Ever meditated on death? No? Me neither to be honest, not the most cheerful of topics and something most of us avoid thinking about.
It is, however, something I think it would benefit us all to think about a bit more often, not to be morbid but to influence how we are living.
For Buddhists it is customary to meditate on death as, according to Buddhism, it is only by recognising how precious and short life is that we are able to live full and meaningful lives. It is only once we accept that we are going to die that we truly start living.
It was certainly looking at life from this perspective that finally woke me up to the reality that my time here is not guaranteed, it is limited, and that it was time I started to figure out who I really was, what I really wanted and to live my life accordingly.
The catalyst for me was a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware. In this book Ware describes her time working as a palliative carer, a time during which she was privy to the thoughts and feelings of her patients in their final days, as they looked back over their lives and recognised and voiced the things they wished they had done differently.
Reflecting on all that she had heard Ware realised that people’s regrets mostly fell into five categories:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
- I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends
- I wish I had let myself be happier
On reading this list I realised that four out of these five regrets rang true for me and I did not want that to be my reality any longer.
For me regrets 1, 2 and 5 are very closely linked. By doing work you don’t love it feels like you are working far harder than if you were doing work you felt truly passionate about. It also drains your happiness and prevents you from living your most authentic life. Those are the three things that I have spent the past few years focusing on and my life is starting to change as a result.
It was while I was working in corporate that I began to realise that far too many of us are living our lives back to front. Spending hours commuting to get to jobs that we don’t like, that in some cases are damaging our health and, as a consequence, our leisure time, wishing our days and weeks away until the next holiday (which will only ever be a temporary fix) or, worse still, counting the years to retirement when we will finally have the time and money to live the life we want to live.
Why, in an age where there is more opportunity than ever before to live and work exactly as we want, are so many of us still choosing to spend our best years unhappy and unfulfilled, like hamsters on an interminable wheel?
I believe it is down to conditioning. We have been conditioned by “the system” to not question, to follow the crowd, to not take risks with our futures, with the futures of our families. Work should be a chore, life is hard, to want more is selfish, we should just be grateful for everything we have when there are others who are far worse off.
Surely the greater risk is getting to the end of your life, the only life you get, wishing you’d done things differently, been more of who you truly are, done the things that filled you with joy, spent your time with the people you loved? Surely the true definition of being selfish is to not share your greatest gifts with the world, instead spending your life in a job that brings you no joy and utilises very few of your God given talents?
“Life is what happens on the way to the finish line.” Danielle Laporte.
And a note on the idea that everything we are doing today, the sacrifices we are making, are all in preparation for a happier, more secure future. Newsflash; all this preparation we are doing for tomorrow is actually our life, right now, today. To paraphrase Danielle Laporte, if you’re not enjoying the time in between finish lines it’s time to reassess. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the doing and forget that we are actually living right now. How often do we ask ourselves whether we are enjoying the process that is taking us towards the future? How many times have you reached that elusive point in the future on which you are pinning all of your hopes only to realise that the happiness you had expected to feel was fleeting at best or non existent at worst?
One of the exercises I use with my clients to help them get clarity is to imagine yourself at 90 years of age, imagine where you are, who you are surrounded by and reflect back on your life, all the things you accomplished, how you spent your time, how you felt, the people who shared your journey. If what you see leaves you feeling empty rather than satisfied or you close your eyes and picture an idyllic life that looks nothing like your current reality, then it is time to reflect. What changes can you make to bring yourself into greater alignment with the life you truly want to live?
And so, I’ll leave you with a few words from people far wiser than me:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” Steve Jobs
“The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.” Mary Pickford
With Love Xx