I’ve spent most of my career working in the consumer products industry. For over a decade, I attended ten plus trade shows a year, including CES and ASD, the largest expositions in Las Vegas. 

It was typical for me in my late thirties to be doing business with people in their sixties and seventies, business owners, and chain store executives. Older folks, in general, are fascinating to me. I did some senior-adult ministry while serving in the evangelical church. I thoroughly enjoyed the life lessons learned from listening to folks closer to departing their incarnations than myself. 

There’s a question I love to ask elders when the situation permits – “What do you most regret from your past?” or alternatively, “What one thing would you change about your life if you could?” Repeatedly, this inquiry has produced precious conversations and wisdom!

Once in Vegas, in the middle of a crazy-busy trade show, my boss called me over and said, “John, I want to introduce you to some people – please take them to our private meeting area and entertain them as long as they’d like. They are very important to me.” He then presented a ninety-three-year-young gentleman named Zev and his wife of ninety-two, who had been married for seventy-five years. Physically, they looked like they were in their seventies. These folks had in no way lost their mental sharpness. 

Looking back, I’m not sure if my boss wanted me to learn about them or them to learn about me. Nonetheless, the conversation was spirited and meaningful right from the beginning. 

It turned out that Zev assisted his brother “Bunny” in inventing and patenting Reddi-Wip, whipped cream in a can dispensed utilizing pressure, a product marketed for decades worldwide. They later sold to Conagra Foods for a big pile of money. He had been involved in several national product development projects and told me stories about his various business adventures. 

When the time felt right, I asked, “Zev, is there anything you regret about your life? Anything you would go back and change?” Without hesitation, he said, “Absolutely!” Then he reached over and gently took his wife’s hand, kissed it, and while looking at her, said, “I regret not marrying her earlier.” They married in their teens and were still loving it in their nineties!

Zev went on to say, “It’s not that life was always wonderful – quite the contrary. Sometimes circumstances were horrible. But everything we experienced together made our love grow.”

I asked my mentor Brooks Fleig the same question during the last six months of his life when he was well into his throat cancer. He said, “When my dog had heartworms, and the vet wanted to put her down, I said, “No. It’s my dog, and I can do it myself.” After the deed was done, I realized why I should have let the vet do it. John, never shoot your own dog. Other than that, I regret nothing. Life has been wonderful.” 

These stories aren’t typical. Death counselor and author Stephen Jenkinson in his book “Die Wise” wrote, “Hope is often the tower of sand where most dying people live out their days, staring through a small window down onto the fields of the longed-after things that will come no closer and the hated and feared things that will gather there instead.” It’s an eloquent way of saying that most people find the end of their embodiment mired in regret.

How do we get to the end of this incarnation without being surrounded by remorses? Gratitude. In this present moment, we assess with thanksgiving any and every experience the Divine has allowed us to traverse. Joy, pleasure, health, family, friends, and our daily needs; sadness, discomfort, sickness, loneliness, betrayal, and lack – all with appreciation. 

We realize desiring to change the past is, at the same moment, being ungrateful for the present – for what is. 

Haven’t life’s most challenging situations (relationships) ingrained the most priceless wisdom in you? We’re all attending the same Earth school, and the design is inherently dualistic. Every negative has a corresponding positive, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. Each time we recognize “negatives pay for positives,” we can maintain the expectation of a coming blessing while being grateful for the adverse circumstances we are experiencing in the present. 

Do you appreciate the lessons and teachers you’ve been graced with in this incarnation, or do you resent (regret) them? 

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Isn’t that where we all want to be at the moment of our passing? “Not lacking anything.” Satisfied. Regret and remorse free. Grateful for the incarnation – trustfully looking forward to the next!

Ram Dass taught, “The moment of death does not necessarily transform us; we die, after all, as who we are, no better or worse, no wiser or more ignorant. We each bring to the moment of our passing the summation of all that we’ve lived and done, which is why we must begin as soon as possible to prepare ourselves for this occasion by waking up, completing our business, and becoming the sort of people who can close their eyes for the last time without regrets. Since none of us knows when the time of death will come, we practice moment-to-moment awareness.”

Thankfulness and awareness are precisely the same things—the more aware a soul, the more gratitude that being will exercise in daily life. It’s impossible to regret something for which we are genuinely thankful. 

In the previous quote, Ram Dass calls for us to “wake up and complete our business.” How do we get started? We consider the things we regret and ask the Divine, “How can I be thankful for THAT!?!” 

If you lose one of your children, you’ll be more grateful for the others. If your spouse passes away too young, you’ll be more appreciative if God sends another. If a business partner embezzles from you, you’ll surely be more careful in the future. If the people you love and have served for a decade turn on you and ostracize you, you’ll genuinely understand friendship. All these situations have occurred in my personal life, and I can’t change my past. 

However, I can open a frame shop. 

I have the option to recall all my difficult life circumstances and place a beautiful, ornate frame of gratitude around each one…just as if framing a certificate from a prestigious university. When a formerly unpleasant memory arises, I can be thankful for what I’ve learned – grateful for the perfect life lessons Maharaj-ji has taught me. Moreover, I can appreciate that whatever it was didn’t kill me! I’m still here, loving and not bitter. I passed those classes and framed the evidence. 

If you’re staring at a wall of your own diplomas, you won’t go back and change a thing. Gratitude for what exists dispels the regrets of what might have been. 

Awareness = gratitude = no regrets. 

I pray you appreciate your classes as well.

In Christ together,

Ram Ram,