Living & Dying with Regret

We all make mistakes. We all know how hard it is to keep our minds from playing over and over something we said or did. Something we are not proud of. But did you know there is something that could prove worse than the replays? Having a replay in a most sacred moment: while waiting for the ultimate transition, the last breath.

I have had plenty of conversations with men and women who were diagnosed with a terminal illness. Some reflected on how they lived life as a whole, handled good and not so good relationships, cared for family, interacted with career, and more. German psychologist, Erik Erikson, was right when he described his eighth stage of human development as one of Integrity vs. Despair. In a few words, Erikson hypothesized that people in their late years reflect upon their past to determine if they lived satisfactory. Talk about making your bed.

We who perceive we have "plenty of time left," don't go this far when we mess up. When we do or say something we regret, we usually feel unease for a period of hours or days. At some point the repercussions of the regret fade away and then it hardly crosses our minds. Like it never happened. However, based on my conversations with terminally ill patients, regrets can and do, in fact, revisit us.

This forces us to ask an important question. Making mistakes is inevitable, as is the feeling of regret. While we can't erase this faulty human phenomenon, perhaps we can try to avoid the big ones. You know, the types of regret that might get publicity, harm familial relationships to no end, or destroy a hard earned reputation. It certainly is sad to see such major errors occur, errors that anyone of us can commit, if we're not careful. Nobody wins. At the crossroads, we must ask, What should we do to ensure our final moments aren't filled with enormous sadness?

Here are two quick thoughts of mine. One thing we can do is slow down in life. We live fast, eat, fast, drive fast, talk fast, just to name a few. Living life with such urgency--unnecessary so much of the time--easily throws us of our game. The next thing you know, we sabotage an important relationship, lose our cool with another driver, or say the wrong thing to our boss. Maybe, just maybe, things could go a little better if we slow down to walk more intentionally.

A second thing we can do is acknowledge that we don't want to go the haunted path and make an effort to remind ourselves throughout the day what is truly important in life. I love creating formulas based on spiritual principles. I write poems and prayers. What you're about to read is a formula I came up with to help me become aware of what is important in life as I go throughout my schedule. So, here it is.

I begin with a mantra that I say to myself every morning. Nothing fancy, but it provokes profound reflection that can speak to my upcoming experiences. Then, I mentally break up my day into morning, noon, and evening. At 6 am I ask myself, "What matters most today?" I hold onto this question until about noon, reminding me especially during, say, traffic to keep things in perspective. From 12 pm to 6 pm I reflect on a particular spiritual principle of my choice such as self-discipline or the importance of studying. Life is about growing and advancing. And from 6 pm until I fall asleep I ask, "What will success look like for me and others tomorrow?" A nice way of setting us all for hope. In other words, we all deserve a chance.

You don't have to adapt my little regimen, but you might want to consider developing one of your own to prevent your good intentions from escaping you in some fleeting moment that will surprise you in your final days.

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