Wednesday 13 February 2013

Lessons of Living (according to the regrets of the dying)

This morning, in my early meanderings, I came across several things of interest. The first was an article in the Guardian newspaper listing the five top ten regrets of the dying. This article was re-posted from the blog of palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware, so I will post the original here as it seems only fair that Bronnie should have the web traffic directed to her as author. What Bronnie Ware came to observe was that the dying consistently held the same regrets about their living, and wished they had the foresight to change these things before meeting death, so what are these things?

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
2. I wish I didn't work so hard (mainly men quoted this one, not so hard to imagine why)
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier  

Expanding upon these, an overarching theme emerges. People's key regrets seem to hinge upon that which was felt but never expressed. The individuality that was concealed through fear, conformity or negative beliefs about what would happen if people truly allowed themselves to be themselves. So many of us temper our behaviour, thoughts and feelings using firstly our own 'JUDGE', the beast who resides within distorting our version of 'reality' by presenting us with a false one that is based upon illusion. Secondly we allow the 'judge' that belongs to another to hold court, and thirdly, the 'judge' that belongs to the collective, again an illusory construction. That judge is powerful (but not infallible) and I am inclined to think maybe he looks mean, spiteful and possibly a bit like this? But we'll all have our own versions of our inner and outer 'judges'.

Recognising when it's too late that personal freedom and happiness are CHOICES, we are left with the empty shell of regret, usually brought to us on the glistening carriage of its ugly sister bitterness. So how can we ensure that whilst still very much alive, we don't carry with us the baggage that will end up becoming our legacy? One of my teachers (Hilary Spencely) recently quoted this African saying: "When you are truly you, I can truly be me" - I love this. Do you get it? I mean really get it? Do you understand that when you stop self censoring, holding up the masks, hiding behind false fear and judgement, and step into your courageous, beautiful self, I too can do the same, and I can do this as the space that is created between us then contains truth, courage and respect. Doesn't that sound better than fear and loathing, bitterness and regret? What a gift we give each other in speaking our personal truth. Venturing into this it's important also to be speaking from the heart, but what does this mean?


 Marriage guidance counsellor Hedy Schleifer (pictured above) gave a remarkable TED TALK on the power of connection that really dives deep into this. The absolute clarity with which she speaks, takes us into the terrain of the power of what is is to truly listen to, and hear another. Of what it means to stay in the heart (compassion), and to speak the truth whilst remaining able to accept another's truth which may be totally opposed to our own. It may be that there is a cost in speaking your truth of course, but if the price we pay is deep regret in our dying moments, surely it's a cost worth paying, for if we never risk stepping out, we can be certain of one thing, that we will never find out what could have been had we taken that step. In terms of my sexual freedom activism and coaching, it's all about being true to who you really are. Finding a voice, finding your courageous heart and your full potential. Life is sweet, so let's make sure we're living it whilst we have it!


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