How to Look Back on Your Life with No Regrets


Creative Commons License photo credit: Lucky B

“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


Creative Commons License photo credit: iamjames46

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.


Creative Commons License photo credit: andystoll

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.

Conclusion

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.

20 thoughts on “How to Look Back on Your Life with No Regrets

  1. Touch lives of others and make a difference; leave behind a legacy for those still alive. The only way to live after death is to live through lives of those you have touched.

  2. This article explains every detail how to live and die without regret. I don’t think you are missing anything.

    However there is always room to expand and in that I will expand it by saying this:

    No matter how busy you get, create a routine to make a list of all the things you’re grateful for in that moment, this will help to bring more things in your life to be grateful about.

    This is what leads to seeing life through the eyes of ‘the soul’. In this, there is no regret, only opportunity for seeing gratefulness in all things.

    Being in a state of gratitude attracts blissful experience for a life-time. Every goal you could ever want to achieve will natural flow to you through this gratitude state of being and that is what life is all about. The complete opposite of regret.

  3. In reference to #3. Take every opportunity that comes by, does this include casual sex between to single people? Like for instance if I (single guy) had the opportunity to have sex without any attachments whatsoever with a girl who is clearly willing and single should I take it as an opportunity and grab it? My upbringing and logic says no but I do doubt myself at times and can see turning it down as being a cause for regret. Would appreciate your thoughts on this.

  4. Hi George.

    Interesting point. I’m sure everyone would have a different view on this one but my mind says no, that is not the type of thing meant by seizing opportunities. The reason for this is that the event is so heavily desire based that it will just lead to you wanting more and more and never feeling satisfied.

    But I could be wrong!

    TDM

  5. Great post TDM! My mother actually said the same thing about traveling before she died!

    I have a problem with nr. 2 Waste no time. To me the problem is that my life is so busy with all the stuff I must do, I feel I don’t get to do enough of what I truly WANT to do. Work, work, work – and the driving the kids all over the place, takes a lot of time and energy. I long to have more time to meditate and read and write, among other things.

    I know ideally I should keep my cool in these situations as well, but I’m not quite there… I’d be grateful if you have any tip for me?

  6. Hi Miss Attica.

    The best advice I can give you, having gone through those same problems, is that you must make your life your meditation. Meditation is not sitting on a cushion, it is turning every situation that occurs into a practice.

    I hope that helps.

    TDM

  7. Thanks for your thoughts TDM! I agree everyone has a different view on this one and I hope to hear those inputs as well.

  8. Thanks for the tip! Yes, it helps to be reminded of this truth, although I find it extremely difficult sometimes! I guess if I keep on practicing I will eventually get the hang of it, eh? Thanks again for sharing.

  9. I have one to add: Tell people how much they mean to you. Two of my friends died suddenly last year and I never told them just how much I cherished them.

    Although the scenario is our own self on our death bed, we don’t always know when our time’s up, so the important things should never be left unsaid.

  10. Thank you so much for writing this blog. It really spoke to me as I am dealing with a lot of personal frustrations as I debate taking a new job. I am leaning towards staying put as that seems to be the best course of action for my family but you gave me something else to think about!
    I have read your blog for a while and I just wanted to drop a quick comment to say thanks and your work is appreciated.

    Take care.

  11. I believe it was Steve Jobs who said: it’s best to make changes if you’re looking in the mirror too many days in a row without being happy with what you’re doing. It comes down to living the life you want regardless of outside pressures.

  12. I no longer fear death…at times, I even wish it. Maybe it’s because, Like the last commentor pointed out with the Steve Jobs quote, maybe I am looking too much in the mirror without being happy (but then, I do live in Tucson).

    Anyway, although I do no fear death, I fear something terrible at the loss of my “identity” after death. We seem to disperse, mix, join with others, whatever, after death. Does anyone else have that problem?

  13. Always thought the ultimate question is answered at your time of death. If you have lived a full life, without regret, death will come as the next natural step. Regrets would imply unfinished business, or not living in accordance with your code of life. Great scene…when it is time, you walk into the forest or onto a bluff overlooking your favorite valley…wrap that blanket across your shoulders for comfort and sit peacefully. Five things that I try to do: 1)treat others with more compassion, 2)help those less fortunate, 3)Uplift those around me, 4)enable people/help them along their journey, and 5)spread a better philosophy. Not claiming to be successful all, heck, even most the time..but do try.

  14. Thanks a lot for the thoughts. I think most of this is very true. I always say: If you are 75 and look back on your life what do you wanna see? That is truly very personal.
    One thing is bothering a bit: Take every opportunity is not for me. Many people do whatever comes their way and they will never get somewhere. I say: Find your destiny/talents/gifts and then take the opportunity that leads in that direction. Shed all the stuff that doesn’t go with your goals. Whatever these goals may be….

  15. If on your death bed you are surrounded by family and friends, I would guess you lived your life well. I feel sad for those that die alone, without family and friends by their side.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Prove that you're human *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.