Your five a day, but not as healthy

I read an article over a week ago and every day since it’s been lurking around at the top of the ‘most read’ of the week. No wonder it was so popular, it was about dying – something us Brits hate to talk about but hold a deep curiosity for. 
The article listed the top five regrets of one palliative nurses’ patients. As a counsellor for those in their last dying days, the nurse says that her patients all experience great clarity at the end of their lives. Herein lies my problem with the article: not until it’s too late can we retrospectively see what would have been best for us. It’s human nature – how can we learn from the regrets of the dying when their veiws of the world are poles apart from our own perspectives? Fair enough, these are the most popular worries amongst her patients, but there is simply no way to gain that sort of clarity of vision of your life until it’s too late.
I don’t mean that quite in the harrowingly depressing way that it sounds – it’s just that it’s called hindsight for a reason, it’s only after an event or a period of one’s life that the clouds part and we see with clarity. If you took the advice onboard, anyone who is prone to harboring regrets (i.e. everyone) will probably regret something else in the end, anyway.
Regrets are entirely pointless – wouldn’t it have been better to publish an article on the top five things dying people are the most proud of achieving? Surely a palliative nurse has access to such a range of people and points of view – something much more constructive could have graced our morning reading.
One of the five points in the article is patients wishing they had worked less and enjoyed family life more. Try telling that to a 30-year-old, ambitious and career driven city-dweller. If you put your career first, you'll either change it, or live to regret it that's just how life goes. This is an impossible lesson to learn until it’s too late.
The fifth regret is ‘I wish that I had let myself be happier’: 

"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."

This is also a difficult one – you don’t realise you’re stuck in a fun-less routine until you get out of it and look back. Again, not very helpful. 
The whole point of this article, it seems, is to teach us a lesson or five. The perspective and insight of those with the ice-cold clarity of death nearby is sold to the reader in five bitesize regrets for us to read and learn from. Unfortunately, all I’ll regret is wasting my time being sucked in by interesting headlines.


  1. I read it too. Nothing that I didn't already 'know' or have heard of before, in different ways through my journey into a lot of Buddhist teaching and meditations.

    I would say though, that I took a different meaning from it. Sure, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but really what I thought it was getting at is, not letting the 'system' or 'circumstances' (or anything else, for that matter) take things away from you. Its helpful in that sense. Its helpful because, you are alone at death. No-one experiences it but you. therefore, do what YOU want to do. And that by no means, says be selfish (which is another way some Guardian comments took it) but make sure you consider what you do. Dont just do it out of reverence for something else, or someone else. Make Conscious choices, and you wont have regrets. So many people get stuck into so many relationships and situations because they end up going with the flow, and ultimately, they find themselves unhappy. You would equate what I read the article as to the concept of Mindfulness in Buddhism.

    Human Beings are brilliant at rushing through life. We miss so many things in our daily lives rushing to get to the next appointment, the next idea. That we do not enjoy the present.

    If you want to pursue a Job in the City fine. But how many people are doing it because they really want to?

    Just do things for the right reasons. Whatever that means to you.

    Thats how I read it, anyway.

  2. Hi Gareth, thanks for your comment. I agree, but unfortunately if you don't make conscious choices, it's probably only the clarity of knowing you're near death that allows you to realise it.

    1. I dont think so. I dont think (or at least I would be really disspointed in life itself) that the only moment we have a chnace to be true to ourselves is at the moment of death. If the only clarity we get is there, then what is the point in life? "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart" Mr Jobs.

      Take this quote from the article: "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." Why pretend?

      A lot of what we are talking about sounds like a cliche. But really, all we really have is our mind. And happiness has to be built on something solid within it, and not related to a Job, Money, Relationship, House, or anything else that is fleeting and will dissapear. So choose wisely when you make decisions. I think it is possible. Hard. But possible, to accept all the factors there are to consider. Am I happy to have children now and trade away some freedoms, to invest in them? Really? Sure about that?

      I believe we can make conscious choices. But we are constantly reminded by our culture to be occupied with other things. Therefore it is hard, but not impossible.

      " Atisha is said to have told his students that for a person who is unaware of death, meditation has little power, but a person who is mindful of death and impermanence progresses steadily and makes the most of every precious moment. A famous saying of the school he founded, the Kadampa, holds that if one does not meditate on death in the morning, the whole morning is wasted, if one does not meditate on death at noon, the afternoon is wasted, and if one does not meditate on death at night, the evening is wasted.

      In stark contrast to this attitude, most people frantically run after transitory pleasures and material objects, foolishly believing that wealth, power, friends, and family will bring lasting happiness. This is particularly prevalent in western cultures, which emphasize superficial images of happiness, material and sensual pleasures, and technological innovation as avenues to fulfillment. We are taught to crave such things, but inevitably find that the wealthy and powerful die just as surely as the poor and powerless"

      But speaking of all this, we then somehow get forced into this spiritual conversation. Then someone might hand you a Bible. Particularly at the moment of death.

      "As Dr. Richard Kalish states,

      death is blasphemous and pornographic. We react to it and its symbols in the same way that we react to pornography. We avoid it. We deny it exists. We avert our eyes from its presence. We protect little children from observing it and dodge their questions about it. We speak of it only in whispers. We consider it horrible, ugly and grotesque"

      But Bibles and Heavens go some way to appeasing our fears of it.

      Those quotes are from an article here:

      But ultimately, Buddhism is about dealing with what you know. Right here and now. We do not know there is a God. However anyone wants to say they believe it. And thats the great thing about Buddhism. It distills everything down to what we actually know in the present moment.

      So, apologies, but I do think it is possible to make conscious choices. Or at least, be aware of the decisions you are making and all the factors that go into them. Or at least, I'm going to strive for that. If I get to my death bed and find that I was wrong, in an ultimate moment of clarity, well then, that just proves (impermanence) that the only thing you really do have is the present moment, the state of your mind in it, and nothing stays the same in this world from moment to moment, even ourselves.

  3. I do completely agree with you, I just think that there's a very small portion of the human race that do accept impermanence and live their lives accordingly. To a large extent, Buddhism is completely different to what us Westerners are brought up to think like. We are materialistic, we are weighed down by things that won't effect us in the long run, and we are too attached to others - and that's what I mean when I say that most people simply won't have that clarity until they're faced with death.