What will you do today to be able to end your life at the uncertain time of your death with as little regret as possible? The freedom to die without regret is the aim of many meditators and those with spiritual practices of other types. I have been living a better life, striving to be a better person, doing meditation practice intensively for many decades as part of my “live-and-die-without-regret” plan.
One day last fall, I walked through my neighborhood in northern California in a new direction, on streets I hadn’t walked before. There was a wide variety of landscaping, from untended dirt piles (for what purpose?) to blooming plants, featuring some very large, standing roses bushes all in a line. The dwellings ranged from assisted living, small buildings with apartments, and tinier cottages than mine to large homes and a few of what I’m sure were mansions when they were built in the early 1900s. To my eye, this “neighborhood” contained a haphazard mix of land use and varied conditions of the habitations.
Mansions’ grounds looked something like this. image from betterdecoratingbible.com
I lingered in front of the beautiful fountains and shrubbery of one of the mansions, moved on to adore two little landscaped ponds and wondered what inspired their creation. I then went to sit in the neighborhood park on this beautiful fall day.
The combination of the 70-degree temperature, the bright sun, the park’s peacefulness, the sweet-smelling breezes, the cloudless skies, my own independence and freedom (having recently been laid off), created a “perfection moment.” Into this scene walked two more people.
A girl of about four pranced in and began to play with her “papi” (a Spanish term for “father,” but is used for almost any older male relative or even one’s boyfriend or husband; he appeared to be her grandfather). Papi had carried in a large bubble wand and jar of bubble mixture. Their game involved his dipping the wand and waving it to let the bubbles flow toward her in the light breeze. She would then shriek in delight and leap, run, stretch high, crouch and kick to get the bubbles within her reach to pop them.
She buzzed around the playground, laughing and calling out, “Papi! Papi!” with joy each time she popped a rainbow bubble. He laughed with her delight and kept sending them to her. At one point, his enthusiasm and the breeze conspired to put the bubbles a bit ahead of her, coming too fast and out of her reach.
image from http://www.designdazzle.com
Indignant and out of breath, she went over to him, stomped her foot, put her hands at her hips (in her best imitation of her mom?) and said, “Papi! Wait for me to come to you!”
“Oh, yes, of course, mi Princesa!” he replied, bowing, and did as she asked.
Satisfied, she resumed her annihilating spree with vigor.
Life sometimes is just like that: everything is beautiful, within reach, delightful, fun and able to be changed at our command. As humans, especially many who are living in relative peace, many of us live long lives, replete with splendor and abundance of all that we could possibly desire.
Yet, our lives, as any, are actually just rainbow bubbles, able to be burst at any time by another’s actions, or the breezes, or by striking an object, or just by our coming to the ends of our bubble existences: POP and life is over, royal or not.
Then, unlike a bubble, which seems to be free of self-reflection, we know we just died. Some of us die slowly, having time to contemplate our lives and deaths as we die; that’s part of our existence. A few of us have long, self-recriminating death throes that go on and on, all the way until we land in our next incarnation or experience whatever we believe is “next.”
Our death-bed remorse and self-castigations are for naught: no matter how many ways we imagine we could have done things differently, as we lay dying, it’s too late. Regrets are not what we want to be left with when we die.
Many spiritual teachers often say that the best departure any human can hope for is to die without regret. How many of us could die today without regret? Do you have that freedom?
image from http://www.chfi.com/
Some ways to reduce regrets (add your own): Spend more time with loved ones. Finish that project. Offer apologies. Go on a vacation. Appreciate, love, thank people, repeatedly, for their presence in your lives, out loud, to their faces, and/or write thank-you letters. Give to charities. Take that chance. Share your possessions, time, other resources. Tell stories. Learn another language. Play music. Make art. Dance. Sing. Read. WRITE. Ask for others’ stories. Donate land, restore something, fix things. Organize your papers. Toss embarrassing “evidence” NOW.
If you become incapacitated, have you designated someone to have financial/legal Power of Attorney, a Health Care Power of Attorney? Do you have a Living Will that includes a declaration of intent when “heroic measures” are indicated? What about a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order? Who knows where all these papers are located?
Who is your “executor”? That is a role EVERYONE needs to have filled, not just those with a lot of money or property.
For those left behind: Write a Will and have it witnessed and notarized. Sort through and discard things so your friends and relatives won’t have to do that. Designate who gets what, clearly.
Plan for your death: what about your body’s disposal or burial (organ donor? cremation?). Your funeral? Do you have or need to purchase a burial plot? Are your death expenses covered? What ceremonies do you want and to whom have you described them? Has the music been chosen? The guest list provided?
Something to aim for: the freedom of dying without regret. And, since we do not know the time, manner or date of our death, start NOW on that course.
What will you do today to be able to end your life at the uncertain time of your death with as little regret as possible? I encourage you to do that. And more tomorrow. That is freedom.
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