“Vital Activities” Enliven You—What are Yours?
By Nancy Zwiers
Back in 2011, when I was suffering from panic attacks in the face of a breast cancer diagnosis, my psychiatrist recommended I attend one of his workshops for cancer survivors called “Beat the Odds.” The 10-week workshop included about a dozen cancer survivors, some of whom were in Stage 4 with little time left.
None of us know the quantity of time we really have on this earth, but we all can improve the quality of our life, no matter what the circumstances. So, how does one talk about quality of life with a Stage 4 cancer patient?
The two most important things I took away from the workshop are 1) do nothing for a portion of every day; and 2) engage in “vital activities” as much as possible.”
The way I put the first point into practice is that I would stay in bed sipping coffee first thing in the morning while I pet my two cats for a half hour…I found it wonderful!!
As for the second point: Vital activities are those that give you energy, bring you joy, and enliven you. What better way to think about elevating your quality of life than maximizing vital activities?
We each made a list of our own vital activities. Interestingly enough, the activities I listed all revolved around simple pleasures, like sipping coffee in bed and petting my cats. The exercise helped me focus on what brings me joy. (Quick side note: joy is different from pleasure. Pleasure is fleeting, while joy has depth and a long tail of well-being).
Just last month, I found a journal that I had been keeping as part of a journaling class in 2013. This particular session was about time, and we were given many prompts, including the most thought provoking one for me: “Is time friend or foe?” That led to thoughts about my next-door neighbor Naomi, who was just diagnosed with advanced Stage 4 lung cancer. At age 52, she had probably never felt time to be as precious as she did then, I conjectured. That prompted me to imagine, “If I only had two years to live, how would I spend my time?”
This was two years after my introduction to the concept of vital activities, but apparently, that exercise shaped my list of things I would do with the imagined last two years of my life. Here was my list:
When I stumbled upon the journal last month, I was astounded! Three years after my retirement from full time work, I realized that I was (on a subconscious level) crafting my life to reflect the very same set of priorities I had articulated in 2013.
What this says to me is that when we stop to take the time to explicitly articulate the vital activities that energize us, bring us joy, and enliven us, our subconscious finds a way to manifest these activities that are key to improving the quality of our lives. A sense of vitality and well-being is our reward.
What are YOUR vital activities?
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