT IS HAPPENING, RIGHT HERE AND RIGHT NOW. It’s absolutely NOT about your agenda, or your “To-Do” list. That’s “Big Life” stuff. I guess my point is that it is just so easy to entirely miss out on “little life”, as it is happening, because we can get so obsessed with trying to implement our “Big Life” agenda. And THAT, my friends, is a HUGE mistake.

There’s a catch, though (as usual): my experience is that it is really very, very difficult to experience the joy of “little life” if we haven’t really done the deep interior work of recovery (through the Steps, through therapy, or some other means that works for you). Here’s why: addicts and alcoholics, prior to recovery, are just filled to overflowing with inner turmoil and unceasing negative mental chatter and profoundly painful and negative feelings. They might be buried, but they’re there. That’s because they are so deeply wounded, and have not dealt with that inner wounding, but instead have tried to numb it with substances or other compulsive forms of acting out.

And because of that, there is simply no capacity at all for engaging in “little life”. The mind is the absolute opposite of peace or joy and anything else in that sphere. It’s just filled to the brim with toxic chitter-chatter. And it is simply not possible to “will” that condition away. There’s only one way out: doing the inner work required that will eventually create the conditions of mental peacefulness, stillness, and presence that allows us to really, truly begin to LIVE in our “little life.”

But Lord, is it WORTH IT. Being really and truly alive to each moment is (to me) the true height of genuine spirituality.

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