“How well we have lived
How well we have loved
How well we have learned to let go”
― Jack Kornfield
So why might we want to begin to consider death in our lives? Unfortunately, like it or not, we are going to see loved ones die and come face to face with the stark reality that we too are going to die.
Long before I started my Mindfulness journey I went through some very difficult things as a young woman, and began facing the death of those I loved, way before their time. I have been very fortunate in my life that I do not seem to have a tendency towards depression per se. But the grief had to go somewhere and seemed to manifest more in the way of an intense questioning and seeking – looking for comfort and the idea that there is something bigger than me directing the orchestra of life. In my seemingly never-ending quest I explored spiritual books, religion, mediumship, healing arts, tarot and crystals. I looked in all the corners and crevices of anything remotely spiritual on offer – searching. But I wasn’t sure what I was seeking. It wasn’t until I started learning meditation during qigong, tai chi and yoga teacher training that the intense seeking subsided, and when I went on to find Mindfulness and Compassion practice, I suddenly felt like I had arrived. And I began to realise that despite what is going on externally in life, happiness is actually to be found within.
Years ago I read the book by Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, which is essentially about a boy who goes on a long journey in search of treasure, only to find he already has the treasure, at home. Around this time, I realised how important nature was to me. How the early morning sun would lift my spirits. I watched the sun rise from the comfort of my cosy bed and noticed that I deeply appreciated that I had a warm bed in a safe house, and lay there absorbing the pleasure of the comfy bed and the sun warming my face. I began to have a sense of gratitude for each day… another day… another day, knowing that one day there would be no next day. One day would be my last. One day will be my last view of the sun rise and set, the moon rise and set, curious how it’s light changes each day, the blanket of stars above me in a black sky. I was taking joy in these moments without realising the importance of doing so, and how these moments were helping prevent me from spiralling down into a low mood.
When a close relative was going through her end of life stages, I found that every moment counted that I was with her and began to regret not having spent more time with her than I had when she was well and younger. Guilt began to creep in for all the times I should have spent that extra time with my parents and didn’t.
This sparked a new awareness and I suddenly developed a deep concern and compassion for anyone going through end of life. Life suddenly seemed very important, and so did the final stages of life. This motivated me to read as many books as I could about the end-of-life stages and I also trained to be a Soul Midwife. But what really struck me like a bolt of lightning was how important it was to enjoy each precious day of life as much as I could so that I wouldn’t die with regret. No matter what was happening.
Jack Kornfield says that “In the end just three things matter:
How well have I lived
How well have I loved
How well have I learned to let go”
I feel it sometimes takes tremendous effort to live each moment well. But how easy is it to live well, love well and learn to let go when we are caught up with the dramas of life?
How easy is it to recognise that anything we are tightly holding onto, a regret, an anger or non-forgiveness, is like a poison, gradually gnawing away at our mind and being and damaging our bodies? Not easy at all, which is why Mindfulness and Compassion practice can help provide us with the tools we need to navigate life a little easier, so we are able to truly live each precious moment of our lives as best we can.
Jack Kornfield also says: “The trouble is, you think you have time.” Wow, he is right. Time goes so fast. How is it to slow down a little and breathe and look around you and appreciate all the small things?
Maybe we can start with Rick Hanson’s practice – Taking in the Good, where we deliberately pause and notice the feelings and sensations we experience when we notice something that gives us joy. It might be bird song, the sun rise, waves on the sea, that morning cup of tea or the smell of coffee. Your own personal little joy. Hanson says if we allow this feeling to absorb into our being for 20 seconds it begins to hardwire the brain for happiness. And if we do this regularly, then we are truly beginning to live each moment fully, and help us create balance alongside the challenges.
According to the Guardian one of the Top Ten regrets of the dying is: I wish I had let myself be happier. Other regrets include not working so hard, having courage to express feelings, wishing they hadn’t worked so hard and wishing they had spent more time with loved ones.
What do you think yours might be? How would it be to start making changes now so that we do not have any regrets and can rest and smile at the end of our lives that we have lived well, loved well and finally, learned to let go……
In the words of Mary Oliver, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
You might like to read Heathers blog from the Science of Mindfulness series- Living without Regret
Or you might like to join Heather and I on our Living Well to Die Well Course and begin practicing how to live well, how to love well and how to learn to let go, while we still have time. Here is a practice from the course – where it all begins – Body Like a Mountain.
A Year to Live – Stephen Levine
Hardwiring Happiness – Rick Hanson
Top Ten Regrets of the Dying – The Guardian.
Jacky Seery is a tutor for the Mindfulness Association and has graduated with MSc Studies in Mindfulness. She will be teaching on the following upcoming courses: Mindfulness in Nature Weekend 3-5 March, The Mindful Body starting 21 March, Level 2 Compassion Course, Mindfulness with Yoga and Qigong Weekend 30 June – 2 July.