I Choose to Live

Change or Die. Compelling title, huh? Actually, it sends chills down my spine, because it hits very close to home. In his book by that title, Alan Deutschman recounts the stories of three groups of people who, even faced with life or death consequences, are remarkably unable to alter their lifestyle and make good choices. I belong to the population of patients with coronary artery disease who experience chest pain on a daily basis to some degree. When I was first diagnosed five years ago (you can read more about that on the About Me and My Quest page) I became a model heart patient, with fierce commitment to my vegan diet, regular exercise, yoga, meditation and good sleep.  At least for awhile, that is.

Life has been a roller coaster in the five years since then. For long periods of time I’ve been a resilient and resourceful heart patient, sustaining a healthy lifestyle. I have, over and over again, experienced profound gratitude for my life, and a deep rumbling call to live fully and healthfully – to create the greatest possibility for many years ahead. And, I’ve also had periods when life has presented challenges that have knocked me off my feet; times when I have fallen into a depressed state of  victimization and fear. In these times I hold tightly to life’s guardrails, fearing for my safety and clamoring to stay comfortable. In this state, my immediate comfort becomes more important to me than staying alive. Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? My immediate comfort and licking my wounds has been more important to me than staying alive...wow, that’s tough to admit.

Sometimes, well… life happens… and gradually, without fully realizing it, I lose my sense of hope and possibility and purpose. My desire to take risks and grab the reigns of life dims. My gratitude wanes and a dull resignation creeps in. When loss happens — as it did last year with the loss of my Dad in April and canine companion Revel later that month — I become fearful that more loss of something precious might be just around the corner. In times like that I turn to my medications of choice… food and television… to numb out the fear and find comfort at least for the moment. Comfort becomes king, and I stop choosing to live.

Ironically, when I slip into one of those periods of shrinking back from life where “comfort is king” I actually become increasingly uncomfortable. The bigger truth is that I am a lover of life. I think this human existence we have is an extraordinary thing with ALL that it entails, with all of its highs and its lows. I thrive on leaping into unknown territory, on uncovering new possibilities, on witnessing the joys and triumphs of others. I live for the full-on experiencing of life and the wonderful satisfaction that comes from learning and making meaning along the way.  At my most free, that’s how I experience life… just like the image of the diver at the top of the page.*

And so this Fall, after a particularly sedentary period while recovering from hernia surgery… it became clear to me that if I didn’t wake up and change my course, ultimately, I would probably die. (Well, we’re all headed there… but you know what I mean….) Yes, CHANGE OR DIE. I’d like to say that this insight came from some lofty spiritual practice. The real deal is a bit more mundane and humbling. It hit me square in the eyes about six weeks ago on the  day that I had to go shopping at Kohl’s Department Store to buy fat pants. Yes… fat pants. It was simply not possible to remain in denial that I had gained 15 pounds and a good 3 inches or so when confronted by the reality that it was impossible to fit into any of the pants that were in my closet.

Sometimes, it takes something like fat pants to face the music. I had hit low point… something drastic needed to happen. Although the shame of my waistline was the catalyst, it was the deep and growing sense of despair and panic that did it.

And so, I am committing myself to competing in a Sprint Triathlon in 2009.

More difficult than that, perhaps, is my choice to share my story with you along the way, and to reach out for your encouragement, your challenge, and your insight. The physical aspect of competing in a Sprint Triathlon seems — at this point — impossible to me. I gave up bicycling several years ago because the discomfort of climbing hills was too great… I cannot swim more than 300 yards without stopping… and running, well… running hasn’t been on the radar screen for quite a while.

The bigger picture, though, is about the journey and making sense of this particular path I am walking.  Rather that committing myself to a challenge over which I know I will ultimately triumph,  for once it is not whether I succeed or fail in the race itself that matters. More importantly, I want to gain more awareness about questions like these:

* How do I learn to “get back up on the horse” over and over and over again?
* How do I  change the way I live my life, and sustain those changes?
* What does it mean to  CHOOSE LIFE, even when the circumstances are not what I might have chosen?
* What’s the difference between resignation and accepting limitations with grace and wisdom?
* How do I relate to failure and success?
* What impact can my lifestyle have on coronary artery disease?

What I really want, though, is for US — you and me — to learn about these things. While this journey is mine, I want for you to join me in it at whatever level  you’re inclined to engage. For some, I hope that it means you will subscribe to this blog and follow along, offering encouragement along the way. For others, I want  you to grapple with these same questions on YOUR journey, and to offer your insight and experience to the dialogue.

If you find yourself at a similar crossroads and it calls to you — I challenge you to JOIN ME in this pursuit by signing up for a Sprint Triathlon with me, or rallying a team and challenging me to sign up for Sprint Triathlon in your area (see the  “About Me and My Quest” page).

Ultimately, i want to learn something that can help other coronary artery patients. Navigating this disease has become the vehicle and testing ground for me to learn about what it means to me to live fully, and to CHOOSE LIFE in the midst of difficult circumstances. Regardless of the outcome, my pledge is to dive in to this journey head-on and full-on. My commitment is to share the story as it unfolds — both the highpoints and the low points. Please join me by subscribing to the blog, and if you know of others who are navigating coronary artery disease or similar circumstances, please invite them to join us as well.

*yes, that’s me in 1974…  me, choosing to live.

~ by Art on January 26, 2009.

16 Responses to “I Choose to Live”

  1. Dear Art, I love this format…easy for the technochallenged like me. I am so excited for you and your team and would love to join you. Your vulnerability touched me and empowered me. THe whole notion of stepping out on that scary limb of claiming life in that really physical, palpable way. It takes great heart, which you have in abundance. You rock!

    I saw my heart on a screen during some tests I took this year and it brought tears to my eyes. That perfect, pink, rhythmic beauty. It was just doing its job, asking nothing of me and everything of me. To nurture myself, to care enough to change in really big ways, to care and not self-destruct (no matter how brilliant a request that seems at the moment). I am really rooting for you and can’t wait to see how this evolves.

    Love, Jane

  2. This could possible be a duplicate, as I tried to post earlier and today I am technicall challenged…hehe

    Dear Art, as I read your quest, I truly feel your “magic”! You are so able to express your heart and your soul and sharing that with us is an incredible gift.THANK you very much……

    While I would love to join you in your race, I will not be there physically, but I will be with you in spirit all the way..You will hear my “booming” voice as your cheerleader all the way from Texas to Boston, or where ever you are!!!!! I will also be here for any type of support that you want or need on this incredible journey…….

    You have inspired me to get more focused on my exercise and health and to work with my husband on his struggle with his weight, exercise and diabetes. I am going to send your blog to him as well……I will also send you any fun things and tips that I fnd that are working for me……

    So, again, I am here and THANKS for allowing me to be on your “magical” journey with you! I wanted to share something that was on my Starbucks cup this AM….I usually don’t read them, but I did today….as it fits……

    “The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the feat that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

    Anne Morris, Starbucks customer from New York City. She describes herself as an “organization builder, restless American citizen, optimist”.

    Love and hugs,

    Darlene

    • Hi Darling Darlene,

      Thanks for your words — I’m delighted you are sharing this with your husband — good luck to him!

      Love

      Art

  3. Dearest Art,

    Yes! I also “choose to live!” For years I’ve listened to stories and watched my family and friends cry of joy when they crossed the finish line of a marathon or triathlon. I cannot swim but I will do a fitness challenge and complete a full marathon this year. I need your wind at my back, and know that mine will be at yours. There’s a wonderful nervousness but I feel alive!! My husband and kids offer these suggestions for your race: definitely wear a full wet suit (covering legs and arms) to help with your buoyancy, constantly bring your head out of the water to ensure you stay on course (close to the buoys), be aware that you could get kicked in the face or punched, keep your own pace to stay calm and prevent from panicking. When you rack up your bike in the transition area, survey the bike and run exits, as well as be mindful of where you racked up. In the early years, sometimes my kids would get disoriented coming out of the water and they could not locate their bikes in the transition area. You might want to bring some water and towel to rinse your feet before putting on your cleats. Practice the routine of transitioning into the bike leg: putting on your helmet, cleats sunglasses and race belt. Practice transitioning from biking to running. Your leg muscles will need to adjust to running form. Picking up your race kit the day before the race helps with the preparation. I may have repeated some of John’s suggestions. In any event, we have different races but the finish line looks the same. Remember, wind at each other’s back. Thanks for putting it out there Art.

    Love,
    Karin

  4. Honey, I feel your fat pants pain. I have a selection of jeans across three sizes (ok, four), which I hold on to because, hey, I may board the despair train at any time and need those big jeans. Put it this way: I’m not where I want to be but I think I’ve been where you were about four years ago before I ass-kicked myself into doing something like you’re doing. So GOOD FOR YOU, and thank you for making everyone feel less alone.
    My advice: forgive your transgressions IMMEDIATELY, and make those transgressions shorter and shorter. Does that make sense?
    xo
    Erica

    • Dear Erica —

      THANKS! Yes…. the whole topic of how to rebound quickly is a big one…. I plan to watch myself and how I do in that territory, and write about it. I know that I consistently fail…. I think the key is not perfection, but how to rebound faster and faster. I think Winston Churchill said…. success is moving from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm….

      Love to you —

      Art

  5. Dearest Art,

    I called you “Art in Motion” during our class…you were so beautiful, vibrant, masterful and so very, very much alive and in love with life.

    How little did I know how true this statement was on so many levels!

    Now reading all your posts here – I am so deeply moved by your angst, your honesty, your openness. You are my hero – Art! I am honoured to have you in my life.

    I too want to help you along the way – whatever that looks like to you – I’m here. How can I help?

    From my heart to yours – many blessings and lots and lots and lots of love,

    Julie

    • Hey Julie —

      Thanks so much. The “Art in Motion” makes me chuckle — I appreciate it so much. I hope you’ll subscribe to the blog and keep your comments coming… they are wind beneath my wings.

      love,

      Art

  6. I to choose to live and I have found a program that will help me do just that. I am very overweight and I have taken off 27 pounds in the last 3 1/2 months by following my heart and this program. I feel better than I have felt in years. I really appreciated your blog. It really helps to read that someone else has challenges, and we can help each other, so thank you.

    • Yeah Tammy! Congratulations on choosing to live…. keep choosing. I find that it is an over-and-over-and-over again choice to make. And, WoW…. congratulations on the weight lost. I learned hiking that it truly is about taking just one step ahead… again and again… and it really does take us to the destination.

      Cheers,

      Art

  7. Dear, dear Art:
    I left my other post from my phone, went on a walk with Max in the woods and raced home so I could write to you. As I fell down a snowy, icy hill on my bruises from the giant’s ladder I laughed and thought of you the whole way down. Ta-da!

    I have spoken with my husband and I have his full support to join you on your journey. I would like to design an alliance with you so I can give you what you need and desire. I am available via phone or email. My vision in to Create from Other and offer all my resources. To borrow a quote, I want to “dwell with others who are just like me. I want to see them for who they really are, in all of their fragility and all of their majesty.” I want to do this with you.

    I think it is fitting I am now in the Fire Pod. I have the fire. My fire that was lit after reading your initial postings (and I have read every word) is this: I want to create with you, to be there with you. Just like on the giant’s ladder. I want to train for this separately and even together at times. I want to be there on that day to swim, bike and run/walk with you and help you over each rung of the ladder. And in so doing, help myself. You can create from me and me from you. I am not very interested in doing the triathalon for me just going, going, going (I am so good at that already) and seeing how great I can do. I can be pretty proficient and am not very worried about the physical aspects. Just a little bit!

    I offer you all of my knowledge and support and on all levels and from all my teachings and most importantly from my heart and soul. I offer you your own private doctor, healer, spiritual counselor, cheerleader, co-participant . . . whatever (here is where I need you to tell me what you need and want . . . what you think you want now and also in the moment) to be there with you the whole way -from today to finish to the next race. I would love to go with you when you go to Falmouth and anywhere else. I am willing and able to travel.

    I would like you to consider allowing me to gain more knowledge of your medical history so I can best support you.

    I know I need to move everyday and resist the temptation to be comfortably numb (like when you watch TV). It seems like self-deception. If feels comfortable in the moment, yet it is hurtful. I confess here I smoke 1-4 cigarettes per day. An act that began as defiance and has continued for so many reasons. I also need to choose life and health. Now, not later. And, I am struck by how arduous that feels at times.

    As Elizabeth Lesser wrote: “Campbell affirmed that each human-being whether from ancient Greece, or tribal Africa, or modern America – is not really hankering for a special vocation or an Earth-saving mission or some scholarly understanding of enlightenment. Rather, what we want are vibrant, full-bodied experiences of being alive. And if a desire to serve humanity or to find God comes from a rapturous engagement with life, then our service and our search will bear fruit. But if we try to love or lead, or work or pray, from a dry well, then we will serve a bitter cup to those around us and never really life the life we were given.”

    I choose life and I so choose to be with you on this qwest. I have so much to offer and I offer it all to you with my heart overflowing. I offer you all I have in knowledge, strength, and motivation with my intelligence, earnestness, humor, play, courage, passion and compassion.

    In rugby when we want the ball passed we yell, “With You!”

    With You,
    Kerry

    • Dear Kerry —

      You have blown my socks off today and moved me to tears a few times…. (ah, well, retribution I suppose… ; ))… I welcome your support on this journey, on various levels. Much more to come, but I wanted to say a very deep thank you —- Still “with me” — more to come.

      Much love,

      Art

    • This Elizabeth Lesser quote is awesome…. I am printing it out and putting it up by my desk. Love it! Thank you Kerry!

  8. Hi Art, thank you for sharing your heart. I subscribe to a daily inspirational message from Agape International and today’s message speaks so directly to your journey I feel compelled to share it with you.

    A Heart Healed

    Truly it is Life that shines forth in all things! Vast, heavenly, of unthinkable form, it shines forth. It is farther than the far, yet near at hand. Set down in the secret place of the heart. In that way by meditating, one does behold Him who is without form.
    The Upanishads

    “You are in sudden danger of dying at any moment,” said my doctor as I was being rushed to Cedars Sinai Medical Center. I was in need of a heart transplant and they did not think I would last the week. As I lay there watching the urgency of those around me, I became still. I suddenly had a visceral revelation that all was well, that I was not my body, and that my true being was spiritual. There was absolutely no fear present whatsoever, only a keen, intense feeling of peace.

    In that moment, I made a decision to heal myself. Knowing the heart is symbolic of giving and receiving love, I took an honest inventory of where my belief and behavior were out of alignment. I was not very good at receiving and realized I now had no choice, because I was too sick to do otherwise. I also got honest about being out of alignment with my personal values, which were directly tied to self-love and self-respect. The crucial revelation came when I attended Agape for the first time and heard Rev. Michael speak about God being in me, as me, that I was One with God. At the time that concept was revelatory and it changed my life. With pacemaker firmly in place while waiting for my new heart, I began to take classes to understand more; I was hungry for Truth, for God.

    Ten months later the cardiologist called explaining he had never seen anything like it in his 22 years of practice. Not only did I not need my pacemaker, I no longer needed a new heart. My heart had healed. It’s hard to put this miraculous experience into words…but of this I am sure. It is love that heals all things. Let me testify to Love.

    Affirmation:

    Today I honor that which my heart is calling me to do. With certainty and gratitude I follow Love, knowing only my greatest good awaits me in every way.

    Joe Argazzi

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