Life Review

“I have learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances.”
Martha Washington

They say that sometimes when a person is near death their life flashes before their eyes. It is as if in just a moment they can see their life in its totality. They see moments of pride and moments of shame. They see where they may have harmed someone and where they may have helped someone. Sometimes they can feel the emotions of the other person. They realize in their apparently final moments what their life has been about. Those that lived to tell about the experience have often said that it was life changing.

We always say, “Don’t put off until you’re nearly dead what you can do today,” so why not take a meditative trip back through the times of your life. Take another look at what you have done so far. You might find that the way you have thought about your experiences needs updating. For example, you might reflect on what happened when you were a small child. Perhaps you formed some crucial beliefs about the world based on an experience you had when you were three or four years old. Think about that. Would you ask a three or four year old child for advice about relationships, emotions or just about anything else? Wisely not, yet we formed our beliefs about people, relationships, emotions and our place in the world during those early years.

Before we proceed though, let’s make sure you can do so safely. If you were abused as a child, reviewing those events can be traumatic. You might want to avoid this exercise, or you might want to do it with the support of a qualified mental health therapist. In any case, it can be helpful to have a supportive person to discuss your experiences with. If you begin to feel uncomfortable recalling the past, take care. Use good judgment and stop the exercise if you think you are getting in too deep. When you are finished, ground yourself. Get your mind back in the present by taking some deep breaths, looking at your surroundings, and checking in with all of your senses. Be aware of your body in the present. Remind yourself of whom you are, where you are and that you are perfectly safe.


To prepare yourself for a life review, you might start by looking at photographs from your past. Look at them with fresh eyes. You may have seen pictures from your childhood many times, but this time look carefully. Look at the surroundings and see if you can remember the setting back then. What isn’t showing in the photographs? Look at the people in the pictures. Notice their expressions. What do you imagine they are thinking and feeling? What does their expression and position in the picture tell you about them and their relationships?

Now calm yourself. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Take some deep breaths and let them out slowly. Relax your muscles. Scan your body for tension and invite the tense muscles to relax. Keep breathing. Let your breath flow in and out in a very relaxed, comfortable way.

Visualize yourself bathed in white light. This is a light of protection. It fills you with comfort and clears out any negativity. If you ever feel fear, lonely or unloved, remember the light. Let it shine into your heart and mind and into the deep recesses of your soul.

Affirm to yourself that you are perfectly safe and that your inner wisdom will bring to you only experiences that will be beneficial to you.

Now lets begin to look into the past. Do a scan of your life. You can start in the present and work your way backward, or you can start at the beginning and work toward the present. Either way, visualize yourself as you were in the past. In your mind, picture yourself in the surroundings where you would have been at any given time in your life. Watch your life as if it were a movie. See yourself at different times in your life. Where were you? What were you doing? Who else was there? What did you accomplish? Who did you love? Who loved you?

As you move through the images of your past, you may find memories of particular significance. Let the process slow down with those events and take all the time you need to examine them. See if you can determine what other people who may have been there would have thought and felt at that time. What did you not perceive at the time of the original experience? What part of the moment did you miss? You can’t change what happened in the past, but you can change what you understand about it. You are older now, wiser and more mature. What understanding can you apply to the recollection of the past event that you might not have had in the original moment?

Look back at this moment with a heart softened by love. Who needed more love at that time? Whether it was you or someone else, direct your compassion, your loving kindness at that person. See that scene with the eyes of a compassionate being. Ask that healing take place wherever it is needed.

Continue this process as long as seems appropriate to you. Stop when you are ready and know that you can always go back into memory and relive this scene, or any other.

Forgive yourself for any mistakes you may have made in the past and seek not to repeat them. See if you can forgive those in your life that may have hurt you. What would it take to forgive them?

Acknowledge your accomplishments. Appreciate what you have done to become the person you are. Ask yourself, “What do I still need to accomplish in this life?”

As you finish this session of recollection, open your eyes. Squeeze your hands into a tight fist momentarily. Stretch, and take some deep breaths. Look around at your surroundings and bring yourself fully into the present. Check in with all of your senses. Be aware of your body in the present. Remind yourself of whom you are, where you are, and that you are perfectly safe. You have, perhaps, gained self-knowledge and therefore are wiser than before. You are in a life, and like all lives, there are moments of pleasure and pain, wisdom and foolishness. You belong here. The question remains, what next?

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© 2002 Tom Barrett