“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
― Mark Twain
Stephen Levine’s transformative book A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last (Crown, 1997) echoes Twain’s belief about death. Though many of us do everything in our power to avoid the topic of death and dying, Levine has spent his career embracing the subject. In addition to being a counselor for the terminally ill, he has published numerous works on spirituality and dying. With A Year to Live, the author shares his experiences and feelings in his yearlong experiment in “conscious living.”
On New Year’s Eve in 1994, Levine and his wife, Ondrea, vowed to live the next year as if it were their last. When asked in an interview what prompted his experiment – he explained that, at age 58, he was inspired by the Dalai Lama who, when he turned 58, decided to spend the next year “preparing for death.” Levine decided to focus on activities, relationships, and spiritual practices that reflected life’s urgency.
In the book’s Introduction, Levine states:
“This is a book of renewal. It is not simply about dying but about the restoration of the heart, which occurs when we confront our life and death with mercy and awareness. It is an opportunity to resolve our denial of death as well as our denial of life in a year-long experiment in healing, joy and revitalization.”
The book outlines a year-long program of strategies and guided meditations to help readers embrace life. He features lessons on everything from the “Fear of Dying” and “Gratitude” to “Reincarnation” and “Disposing of the Corpse.” He draws on the tenets of many faiths including Buddhism, Native American religions and Christianity. At its core, “A Year to Live” is a guide on living consciously and recognizing the beauty of life.
Levine provides the most clear definition of the word “healing” we have yet to encounter:
“If there is a single definition of healing, it is to look with mercy and awareness at those pains, both mental and physical, that we have dismissed in judgment and dismay.”
Healing can be difficult work and it is preferable to approach this work from a place of rest.
When asked in an interview what his year-long quest taught him, Levine responded:
“I learned from the-year-to-live that love is the only rational act of a lifetime. Everything else pales in comparison. Things that are motivated by love can still turn out badly in the physical world, but the intention for love does not turn out badly, it can only bring a deeper capacity for love.”