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A hospice caregiver who had listened to the final reflections of thousands of dying people wrote an article that has remained with me for years. In it, she said that the greatest regret she heard regularly from those at the end of their lives was: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself.”
Reading that, my thought was that it’s not only the dying who have this regret. Many people feel an underlying disappointment about how they are living their lives.
What it means to live true to yourself.
I started asking myself, “Am I living true to myself today? Right now?” This inquiry was so revealing and valuable that I began bringing it to my meditation students, asking, “Do you feel your life is aligned with what matters to your heart? Are you living true to yourself?”
Whenever we explore this together, students tell me things like, “Being true to myself means being loving and present and authentic.” Some of them say it means being generous and serving those in need. For others, it’s about expressing their creativity, believing in their own worthiness, or doing work they love. Some of them talk about having the courage to forgive and find reconciliation in difficult relationships or about engaging in actions that might be scary but are important in making a positive difference in the world.
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Yet so often there is also an underlying self-doubt or questioning. They tell me that they regularly lose sight of their aspirations and get caught up in self-judgment and addictive behaviors. They go on autopilot or get stuck in painful old habits that distance them from others.
One student said, “Each day there’s a gap between my potential and how I live. That gap makes me feel like I’m always falling short.”
Many times a day, I too notice that gap between my aspiration to live from loving awareness and the self-centeredness of my thoughts and actions. For years my negative judgments of myself fed what I now call the trance of unworthiness, the belief that I am a deficient self. But it’s possible to break out of that trance.
Noticing the “trance of unworthiness” is the first step in moving past it:
Now when I realize I’ve lost touch with my intention to be kind and present with others, I’m grateful for noticing rather than self-critical. Asking myself questions like, “In this moment, am I living from love?” reminds me of what’s possible and calls me back into alignment with my true nature.
The longing to live true to ourselves is a natural and beautiful calling from our most pure and loving heart. Judging ourselves only distances us from this basic goodness. The real courage to live true to ourselves begins with holding our inner experience with compassion. This frees us to bring our light and love to all of life.
Excerpted from Trusting the Gold: Uncovering Your Natural Goodness by Tara Brach. Copyright© 2021 by Tara Brach. Cover & Interior Illustrations © 2021 Vicky Alvarez. Published by Sounds True in June 2021.