A talk given to the 2018 Words in Winter Festival

by Di PercyWhat really matters in life?

There are times when what really matters is crystal clear with no ambiguity whatsoever. Like the time I was charged by an angry 730 kg bull on our farm. What really mattered was doing up that gate and getting out of that paddock alive. My neighbor, Colin, killed himself laughing when he heard. “Nah, Di. You just stand your ground, show ‘em who’s boss.” “Col, are you insane? No Way”

Besides those immediate and extreme situations we all experience sometimes, when what really matters is so completely obvious, it can be elusive.

We all have our own ideas about it. Yet to hone it down, to put your finger on the essence, is not always easy. We need to pause life long enough to find out what has heart and meaning at this point at this time in life, since what really matters changes over time, according to our life-stage and the cards we’re dealt at the time.

This talk is especially addressed to those of us who are “elders”, in your 50’s, 60’s and over. But it has relevance for everyone. The title of my book is The New Elders (the working title was the Elderhood Epiphany) –- it’s called the New Elders because it’s not about growing old. It’s about growing whole.

It’s not about growing old. It’s about growing whole.
Like going from childhood to adulthood, elderhood is new territory of a similar length to adulthood, say twenty-five years or more, before old age.

Physically, there are some minuses. As I race toward 70 it becomes undeniable. But the minuses are over-emphasized in our society. On the whole, we get better as we age. Possibly a little slower, greyer and harder of hearing, but overall, better. We tend to talk better, relate better, think better, feel better, love better, create better, work better, write better, make jokes better, give better . . . we just are better.

That matters from the point of view of what we can give and contribute to the world and those around us.

So what really matters for you? And are you living your life accordingly?

It can be hard to find the space, to go beyond doing all the stuff and business of living to focus on this; to have our actions match what we know matters. Yet when you’re up against the wall –- and I mean really up against the wall, like going through the last weeks and days with a loved one who is dying –- then what really matters is right there. Crystal clear. Then you put it into operation. It is part of you, central to your world. You are focused.

During those times we are immersed in our truth. I don’t know about you but I become more aware of the beauty in life and in people – of what is beyond my reason and normal way of understanding. I’m in touch with wonder and the exquisite world around us. I hope it’s the same for everyone. Albert Einstein put it like this –

“The most beautiful and deepest experience a person can have is the sense of the mysterious . . . To sense that behind anything
that can be experienced there is something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and simplicity are but a feeble reflection . . .

To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure
of all that there is.”i
(non-sexist language added)

One of the things I ask my clients is why search for purpose and meaning outside yourself, because you’re looking in the wrong place – that we all have our purpose within us.

As I grow older I have less to no time for ‘pastimes’ that have no purpose – activities that just fill in time. But I have more and more time for what matters. That includes everything that has purpose, including good relationships, work, rest, being in nature, time to play and laugh again. Even a chore like sweeping the floor or doing the washing has a purpose that enhances life, and with the right frame of mind I can turn them into a meditation or a workout.

It’s a bit like the reduction process in cooking –getting rid of the excess to savour the rich concentrated juice or gravy that is left.

First, we need to have the right ingredients – to know what makes the best flavour, to distinguish what doesn’t matter and keep assessing it as the process goes on. For instance, a relationship that brings only negativity and bad feeling without resolution may be a bitter taste that you don’t want in your reduction juice of life. So leave it out, or change the way you experience it.

To put what really matters into effect, we are led to two things – and we can look at it this way . . .


This falls out of what really matters and gives us the Why – why do it? I think of it as the “why with soul”. It adds a sense of the growth and action necessary to manifest the “What” in what really matters.


We must learn to keep focus, keep skillful attention on what matters and the action we take to generate it. Keep watching the radar. It’s like having a certain destination in mind. Like a pilot flying a plane or someone sailing a ship, we’re going to get blown off course from time to time. So getting to our destination isn’t just going in a straight line along one direction. It involves multiple twists and turns, zigs and zags. When we realise we have zigged off track, then we must zag back into alignment.

Staying focused on what really matters to you gives you purpose, direction, energy and momentum. But it’s not that easy to do. It means not getting distracted.

To help warm up your thoughts, here is what really matters for me: Having a loving family really matters. My grandchildren, and friends with all their weird and wonderful ways really matter. My work is central – it’s the expression of creativity and life force. Health. All these aspects are undeniable. They really matter.

Yet just having lost my husband, these aspects of life and what really matter are also seen in the light of “non-attachment”, that everything is transitory, in process and ever changing. Given that, I wanted to go to another level in considering this because life goes on, even when the unthinkable happens. This is what I found – three things stood out, clear as a bell.


Without hope life is black, dismal. As human beings, even in the most extreme situations, we can generate hope. Victor Frankl showed this in his observations of the concentration camp prisoners – of those who survived the gas chambers, it was the ones who kept alive their hope who made it through. I witnessed my husband’s hope glimmering even in the last weeks of his life as he was dying.

We all have hope as a transformational gift: as human beings we can take a ray of hope and turn it into a full-blown sunrise.

Hope is our transformational gift.


This notion was inspired by the Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield. It struck me because I’m someone who spends a lot of time trying to perfect my work, to make what I write and the way I work with people the best it can be, as perfect as is possible. An impossible task, of course because it is endless. Bottomless. So what was I really trying to do? By perfecting my writing, or coaching, facilitating, I was trying to perfect myself. Say no more. To change focus to perfect my love instantly comes closer to achieving what I strived for. I am lighter.

The shift to perfect your love is to shift beyond the self. It is a step toward self-transcendence.

Perfect your love, not yourself.


Courage is often mentioned as something we should aspire to. But what is it? It is more than responding to a risky situation, which is something more like valor. Courage is a long- cultivated internal resource that goes deep to the core. The root of the word is from Old French “cor” meaning heart. It is connected to spirit and taking heart, no matter what your state of mind. Courage is when your heart takes the lead and your mind co-operates no matter what reasons or excuses it gives you.

To have courage is to never, never give up on what really matters.

When we manifest these 3 qualities, life is rich, colourful, flowing. I’m in a spirited state of wellbeing. It’s important to point out that we manifest these states or qualities – and they tame being worried, angry or anxious. Like the song, “Don’t worry – be happy”, we do it ourselves. I am the source of my state, whatever the situation. Whether or not I remember to manifest ‘hope’, ‘perfect your love’, and ‘courage’ is another matter. It is easy to have amnesia when the chips are down or when we’re under pressure.

But amnesia won’t lead to growth, to being whole. One way to keep it alive and in mind is to talk about it to others. Talking is part of manifesting something to make it real and give momentum.

Then we can take it a step further . . . Knowing what really matters is great, but we need to attend to it as well. One sure-fire way is to DO something that matters, to put focus and purpose together:

“A task without a vision is just a job.
A vision without a task is just a dream.
A vision with a task can change the world.” – Unknown source

I invite you to think of something that really matters that you can do in the next few weeks or months; say by the end of the year. It could be connected with what you’ve talked about, or something else. A project that has meaning and relevance for you. It could be something creative or functional, or about a relationship, or something for a friend, or for your future. De-cluttering . A new venture. Getting a pet. Whatever it is, it has significance.

If you don’t have a project, you might ask yourself what prevents you from honing what really matters. Asking yourself the question is more important that just coming up with something to do. In fact, investigating that question could be your project. Turn the question to a quest.

Your Project is a vehicle of transition. Your project, that really matters, whether large or small, is transformation in action.

You know, many of us were taught a lie as children or young people, when we were told implicitly or explicitly that “You don’t really matter”. We collude with that lie when we act as though it is true and don’t show up in life. It’s a false belief, a terrible negative that mustn’t be allowed to continue, because it prevents you from stepping up as your beautiful, unique, weird and wonderful self with your own gift that no one else can give. That is the marvelous way that you can make a difference.

As elders, we need to live as though our place in the world really matters.


i Einsein, Albert, (1932), On Cosmic Religion and Other Opinions and Aphorisms, Covici-Friede

ii Percy, D.E., (2012), The Power of Place, Video

Copyright © Di Percy, 2018. All rights reserved.