Before we zoom over Thanksgiving on our way to Christmas/New Years/Spring Break/Next Summer, I would like to pause to consider the most basic and greatest of gratitudes: that we have the privilege of being here at all.
Bronnie Ware was a palliative care nurse for many years and wrote a short essay which became a book published in 29 languages called, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. It’s a powerful piece, one that bears cutting out and pasting on the bathroom mirror, just to get oneself straight every day. The power of these regrets lies in the way they go right to the truth and heart of what really matters. Health and money and kids and work are all there, but when it comes down to it, love and kindness and connection are what it’s all about.
Here’s what Bronnie’s patients told her in their final, few days on this planet (with my thoughts below):
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Not pursuing your dreams leads to an unfulfilled life. Following a dream is a choice, and it’s always a worthy sacrifice. No one ever regrets trying, regrets going for it: they regret not going for it. Life makes its quotidian demands upon us all, but even so, we always have the opportunity to become who we are, to be brave and true.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
From time to time it’s important to ask yourself why you are doing what you’re doing, particularly if you are not happy doing it. It’s easy to fall into the cultural trance of believing that money is the be-all, end-all, but the truth is that many (most) of us would be far happier having less money and more meaningful work, or less money and more time for the things we say we value, like friends and family and creative pursuits. It’s really worthwhile to ponder the question, What is real success to me?
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve counseled who have told me that they could never say what they really felt to their parent or spouse. This is truly tragic, because unspoken feelings condemn you to live a guarded and inauthentic life, not to mention the fact that unexpressed emotion makes you sick. Literally. People are afraid to speak their true feelings for fear of a negative reaction in others, but as Bronnie says, “… speaking honestly … raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.”
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
In the end, the only real, important thing is the experience of loving relationships, of connection. It’s only and always about Love. It’s important not to let the busyness of daily life crowd out what really matters. There is no end to the busyness, ever. Remember that where attention goes, energy flows, and without attention, relationships lose vitality, wither and die. Without loving connection, it’s a lonely, meaningless ride.
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Happiness is a choice. If you are not happy, ask yourself (your true self, not your little ego personality) why. Then ask yourself what would bring you happiness. It’s usually the little things. For me, it’s a bike ride with my kids, dancing in the kitchen while I make dinner, or sitting on the porch before dawn, connecting to Spirit. Real happiness comes from being present in the moment and from being connected to who you really are, not who you think you are, or think you need to be. (See #1) Don’t let the fear of judgment (your own or others) keep you from enjoying the ride.