In every life, reminders arrive about what's really important.

I’ve received some myself, as I’m sure you have, too. Perhaps it was news of a potentially serious health problem, the death of a loved one, or an accident that could have turned fatal. These are uncomfortably concrete message that sooner or later something will catch up with each one of us.

When I’m pierced with one of these reminders, it’s like there are three layers in my mind. The top layer is focused on problem-solving. Beneath that is what seems like a furry little animal that’s upset and wants to curl up and be hugged. The bottom layer feels accepting, peaceful, and grateful.

When you get a reminder, you naturally reflect on your life, both past and to come. You consider what you care about most. And you appreciate the things you’ve honored so far, and you see where you could center yourself more in what’s truly important to you.

While it’s good advice not to sweat the small stuff, we also need to nurture the large stuff.

There are many good reasons to do so, from simply enjoying yourself to recognizing the truth that one day you’ll have just A Year to Live, the title of Stephen Levine’s haunting book. You’ll never know when you step over the invisible line and the countdown begins: 365 days left, then 364, and then . . . But you can know, before and after you cross that line, that you’ve remembered the big things.

The Practice.

A Few Questions
In this life, what do you really care about?

Looking back, what has mattered to you? Looking ahead, what do you want to keep on the front burner?

Imagine resting comfortably in your last few days and reflecting on your life. What do you want to be glad that you felt and did?

Some Potentially Big Things
I'll offer here some things I've been thinking about lately. See what fits for you, and add your own. Here we go.

You. The sweet soft vulnerable innerness upon which both the chocolate kisses and sharp darts of life land. Your own well-being. What you make of what the poet Mary Oliver has called “your one wild and precious life.”

Love in its many forms, from compassion and small acts of kindness to passionate romance and profound cherishing. The people who matter to you.

Tasting – with all your senses – whatever is delicious in this moment: a ripe banana, birdsong, the curve of a highway railing, the lips of a lover, being alive . . .

Practice. Helping yourself routinely to deepen in awareness and to pull weeds and plant flowers in the garden of your mind.

Karma yoga – a Hindu term that means skillful action toward wholesome ends, engaged as practice, imbued with a sense of union with whatever is sacred to you. This includes taking care of details that matter, and appreciating the power of little things to add up over time for better or worse.

Letting go. Exhaling, relaxing, changing your mind, moving on, disengaging from upsets (while also standing up for things that matter).

The thing(s) you keep putting off – perhaps speaking your mind to someone, writing that book, returning to the piano, making time for exercise, or seeing the Grand Canyon.

Being, making time for hanging out with no agenda. Rather than doing, the addiction of modern life. Doing crowds out being like cancer cells crowd out healthy ones.

Remembering to remember the big things. And to act upon them. Before it’s too late.

Author's Bio: 

Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books are available in 26 languages and include ResilientHardwiring Happiness, Buddha’s Brain, Just One Thing, and Mother Nurture. He edits the Wise Brain Bulletin and has numerous audio programs. A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he’s been an invited speaker at NASA, Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, and other major universities, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. His work has been featured on the BBC, CBS, and NPR, and he offers the free Just One Thing newsletter with 135,000 subscribers, plus the online Foundations of Well-Being program in positive neuroplasticity that anyone with financial need can do for free.