Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Reflecting on your life

The great spiritual teachers and meditation masters have always reminded us of the brevity of life. The medieval Christian mystics kept a skull on their desks to remind them of their own mortality. And Buddhist monks and nuns in some Asian countries still meditate in cemeteries to deepen their awareness of impermanence. Whether tomorrow, next year, or many years from now, you and I will eventually die. Remembering this from time to time can help us to clarify life’s priorities — and remind us of our reasons for meditating.
Of course, if you find it too depressing to think about dying, by all means feel free to skip this exercise. But you may discover that your initial aversion fades as you open your heart to the preciousness of life. Take ten minutes or more to do this guided meditation (which is adapted from the book A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield):
  1. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths, relaxing a little with each exhalation.
  2. Imagine that you’re at the end of your life and death is quickly approaching. Be aware of the tentativeness of life — you could die at any moment.
  3. Reflect on your life as you watch it replay before your eyes like a video.
  4. As you reflect, choose two things you’ve done that you feel good about now. They may not be important or life-changing; in fact, they may be simple, seemingly insignificant events.
  5. Look deeply at what makes these moments memorable — at the qualities of mind and heart you brought to them.
  6. Notice how these memories affect you —what feelings and other memories they stir up.
  7. In light of these memories, consider how you might live differently if you had your life to live again. What activities would you give more time to than you do now? What qualities of being would you choose to emphasize? Which people would you give more (or less) of your attention to?
  8. As you end this exercise and go about your day, notice whether your attitude toward your life has changed in any way.

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