Creating an Inspirational Legacy
Late last year, I had the opportunity to sit with and old friend I had not seen in many years. After catching up on life events, we settled into a discussion of the changes we witnessed in our culture and what values may have been lost along the way. While my friend and I come from different political spectrums, we found common ground when sharing the values that are important to each of us.
I suggested that we should both consider creating an ethical will that would serve as an inspirational legacy for our family and friends. An ethical will is a non-legal document that records memories, stories, beliefs, rituals, values, blessings or prayers. It is based on an ancient tradition of leaving a spiritual legacy that offers instructions for your descendants. While you may create an ethical will at any stage in life, it is important to update it on occasion reflecting the transitions in your life. It might be a loose collection of stories, a formal legacy document or a letter directed to a specific person. There is no limit to the creative resources – audio, video, visual art, and music - you can incorporate in your ethical will.
I chose to focus my recent contribution to my ethical will on the values that are important to me. I began by making a list of three themes that give my life meaning.
Family and community
Nature and the mystery of life
Service and generosity
Next, I thought about specific activities or experiences that give me pleasure and warm my heart.
Listening to the rhythmic sound of waves along the shore of the Pacific Ocean
Admiring the colors of autumn as the trees surrender to the chilly nights
Expressing my deepest feelings in a circle of intimate friends
Creating a fabulous meal with my husband
Visiting with a person who is dying
Walking alongside someone who is grieving
From this list I chose one activity to write about in order to dig deeper into its power and meaning in my life. I picked a recent event that reflected one of my core values.
I value being of service.
When I have the opportunity to walk alongside a friend or even a stranger who is entangled in grief, I feel my pace slow down and my heart open. I am not there to share my experience of grief. I do not offer suggestions for healing. I am there to listen and witness this grief that is fresh and stabbing or lingering and relentless. I am there to except the sadness that overwhelms each of us at times. My only job is to be present in the face of grief, acknowledging its capacity to crack us open to life.
I added this bit of writing to my three-ring binder entitled “Ethical Will.” This book contains other snippets of writing about my life. Favorite poems, lyrics and quotes that reflect my approach to living consciously are in this folder. I also have a small collection of letters addressed to my most favorite people expressing my gratitude for their presence in my life and reminisces of shared activities that touched me deeply. In this way, I hope to tell the story of my inner life, my soul’s journey.
Recommended resource: Your Legacy Matters: Harvesting the Love and Lessons of Your Life by Rachael Freed.
Guest columnist Kitty Edwards serves as the Executive Director of The Living & Dying Consciously Project, where this post first appeared.