A life dedicated to service...

Week 28: Stephen Levine’s “one year to live”

Stephen Levine: “I was fifty-eight-years-old when I began the year long experiment. When the Dalai Lama was fifty-eight-years-old, a reporter asked him what he was going to do next with his life. He answered that he was going to prepare for death. The interviewer inquired about his health, and the Dalai Lama replied that he wasn’t sick, but that his body was impermanent. When I heard about that conversation, I thought that preparing for death was the natural thing to do.”

How did the one-year-to-live experiment impact your life?

“The year-to-live offered extraordinary insights into the places where I had been numb, and into the still small voice within, which became more pronounced. But the most profound influence was an increase in courage. When you have one year left, fear makes you too small. You better live that life that you’re going to be so unhappy to think you are leaving.

“In twenty years of being with people dying, my wife Ondrea and I have seen miraculous things happen. Relationships untouched for twenty-five years blossom into something you wonder how that person could have lived without. What happens when we find out we only have one year to live? When we know we can’t be hurt anymore, that we might die, we feel safe.

“Why should knowing that we are going to die make us feel safe? It makes us feel unsafe too, but there is this place inside of us that feels safe, that allows us to see what holds back from life, yet says it hates to lose life. How much life we trade off. We trade off more life after we are born than we do after we die.” Read more.

Stephen died last year at age 78. His book “One year to live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last” inspired this blog’s ongoing exploration (now in week 28). For many years, his life work, as expressed in “Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying” and “Healing into Life and Death,” has guided my practice of serving others. May his spirit continue to inspire us and may Ondrea Levine be free from pain.


About the Author
Peter lives in Victoria, BC, where he volunteers in health-care. teaches mindfulness meditation, and offers end-of-life care.
  1. Baxtermann Reply

    I have found Stephen Levine’s interview in A Year To Live extremely helpful. Thank you for this. On a day to day level, the deep belly breath and the reasons for doing this have been beautifully explained here. Aversion to pain as the greatest decrease of life experience – that is a real eye-opener, and it has made me look at that and see how, as he says, it is hundreds of times a day that I will practice the deep breath to let go of the holding onto fear of pain (emotional, physical, etc etc). In short, thank you for your wonderful helpful presence.

  2. Virginia Marie Rego Reply

    I will pop over to Russell’s Used Books to find a copy of A Year to Live – seems like a good activity as I approach my 50th b’day this month. I figure I am at the halfway point so this seems like a timely read 🙂

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