I gave it some thought. “No, I don’t. I’ve pretty much done everything I wanted to. It’s been a good life.”
At the time I glibly ascribed it to what I call “living intentionally” or “an examined life”. The conversation has stayed with me for the last couple of days and I gave it some more thought. There is only one more thing that I would dearly like to see before I die, but I have done everything I can to bring it about. It no longer depends on me, so in a very real sense, it (reconciliation with an estranged family member) can be struck off the list. If it happens, I will be deeply happy, but if it doesn’t I know that I did all I could.
I find the idea of a bucket list very sad. It kind of implies that there are people who don’t think about what they want in life until they are close to death, people who go about their daily business without examining themselves, without pausing to reflect on what they really want until it’s almost too late.
I know there are people who live like this; maybe even most people live like this. It’s still sad.
This business of living intentionally isn’t New Age or mystical or Buddhist or maladaptively introspective. It only requires pausing in your day, or even in your week or month, to be aware of your interior and exterior worlds. What am I doing? Is it what I want to be doing? Is there a change I’d like to see? Can I bring it about? What path am I on; is it likely to bring me to where I want to go?
I started this practice when I was about fifteen years old. I was a member of a dramatics group and the director used to have us sit quietly at the beginning of each lesson or rehearsal to do a “here and now” exercise. It’s very simple. You start by sitting still in a comfortable position and saying, “Here and now, I am aware of…” and naming what you see, hear, smell, feel. You do this quietly, in pace with your breathing. As you physically relax, you can close your eyes and your awareness gradually switches to the interior world.
By interior world I mean thoughts, feelings, wishes, desires, discomfort, contentment, hopes, satisfaction, anger, delight… a kind of mindfulness. It was a great exercise for me at that difficult age, and it remains so when I am in a tizzy or need to get back in touch with myself.
It seems to me that this practice was invaluable to me when I began meditating “for real” and when I began practicing contemplative prayer. I think it also played a very significant part in my choices and decisions, such that today I can say that there is nothing important that is within my control that I wanted to do in life that I have not yet done.
I’m still not ready to die, but I don’t have any regrets either, so I think that puts me ahead of the game, no?