Outlive Your Regrets


Saint Theophilus the Penitent (Theophilus of Adana) making a deal: “Sign right here, Bro, you won’t regret it.”

Of the chief personality traits that go into the making of a “self-actualized personality”–as espoused by Maslowe and other prominent psychologists in the latter half of the 20th century–the only one I can remember is “the ability to live with ambiguity.” I have always been fortunate in understanding that I know more or less absolutely nothing about what is going on around me at any given time–and that’s just fine! I can take all the ambiguity that you can dish out–“Shall we execute him in the morning?”–and I’ll sleep peacefully right through the night.

So, the next time you don’t exactly know where you are or what you’re doing, or why you’re doing it or who you’re doing it with, or even if you’ll be doing it again tomorrow, don’t worry about it. It’s called being comfortable with ambiguity, and it might help you resolve certain issues in your life that could otherwise lead to regrets when looking back from your death bed.

A “palliative care” specialist recently posted “five regrets” that dying patients commonly express to her. I’d like to comment on three of those regrets:

The First Regret: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

I was fortunate because I had a mother who wanted me to be happy in whatever it was that I decided to do. She had no other expectation than this, my happiness. As far as a career was concerned, she didn’t care about status, money, prestige, power, or fame. If I wanted to be the President, a nurse, a factory worker, or a city sewer cleaner it was O.K. with her. The same rule applied to where I wanted to live. Most mothers don’t want to see their children living far away on other continents, especially scary continents, and Asia, especially China, was once seen as a pretty scary prospect. This kind of ambiguity about what might happen to me in scary places I could live with, and so could she if I was happy. That’s all she cared about.

The Second Regret: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

People so wrapped up in their careers are, in my view, people who really don’t want to ask or find out what the real purpose of their lives is. I mean, look where we live–in the Milky Way hurtling through space in one direction, the sun itself is getting further and further away from everything in another direction, and we’re spinning on a globe that’s revolving around that sun. We are going four different directions at the same time, and if you could do that with your car your kids would be throwing up on the floor. We’re a gazillion miles from the nearest gas station, and we’re all alone. Now, that’s a serious amount of ambiguity. Who out there wants to think about these things? Nobody? Then get a career, close your mind, let your kids grow up strangers and your wives frustrated. What’s there to regret until it’s too late?

The Third Regret: “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

As the “palliative care” specialist mentions in her post, happiness is a choice. It has been some time since I also discovered this, and its influence on my physical and emotional health has been measurable. So, I’ll happily tell anyone that I practice bliss. Most don’t understand what I mean, and even I can’t really explain it because there’s no formula to follow, except maybe to settle way down, look around and appreciate all the beauty that surrounds you, and sigh with gratitude until you feel a deeply serene happiness–bliss–wash over you.

But there is something else that may be related to bliss that I rarely share with anybody, except for today, and that is the fact that the grand total of my worldly possessions numbers three–a Chinese painting, a Chinese bicycle, and an old Japanese Olympus film camera that I haven’t been able to give away in five years–talk about ambiguity, what happens if? Even most of my family can’t get their heads around this one, but they have grown accustomed to the way I am. I don’t know if practicing bliss and being unburdened by material possessions are necessarily linked, but they might be, and it seems to work for me.

Now, what were those other nine attributes of the “self-actualized personality”? Got any idea?

The above was written as a comment on the below blog’s post: http://myworldofbliss.wordpress.com/2011/05/15/top-five-regrets-of-the-dying/


About soaringdragons

Twenty years and still alive--in China, that is. I write about China and the world of spirit--all very non-expertly--and whatever else strikes my fancy. You'll find posts on even days of the month.
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2 Responses to Outlive Your Regrets

  1. Xiao says:

    Hi Ray, interesting post!

    My technique is to cut the regrets immediately when it happens. It doesn’t sound very healthy but it works well for me. I just repeat to myself that regrets are nothing but a waste of time… Then I normally can get over it rapidly.

    Jeremy from Kunming, Nick’s friend, who just went back to France.

    • soaringdragons says:

      Hi, Jeremy,

      Thanks for your comment. I think what you do is a good idea, because we all know that “regrets” can’t change what happened in the past so why spend time and energy worrying about what we can’t change.

      It must be good to be back in France, now. Keep in touch.

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