Here is a link to the podcast, Living Without Regrets which is about Bronnie Ware’s work in end-of-life care, and which inspired today’s workshop.
Our title for today is Preventing Regrets and what I mean by that is just being fully alive and knowing and hearing about these regrets from people at the end of their life. As we know, when people are close to death, there is often this incredible potency and honesty, no more games, no more veil around the future even being a possibility, it’s now, the power condenses in.
Sometimes we do the deathbed contemplation or contemplating our precious human birth and that death comes without warning, in the traditional teachings of the four reminders or four thoughts that turn the mind towards the dharma, motivating us not to take for granted the life that we’re in right now, and also the fact that the future never comes and the past is truly gone.
Bronnie Ware’s primary insight was that all regrets in life come from a lack of courage.
From my own practice, the sense of really condensing into the present moment, relinquishing that subtle or not so subtle belief in the future as a real thing. The difference between having an awareness of a possible next moment is the subtle belief that the next moment is already real and there somehow.
We have the capacity to imagine a further unfolding of this present moment, but technically there isn’t a next moment. There is just this moment. This moment keeps undulating and unfolding and expressing itself endlessly, and we do know that conditioned phenomenon are always changing.
When we think of the past, we recall it right now, it lives now, the past can be accessed from the point of view of recollection now, but we’ve never gone into the past. We’ve also never gone into the future, because if we did, it would still be happening right now.
I’ve really been resigning into this present moment more lately and what I feel that does is it increases my wonder, increases my appreciation, increases my playfulness. Trusting the intelligence of this moment. We’re saying “In this moment, and this one, and this one, I am trusting the unfolding intelligence.” We’re trusting and listening to each unfolding moment.
This isn’t to say you can’t plan but when the planning has a belief in realness, that is why samsara and conditioned existence is so sneaky.
Dying into the present is really trusting that actually we might get more done, we can still plan, but we’re drawn back to here, this moment, this heart, and we’re attuned to reality and we make choices based on being really attuned and sensitive as opposed to This is Our Plan No Matter What.
Another way of looking at courage, we could say that if all regrets come from a lack of courage, then having courage is being willing to come into and trust this eternally youthful present, this timeless moment of now that is always happening, always undulating, trusting that we can get more in touch with it. But it costs us a little bit when we do that. We invite in a lot more uncertainty.
The future is uncertain, and we know that, but our future orientation is an attempt to protect us from not being in control. When we do condense into the present, we don’t have to throw out our planners, we’re just not believing in it so much, and then suddenly, we realize the reason we don’t do this is that it actually heightens our awareness of uncertainty.
If we surrender to that fully, that is that positive resignation into reality, into the present, and there is something about that that allows us to become resourcefully free. Even if bad things were to happen we are dealing with it one moment at a time.
There is a reason we aren’t courageous, we can never underestimate how much the human apparatus does not want to feel pain. We’re designed to avoid pain, survival-wise. Our entire system is wired to get us away from pain so we survive.
Things get so clear when we come into the present, it’s a trust fall, because we’re giving up that future controlling and visioning thing, but as we come into the present we get so much more clarity and attunement, more potency of awareness. You can’t see that when you’re caught in future planning because you don’t feel it. You actually have to let go of the future and then you feel the brightness of trusting the present.
When we are so alleged to the future, we dim our sensitivity in the present because we’re not tuned into the uncertainty tentacles. We’ve shut them down. When we come into it, there is that transition, the bardo, from one state to another, which has a lot of fear and uncertainty, but we all have enough experience in life to know that whether we fully trust it in our body or not, we know it happens that way, we all have had that experience, so we have that to go on.
How we begin to integrate that into our psychology and actually let it change the way we decide to work with our day to day, that is the longer journey of our paths together. It is easy to have flashes of insight or see the nature of things in these flashes, but to take those flashes into our psychology and then change our behavior because of them, that is the work we’re doing in this sangha. We’re doing deeper, we’re really challenging that those things being divorced isn’t in our best interests.