The other day I woke up and, as on many days, all my fears and doubts and stories about myself were right there in my face. On many days, it takes something for me to generate myself, to get the alien off my face and start to live. Last week I also had an unexpected medical emergency (I’m fully recovered now) and I was feeling unsettled and fragile. I dragged myself out of bed, and a little while later, out of the blue, a thought came to me,
Say if today is the best day of my life.
And it really struck me and stayed with me for the rest of the day.
Nothing happened on that day that anyone else would recognise as significant or exciting or glamorous, and yet I really did have a wonderful day. This welcome thought, this grateful thought, “Say if today is the best day of my life”, determined my experience of the day. It’s not anything like “positive thinking” I’m talking about here, not about some veneer or facade plastered on over upset, but about fully being, fully living, the best day of my life.
It also reminded me of a story from the magic book I’ve spoken of many times, The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. The story is called “Have the Best Sex Ever”.
Rosamund Stone Zander runs what she calls an “accomplishment group”, where people meet regularly for coaching on individual projects. One game she assigns the group is called “Have The Best — Ever.” She says, the game is to
encourage people to create an experience that is extraordinarily satisfying regardless of the circumstances around them. So, for example, if the game is “Have The Best Meal Ever,” it does not say to eat a lot, or to go to an expensive restaurant. It does not say, “Do the things that you think are the most likely to get you to your goal.” The instructions say, “Have it. Be fulfilled.”
Often, she says, it’s about becoming aware of the fears, opinions, and positions one’s calculating self has adopted that stand in the way of simple fulfillment.
When she presented the game to one group, the group had to decide what they would play for, and together they decided that “sex” was the word they wanted to put in the blank. So “Have The Best Sex Ever” became the game for the week.
One member of the group was a woman called June. June had left her husband, Mark, earlier in the year after a long struggle to change him. Roz says, “She had found it necessary to erect strong boundaries between herself and this charismatic, energetic and self-absorbed man, and she wasn’t about to back down.” When it came to the game, the group reminded June that she could interpret the instructions any way she wanted and that in the absence of an intimate partner, perhaps a metaphorical interpretation of “sex” was a way to move ahead.
Roz goes on, “June was meticulous enough about her participation in the group to want to give the game a try, though none of us had a clue as to how she would proceed. What would she discover about herself? We had learned to trust the mysterious power of play.”
June takes up the story …
Ann [her coaching partner] kept reminding me that our agreement was at the very least to give the game a try, whether we were successful or not. I hadn’t yet imagined who would be my partner, because I thought my husband was the last man on earth I would go near. But I was shocked to discover that as soon as I really let myself think about it, I knew he would be the one …
I realised I had been taking myself pretty goldarn seriously. “Why can’t you have the Best Sex Ever with a self-centred guy?” I said to myself. “Lighten up.”
It was strange. Suddenly Mark’s self-absorption got disentangled from the idea of making love. I realised that I’d always been enormously attracted to guys who are self-absorbed and passionate about what they do. I had this sense, in that fraction of a moment, that it was possible … making love, fully making love with such a man was of course possible. After all, it had been once. This realisation in itself was so interesting, so new, that for a moment I felt daring enough to go to a pay phone …
I called him, and this was very difficult because it was like saying I was wrong and he was right. My pride kept flaring up, I felt very nervous, and a little crazy because I didn’t recognise myself. I was hoping he wouldn’t be at home, but of course he was. And it turned out that it was easy to talk to him, even though we hadn’t spoken for quite a while. I told him about the game. And after an awkward silence, I added the other half of the invitation. “I do think it would be a good idea if we made love.”
He was so quiet that I got frightened the other way. I didn’t want to be rejected. And then he said, “This call must have taken a lot of courage to make.”
I was at a loss for words. Where had this sensitivity come from, this empathy — in my self-centred mate? We agreed to have dinner at his place on Friday …
And then things began to change … I remember walking down a country road and being aware of everything … the smell of the grass, the shape of the riverbank … everything was sensual; it was as though nature was conspiring with the game. On the way to town I stopped at a fruit stand to buy dessert, and my eye was caught by flowers in a pail. I found myself arriving at the house on Friday night carrying flowers in my hand! Through all my nervousness I had to laugh. Here I was, a once-decisive woman who had had the courage to leave her husband — a man beyond repair — now bringing flowers to the scoundrel’s door. What a drama! Then we were both laughing and throwing caution to the winds. The evening we spent together was like a week’s vacation, but it was also like coming home.
Roz resumes, “I think June was hurt, plain and simple, as Mark overlooked her time and time again. And instead of revealing her hurt, she built up a case that Mark was dangerous … I think she felt more powerful as the judge, but the diagnosis she assigned to him stuck … June stopped taking herself and her story so seriously, and suddenly was able to distinguish her husband from the diagnosis she had given him.”
You know, I realised after that one amazing evening I could have walked away from the marriage, and Mark and I would have stayed the best of friends. I could have said, “I’d rather not”, without feeling resigned or embattled. I finally had a choice.
Image: Red sun over Paris, Marc Chagall