“My religion is to live and die without regrets.” – Milarepa, Tibet’s greatest ever yogi.
Imagine this. You are old, frail and sick. You are laying in your bed with your children and family members around you. They are crying. Their eyes are red and their faces pull forced smiles trying to make you feel better about what is happening. You are dying.
Now ask yourself this question: are you regret free? Are you going to slip away in to the afterlife knowing that you lived a good and moral and full life? Or, are you going to be panicking because your mind is full of regrets and you aren’t ready to leave?
In this post I want to give you a few simple ways to make sure you live your life without regrets. I truly believe that when death comes the most important thing you can have by your side is the knowledge that you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Why this is so important to know
First of all I want to talk a little bit about why it is so important to live and die without regrets. It is not a complicated philosophical argument or even a religious teaching. The reason it is so important is because all of us, at the time of death, are scared out of our mind.
Think about when you lose some little trinket that you treasure. It might be a necklace, wedding ring or your car keys. Think about how frustrated and anxious you get. You are so attached to that item you can’t bare to be separated from it even for a few moments.
Now imagine death.
At the time of death it is not just your keys or your necklace that you are leaving behind. It is everything. You are leaving behind your kids, your house, your spouse. You are leaving your morning coffee and your local park and all your life habits. Most distressing, however, is the fact that you are leaving behind your body. The very body that you have groomed and cared for and cleaned and loved your entire life. It is time to separate from it. And that is bloody scary.
At that point in time the only thing you have to rely on is a calm mind. If you are in a negative space; thinking about all your possessions and attachments that you are parting from then your death will be painful. If, however, you are calm, collected, happy and regret free your death will be no drama whatsoever.
How to look back on your life with no regrets
Now that I have done a little bit of an introduction I want to talk about a few things that you need to do if you want to die without regrets. If you have ANY IDEAS of your own I would love to hear them. This is one area where you can never have enough knowledge.
1. Do no harm
All the major religions and philosophies of the world have one thing in common. They all speak of the fact that the very core and heart of their teachings is the idea that you should do no harm.
This is the most important thing of all. If you have spent your life harming people your death will be an occasion full of fear and regret. If, however, you have spent your days helping people and lived a loving and caring life there will be no cause for fear at the time of death. Why would there be? How could anything bad come from a life spent helping others?
If you want to die without regret it is important to do no harm. Don’t harm others with your body or your harsh speech. Don’t gossip about people and ruin their reputations. Don’t kill or injure animals. As a great Indian Buddhist master once wrote in his seminal text:
“Even a tiny spark can set fire to a whole mountainside. Do no harm whatsoever.” – Shantideva
2. Waste no time
One of the major regrets that all people have is the recollection that you wasted a lot of your spare time doing things that had no real benefit. I touched on this in the recent post on recognizing your faults but I wanted to mention it here as well.
Human life is so precious. It is so rare and it is endowed with opportunities that no other species has. We have the mind, body and inclination to relieve the suffer of others. Not many animals can claim that they have this ability. But we do. We have the potential to travel the world, experience new things and grow as a person. We have the ability to love and the ability to bring joy to others’ lives.
This opportunity is so rare. It is so rare than even some other humans can’t claim to possess it. Impoverished souls in Africa and India and those in war torn countries do not have the opportunities that we relatively wealthy people in the west have. Wasting it would be the worst crime of all.
I truly believe that when death comes I will be more regretful of wasted time than of anything else. For the most part I do not harm a lot of beings and I do my best to help out when I can but, like a lot of humans, I am infected with the virus of laziness. I do not use my time well. If I want to die without regret I need to do something about this. And you do as well.
3. Take every opportunity that comes by
When you talk to the elderly about their lives one thing inevitably comes up – missed opportunities. Everyone has a story about an opportunity they had to work in a great firm or travel to a distant land or play for a great sporting team. And everyone regrets not taking that opportunity when it presented itself.
Something that I feel is very important is to take every opportunity that comes along. The reason for this is simple – you will regret not taking an opportunity a lot more than you will regret taking it and it not working out. For example, it would be a lot better to take a job in a distant land and find out it isn’t right for you than it would be to turn it down because you were afraid.
If you want to get to the end of your life and have no regrets you need to seize every opportunity that comes along. It doesn’t matter how small or big it is, never turn down something because you are too afraid that it won’t work out. 90% of the time you will only get one shot.
4. Travel the world
In 2006 my best mate was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. The doctors found the disease quite late and by that time it had spread to his bones and lymph nodes. It didn’t look good. During that time he said something interesting to me, something that has stuck with me. He said that he felt extremely lucky to have traveled.
It was really interesting to see a young man who was facing death say that one thing that really helped him was the fact that he had traveled the world and seen a lot of things. He said it made him feel as though he had lived a fuller life and hadn’t missed out on too much, despite his young age. I am happy to say that my friend has since recovered fully from the cancer.
If you want to die without regret I think it is not so important to see lots of things as it is to really experience them. When you travel I encourage you to stay in one place for longer than you would normally and really experience the culture and the location. Don’t just go sight seeing, try and really experience what magic the place has to offer. At the end of your life you will remember these experiences.
5. Train yourself in impermanence
Death is a lot like professional sport. If you spend a lot of time training for it you will do well. If, however, you just try to fluke it there is every chance that you will fail. The time to train for death is today. The method is remembering the truth of impermanence.
When you are laying in your bed with your family around the last thing you want is a clinging mind. The last thing you want is to be so pained by your attachments that you can’t bare to let go of your life. If you are attached to your house and family you will find it extremely hard to slip away.
The only way you can combat this is to remember impermanence now. Every time you see yourself becoming attached to something you should remind yourself that it won’t last. Everything composite breaks. Everything that goes up comes down. Nothing lasts. Don’t be depressed by this fact, be happy. For now you have the motivation for seizing the moment and making the most of life while you still have it. This is what they mean when they say you need to live in the light of death.
I truly believe that if you live your life with the goal to have no regrets at the time of death you will live a wonderful life. Don’t harm, don’t waste time and don’t miss opportunities. These three things are essential. Your goal is to make these things happen. I can write about it until the cows come home but until you change your life for the better it is all just idle speech. I wish you the best of luck.
If you have any tips to share with us please leave a comment. It might really help one of our readers.