from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 6 February 2012

a year to live... look well therefore to this day

Maybe twenty years ago a friend and I worked separately but together through Stephen Levine's book A Year to Live. The core of this book is living as if you knew you had only one year to live.

In my New Year 'Thresholds' workshops I ask a key question: 'What would you change if you had only one year to live?' Its corollary of course is 'What's stopping you – what's really stopping you – making those changes now?' The answer, of course, usually involves fear, one way or another.

A couple of days ago The Guardian ran a piece on the findings of Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, who's recently written a book based on the five most common regrets of terminally ill people as they lie dying.

(TM drew my attention to it. 'Strange!' he said. 'Why don't they mention not getting enough sex??'
No comment.)

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying states that these top five are (and note that all are within our own power to change, with the possible exception of the working one – although we have more choice there, at least in terms of what we consider to be essential to our lives in terms of expenditure, than we are comfortable with admitting): 

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. 'This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made...' 

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard. 'This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.' 

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings. 'Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.' 

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. 'Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.' 

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. 'This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.'

And this reminds me of a deceptively simple Sanskrit teaching, over two millennia old. Perhaps you've come across it before?
    Look well to this day
    For it is life
    The very best of life.
    In its brief course lie all
    The realities and truths of existence,
    The joy of growth, the splendour of action,
    The glory of power.
    For yesterday is but a memory.
    And tomorrow is only a vision.
    But today well lived
    Makes every yesterday a memory of happiness
    And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
    Look well, therefore to this day.

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