Try this exercise to review your life. I think you’ll find the results eye-opening, perhaps emotional and hopefully uplifting. It comes from Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M. – ‘Father Jack’ to his fans, and it’s an exercise that he conducts at retreats to reflect on participants’ lives, from birth to death and beyond.
- some paper
- pen or pencil
- your brain and memories
- some time to reflect (I’d suggest at least one hour, but preferably more, split over 2 or more days)
- optional – some meditative background music or quiet
- Draw a line down the middle of the paper (turn the paper sideways so you see it in ‘landscape’ mode, draw the line from the middle of the left side to the middle of the right side.)
- Write your date of birth on the left end
- Write today’s date – and your age on the right end
- Write the ‘half-life’ point, date and age, in the middle
- Reflect on the most significant and memorable moments of your life, the turning points, the big events and decisions, the greatest successes and lowest failures. Record the most important ones – the ones that really shaped who you are – on the timeline. Were there any regrets or missed opportunities? How about scary moments that changed your life’s direction? Were there significant friendships or relationships that changed your life? How about external events that affected you (memories of war, protests, love-ins?) Write it down.
- Think about what you have on your sheet, then take a nap or go to sleep, then spend a little more time on it.
- Once you’ve got the major points down on paper, take a few minutes to look at your lifeline and reflect on it. Ask: What have I accomplished in my time? Have I changed or learned or grown between my half life time and now?
Reflection: What do you think? Were you happy – or sad – or something else as you reflected on your life? Did you feel lucky or blessed – or unlucky?
Extra credit: Take another piece of paper. Draw a line down the middle. This time, put today’s date on the left end and put the day that you turn 100 on the right end. Label the mid-point appropriately. Fantasize a little. What wonderful event(s), accomplishments, friendships, relationships and changes would you love to see on that lifeline? Dream a little, play a little. What would be the best story shared at your funeral?
I hope you can take some time to try this. I have done a variation of this exercise a few times, and I find the insights I gain from reflecting on my life to be gratifying. It’s easy to downplay the great stuff that happens in our lives, easy to get worn down by the day to day struggle. But when we switch our focus from the daily grind to the big picture, something amazing happens (like realizing there IS a big picture :)) Realizing that you’re much wiser now than you were at half your age is a great way to appreciate getting older.
Let me know how it goes. thanks, Ami
p.s. – if you’re interested in getting regular newsletters from Friar Jack with his musings on life, values and Catholicism, click here.