Reflections Along The Way

Make Peace With Your Unlived Life

This article was originally published in the March 2023 edition of Chinmaya Smrithi magazine. 

I was invited as a guest speaker to join the Devi Group Satsang at CMWRC Richmond Chapter in February 2023. The topic for reflection was ‘Make Peace With Your Unlived Life’ based on the ninth chapter of the book Am I that I am? from the Mananam Series.

I resonated a lot with the topic. Perhaps most of us have been in situations where we thought our life could have been different had we made other choices and felt regret at some point. Like Tina in the book, I was at crossroads in various stages of my life. I ended up struggling with conflicting inner and outer voices. Although this may not have been visible to others, many questions were swirling in my mind. I struggled to find meaning and purpose. That led me to pursue various interests/careers for the fulfillment that I was yearning for. In hindsight, this struggle was well worth it as it compelled me to delve inward to understand my true nature.

In the book, Tina was lost when her daughter moved away from their home to attend college. That caused her to question all her life choices up to that point. She lost interest in work and wanted to quit but was afraid of what others would think. Suddenly she began to wonder whether all the choices she made thus far were hers or if they were made because of her family’s expectations. These conflicting thoughts in her mind made her delve into a quest for her identity and embark on a journey of self-exploration.

Who and what we identify with largely dictates how we live and see the world around us. If we are asked, “Who are you?”, any answer we have is only in relation to another, like, I am someone’s mother, someone’s wife, someone’s daughter, I am working as so and so, I own a home, a car, etc. But the question is not what you are in relation to others, what you own, or what work you do.

In any relationship, when we identify too much with another person, there is a feeling of emptiness when the same is either not reciprocated or if the person is not accessible. Our role feels diminished, and a lot of confusion creeps into our minds about all the choices that led us to that point. For example, if one is strongly identified as a parent, there is a feeling of emptiness and loneliness when kids grow up and move out. This may cause a lot of confusion and may push us toward losing interest in everything in life. This also could happen in other instances such as losing a job, loved ones, etc.

As we go through various experiences, we gather a lot of impressions about desirable and undesirable qualities based on parental and societal attitudes. When we observe ourselves feeling the “undesirable” qualities it causes a lot of agitation, especially if we can’t express what we feel to anyone, fearing damage to our relationships. At times we also assume these feelings are unimportant when others minimize them. We are constantly trying to please others and follow what others are doing while suppressing our own desires and needs.

The more and more we move away from being authentic and integrating our personality, the more gap there is between our true self and false self (conditioned self). When these are at loggerheads, there is no stable sense of identity. Every decision seems confusing because of an identity crisis. We all go through this at some stage, perhaps not at the same intensity levels. It depends on our experiences and how we’ve been able to integrate our true self and false self.

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When there is no stable sense of identity, it can be very draining and unmotivating. We begin to visualize what our life could have been if other choices were made. There is no limit to imagination. With every unmade choice, life could have turned out in many different ways.

Mulling over what could have been can completely deplete our energies and disable us from focusing on what could serve our real needs to take care of ourselves. This situation can easily lead one to extreme levels of stress and depression, but it could also present a lot of opportunities. At times like these, pertinent and profound questions come into our minds like Who am I, What do I want to be, Why do I want to be that, What is my purpose in life, Why am I not able to be happy, What is the source of happiness, and so on. Instead of dwelling in self-pity and thinking about what life could have been, one can be on a transformational journey to know the true Self.

It is important to go through past experiences and get them out, maybe by writing a journal or sharing your true feelings with someone you trust. This helps one to be more aware of one’s life journey. It also helps with letting go of the past and being more open to doing what needs to be done by finding creative ways to better our lives. It also gives more clarity on what we can do at this moment to improve our standard of life by understanding that we cannot change the past. Our past determines what our present is. What we do in the present moment will have an effect in the future.

The whole attitude changes when we are more self-aware. The confusion decreases thereby allowing us to express and live more honestly where the gap between true and false self minimizes. Most of us feel this inner work to be hard and confusing. But doing this inner work is very liberating. And once we experience the sweetness of that, there will be no regrets about any past choices because without those you would not be at this point where you are more conscious and self-aware enabling you to make better choices for your well-being and to lead a life with no regrets.

Reflecting on our thoughts, asking questions, and having meaningful conversations, all these help to bridge the gap between the true self and the false self. Seeking our true self is a very enriching journey and if approached with genuine curiosity can help us understand so much more about our true Self which is previously unknown to us.

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