I have thought a lot about regret.
I remember my grandmother saying to me: don’t do something you will regret at the end of your life. She looked so intensely at me that her words were seared into my psyche eternally.
I was in my mid-twenties, and dating, and I knew she was implying that I not do the unmentionable something with a man. She was from the Victorian era and ladies’ reputations could be ruined forever by an ill-chosen tryst.
But I remember thinking, I wish I could say to her that there are two kinds of regrets: regrets for the things we did and regrets for the things we did not do (and at that stage in my life I was much more interested in the latter!). But her cryptic message made me start thinking about the end of life, something that had not been on my radar before.
I know at some point we all experience that terrible realization that we will in fact die some day. Well when I came to that realization, I was gripped with the horror of death’s inevitability.
In that moment I saw that all of my actions and inactions would completely inform the way I faced my death and the way I perceived myself.
The impact of that realization changed my behavior from that day forward. I went from being a person who didn’t think much about the consequences of my actions to weighing them based on how much I would like myself afterward.
I was in the room when my beloved sister got the shocking news that her days were numbered — way before anyone thought she would be leaving. I know only too well that it is a huge shock to actually know that we, or our loved ones, only have a few months left. Even my mother who is 89 and has dementia keeps upping the age she says she is going to die. When you are there, it feels like you had so little time, and you still want more.
I see my mother struggle with regret, and I see how she suffers. She lived an unexamined life and now it all spins around and around in a seemingly endless cycle of pain and denial. I am determined to not find myself in that terrible place when I am facing my own transition into the great unknown.
I have thought a lot about what type of regrets people have when they are facing their own demise. Does the workaholic think I just wish I could have worked a little harder, made more money and spent less time with loved ones? ‘Does anyone ever say I am glad I continued working at the job I hated, rather than follow my dreams.
For me, the determination to not be carrying regret when I come to the end of my journey here has had a huge impact on the choices I have made.
Indigenous Shamans teach about carrying our death with us always. Perhaps this is what they mean. Maybe it is about carrying the knowing that we will indeed die, so the choice to have a ‘good death’ and really like who we are when we get there becomes an important part of life. It prods us to live our lives to the fullest and do no harm along the way.
It is what made me decide to leave my soul-killing corporate job and do work that I love, albeit less lucrative. It gave me the strength to walk away from relationships that were wrong for me, even though they provided security. It gave me the strength to have the courageous conversations I would so much rather avoid. To stretch myself and leave my comfort zone and have adventures. And I like myself more and more each day.
Liking ourselves is highly underrated. We never really hear much about it, but at the end of the day, and all our days, it is really all we have. Not carrying regret can be a powerful catalyst to live our lives in accordance with our highest aspirations. Knowing that we are going to face our death someday and our ability to like ourselves when we come to that inevitable place of passage, can be an important motivator for living our lives to the fullest.
So how would you feel about your life if you got the shocking news tomorrow that your days were numbered? Would you say that you lived your life in alignment with what was really important to you? That you liked who you were and what you had become? Would you feel good about the people in your life and how you treated them? Could you say you loved well and that you went for your dreams despite the obstacles?
I can’t say yes to all of them yet, but knowing I will face this inevitability keeps me focused on the bigger picture of my life and what is truly important.
How about you?
Erica Sofrina is a motivational speaker, teacher author and life coach. You can visit her web site at www.ericasofrina.com