Happy New Year 2012

We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily difference we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.
–Marian Wright Edelman

My dear friend, Karen, sent me the above quote a few days ago and it was perfect.  I was ruminating on what expedition could and should come next, what I wanted my plans for 2012 to be, how could I fit all the pieces together to make a big difference and in reality, it was all too soon.  I hadn’t even fully digested and articulated my experiences in Antarctica, let alone settled back into the routine of every day life (albeit wonderful holiday life which is a rarity for me).  Invariably, as soon as I return from one climb or adventure, one of the first questions I am asked is, “What’s next?”  Sometimes I know the answer and sometimes I don’t.

This time, I sorta know the answer and sorta don’t.  I intentionally left things open for post Vinson/post Antarctica so I wouldn’t be locked into any plan that might need changing after the life changing adventure that is Antarctica.  So as things are still drifting gently into place, Marian and I have been enjoying a week at home, taking it easy, doing lots of “beauty and order” projects around the house.  When one travels as much as I do, some times the piles get a bit too big around the house and they need to be tamed before they start migrated like wildebeests across the Savannah.  In the spirit of the New Year and fresh beginnings, we’re joining thousands of others in looking at our belongings to see which can be gifted/lent/donated/stuck in piles with “Take me, I’m yours” signs on them.

The results are great.  Lots of things checked off the to-do lists.  A feeling of both internal and external spaciousness.  A calmness in our home environment that’s a welcome foil to the challenges of the inner chaos of transitioning from one continent to another, one year to another, one time zone to another.  Today we hung new Tibetan prayer flags in our meditation space in celebration and welcoming of 2012 to remind ourselves that in fact, every moment is new.

I followed a tweet to the this piece of writing that was originally posted on The Arise India Forum.  I posted it on Facebook and many people seemed touched by it.  I know I was.  It was a gift to read on the cusp of a New Year as thoughts naturally turn to hopes and dreams and aspirations for the coming year(s).  Reading this person’s post, (and I’m still trying to track it back to the original post), reminds me of one of the fundamental Buddhist teachings on the preciousness of a human birth and how it’s critical to live one’s life in such a way to have as few regrets as possible.  The post has me thinking and reflecting on my life and what I want to focus on in the coming year.  I appreciate that both this post and the quote that Karen sent me arrived in the same week because both emphasize the importance of “small” things…which likely aren’t really so small after all.

Wishing you all the best, all the laughter, joy, and lots of love in 2012.

Nurse Reveals Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

“For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

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