Reflections on a “Well-Lived Life”
As summer comes to a close, I feel gratitude for experiences enjoyed with friends and family, locally and in faraway places. Some of these experiences were wonderful, and others shook me to my core and back! And as I reflect on a glorious summer, I contemplate what it means to live a “well-lived life” A question that comes to me time and time again, when seasons transition, at yearly milestones, and when I (as I’m doing this week) consider my life’s path. The question comes to me in good times and bad, but mostly in times when I’m in a place of integrating “what was, to what is, to what do I wish to live.”
For many of my clients, the question of “a well-lived life” lies in wait, just behind transitional family struggles, lived life milestones that inevitably lead to relationship conflict, and the winding road of personal hardships and childhood trauma. And for many, they arrive at my door, ready to throw in the towel, and put an end to their relationship in search of a possible future of a “well-lived life.”
As simplicity is one of my core values, I like to think that a well-lived life is one in which we simply, well, “feel well.” But what is it to “feel well?” In French there is an expression, il est bien dans sa peau. Directly translated, it means “He is good in his skin.” The sentiment describes someone who is fully in “it.” “It” referring to life, interactions, body, experiences: engaged, alive, present. Living in the moment. Living this moment. I think about this French phrase often as I observe the suffering that happens when so many of us are trying to avoid, escape or ignore the pain and discomfort that is intrinsic to a well-lived life.
Misunderstanding that life can be lived without pain and discomfort, people often resort to fight, flight, freeze responses when faced with conflict, struggle, and hardship. How we live these moments, whether we like it or not, informs how we’ll live all the rest of our moments. While these strategies help us momentarily to feel safe, they do not help us feel well. And the lingering unseen consequences of forgetting, ignoring, avoiding, and judging our role in how everything’s played out up until now, debilitates us from embracing the idea that we have something (maybe everything?) to do with our present. And this makes me think of choice.
How do we experience choice in our lives? Because how we experience choice may be directly linked to where we might fall on the continuum of a “not-well lived to well-lived life.”
Here’s the bottom line: it is our relationship with the concept of choice that is more important than the choices we have made. If I recognize that I am a human being “at” choice, rather than a human being simply experiencing the “positive” and “negative” results of my choices, I will have a fundamentally different relationship with what I have lived up until now, which will inform my present-day experience, and create my future. A well-lived life then, is one where I choose to be a human “at choice” recognizing that within this beingness, lies my power, my freedom, and my well-lived life.
I am always choosing, every minute of every day. In certain periods of my life, I may not have all the resources to understand my choices, and I may want to tell stories about how I didn’t have a choice, but that is a choice too.
And thus, a well-lived life is one where I recognize all of the choices and embrace them all. I may choose to seek to understand my choices (don’t try to understand the choices of others, you have enough work on your plate), but you may also choose not to seek understanding and simply accept that you made choices. A well-lived life is one where inner peace is found not necessarily by understanding it all, but by surrendering the need to know (at least some of the time for those of us who love to understand) and walking a different path with my power of choice. And in this way, life is not linear, and I may return to the past and experience it differently today, and I am changed.
Thus, to author your well-lived life, you may consider the following:
- declare that I made those choices
- suspend momentary judgments by not calling my choices good or bad
- take time to consider the circumstances within which I made those choices, even if I was unconsciously making many of those choices
- no longer experience regret following the events that followed those choices
- will not resent others for the choices I made
- see that regrets cannot exist in a life that is fully embraced without excuses, blame, shame, guilt, justifications, or judgments of myself or others
And if a “well-lived life” is not a result, but a practice of dreaming, designing, and experiencing, you may consider the following:
- I create my life and acknowledge that only that which I believe is possible, will be possible
- I alone can decide what constitutes my well-lived life and this decision will simultaneously assist in the closure, completion, and healing of the past
- I am the chooser of a mindset and set of practices that assist in the creation of a life I can consciously and unconsciously dream
- I am fallible even in my declaration of a well-lived life
- I am choosing the thought of the alignment of ALL the people, aspects, events, experiences of my live, into my life experience
So as I sit with the question, what a well-lived life means for me, I share this quote which has inspired me for many years in my reflections and contemplations.
“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.” George Bernard Shaw
What does your well-lived life look like?