Amy Taylor-Kabbaz chats to best-selling author Bronnie Ware about what a regret-free like looks like.
When Bronnie Ware first released her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, little did she know where it would lead. Having now sold more than a million copies around the world, and with a Hollywood film-adaptation in the works, Ware's commitment to living a regret-free life has certainly brought her many blessings. But in her latest book, Bloom, she shares what happened after her first book made such an international splash - including a diagnosis of a crippling autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis - just months after her first and only child was born. No longer able to walk, let alone write or play her beloved guitar, Ware had to learn a new level of surrender and trust, and Bloom is filled with the insights and wisdom she has uncovered along the way.
You had phenomenal success with your first book; what did you want to create with Bloom? I definitely didn’t want to write another memoir. I found that Five Regrets was a big enough reveal of my personal life, and I really felt like I’d done enough of that for now: as a topic, I was off the hook as far as writing goes. But Bloom basically forced itself through me. It was straight after my dad died, and even though I was actually in a really good space after he died, I had been thinking about taking time off writing for a while. At that stage, I’d been blogging every week and sending out a weekly newsletter - doing all the typical ‘system’ ways of reaching out to your audience. However, I wasn’t feeling well, and it had started to become a chore and bring no pleasure, and I just wanted to spend a few months not writing, and not being obliged to expectations of my audience. So when Dad died, I thought, “OK, well I’m going to use this time as time out.”
Then, as soon as I got back from the funeral, Bloom just started coming out of me and I couldn’t stop it! I sat down one day, and I simply couldn’t contain it: it was forcing me to write it. I thought, “Oh, no, here I go - I’ve got another memoir!” because I didn’t know how to do it any other way. Even my German publisher asked me if I could make it into a workbook instead. I had to say, “I’m not that sort of author - I have to write the book that’s coming through me, not the book that the market may want.” I only write because I’m guided to share this stuff and to use my life as an example. So, that’s how Bloom started, and once it got going, I was back into the joy of creating again - and then my heart was fully into it.
Still, there were lots of times along the way where I was guided to share certain things, and I’d come up against resistance in myself and think, “Oh no, I really don’t have to share this do I? This is really personal stuff here!” So I’d ignore it - but it would be like a woodpecker tapping away on my temple, going ‘ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding,’ and it wouldn't give up but would go constantly, for days. Then, the minute I would accept it and put it into the book, the woodpecker would be gone. There’s some incredibly personal stuff in Bloom, but I’ve come to realise that the more human I can be in my writing, the more people can connect with my work, and the more it gives them permission to be real as well. I think that’s probably one of my strengths: the courage to keep it real, and to be very, very honest.
Sharing my story - whether it’s about caring for the dying or my illness - is definitely my calling in life. I’m here to lead by example. I want to show that the process of learning to surrender can be applied to more than just coping with illness - it has to go across the board in your life, and that is why I tell the stories of love, and home, and all the other stuff that has gone on in my life, because it’s not a segregated lesson. Thanks to my work with the dying and to gaining so many insights into what we regret at the end of our time on this earth, I am totally committed to living a regret-free life. Surrender is such a fantastic tool for this, but you can’t just apply it to one area. If you are really ready to learn surrender, and your heart does sincerely wants to grasp the power and joy that surrender can bring, then you have to be willing to allow those lessons to come from any or all areas of your life. That’s what I hope Bloom does.
What I find interesting about what you share is the dance we all have with the Universe: Yes, exactly! We say, “OK, I trust I’m being led; I trust this is all happening for a reason. But … here’s my vision board, here’s my picture of exactly what I want it to look like - here’s the guy I want, here’s the home I want. I totally trust that you’ve got me covered – but this is what I want.” So then we start to strive for what we want from a fear-based place, because we’ve forgotten that surrender actually means allowing. Surrender is about completely letting go, and allowing life to reveal itself to us; it means knowing that life knows our needs and what we want better than we do ourselves, and is actually on our side. If we spend all this time striving and forcing, trying to control how things are going to happen, it will only be coming from a place of disconnection. However, as we learn to surrender – or as we’re forced to learn to surrender, depending on the situation – we realise it doesn’t actually matter how things come to us. Then our relationship with the Universe does become a very joyful dance, because all of a sudden we’re letting this magnificent partner in life lead, because this partner – the Universe, God, Spirit - knows the way. In the meantime, we have to get rid of that controlling urge to say, “I’m going to take this step, and then this step ...”
You’re honest about your struggles with this at times, though: Yes. I have had times when I’ve woken up in excruciating pain again and almost shaken my first at God and said, “That’s it! I’ve had enough!” On those days, I become like a defiant child who just needs to express their feelings, and I'll say, “This is not on. This is not fair. I have done everything you have told me to. I have been so committed and courageous, and so focused and so present to what I’m being guided to do - and I’m still in this damn hole!” I get really defiant and I feel like an angry kid, and so I say it all out loud and I have a cry, which feels really, really good, because all this raging is simply another layer of surrender.
One of my readers put this experience very beautifully in an email to me. She has rheumatoid arthritis as well, and she said she asked, “Why can’t I heal this disease?” The guidance she received was that, “Rather than heal the disease, the disease is your healing.” She explained that this was a very useful insight because it helped her to get over her resistance to her situation and her illness. It's similar to what happens to me: I get cross and frustrated, I feel sorry for myself, and then I am very defiant. Then, when I release that anger and frustration, I come back to surrender. I remember that even though I may still be in pain on this day, there’s a reason for it. I don’t like it, but I’m going to surrender again, on a new level, and see what the next pocket of joy is about.
So, what do you think your rheumatoid arthritis is teaching you? It has taught me so many lessons besides surrender, but the best lesson, for me, is the importance of space. Space is my medicine. Living in space is my medicine, and it’s become such a necessity for me. Even though I still live with rheumatoid arthritis, I’m doing really, really well. I have come to realise that for my wellbeing - and to continue doing really, really well - I have to maintain space, and that means allocating certain days, or mornings, or pockets of an hour or two during the week to not overloading myself.
Also, when I say ‘space’, I mean space in all areas. Therefore, I’m not prolific on social media. I’ve had people say to me that for someone who has sold over a million books, I really should have an enormous following on social media. However, I am creating a regret-free life, and that is much more important to me than putting my time into a world that doesn’t really feel like home. I love my audience through social media, there are some beautiful people out there – but I know that everything comes at a price. I deliberately go off-line regularly. Some days, space might mean that I say to my daughter, “We’re not going to school today, because I can’t face the freeway.” I'll take her tenpin bowling instead, or we'll go and get a massage together, or explore somewhere new. She’s five, she’s got a good life! Her imagination and creativity just blossom at those times.
What about the pressures that are required of an international author? I have strong boundaries around all of it: social media, being online, travelling, and speaking. I love to travel, but with my health issues and a very young daughter, I am also very clear on what works for us and what doesn’t. This is why I use death as a tool for living: you have to face the fact that you’re going to die. You’re on limited time, and the more you can get into that time, the more courage it gives you to let go of how you’re perceived. Then, because of that strength, you can allow more space in your life. You start to not care how you’re perceived, and, thanks to the power of surrender, you genuinely trust that you will be looked after. You are able to release the fear, and you stop trying to fill all the gaps with thinking about how to earn money, or how to make things come your way.
I am probably perceived as being 'unsuccessful' by a lot of people, especially in my own country, because I’m not well-known, I’m not a big social networker. I’d far rather hang by an open fire in a paddock with a few friends. The more you blend those two things - my regret-free living theory and the process of surrender - the more space you create in your life. Space can be taken from us from every angle, if we allow it, and it takes immense strength to not allow this to happen.
How does someone learn the art of trusting that they will be guided and looked after? We’re so often told that we need to follow a plan, a structure and a system to success, but you can learn to be guided instead. You can learn to stop, tune in, and wait for the answer. That’s where space helps, because if we step away and actually just sit there in the backyard, with our feet in the grass and reading a nice book for half an hour, then we start to get the inspiration and answers we’ve been searching for. Sometimes, I will stop what I’m doing because I’ve realised I haven't had any earthing today, so if I’ve got an hour of free time, I’ll just go sit outside for half an hour.
We are often so focused on what we need to do next – what we've got to write on the computer, or when it's time to get dinner ready … instead, go outside and sit with bare feet on the earth and just watch the birds. I live in a suburban block, but I have an old forest right next door with a little group of old trees that has been left untouched. When we take moments like these – walking on the beach, giggling with girlfriends - that is when we’re guided; that’s when we hear what action we need to take. I get so many great ideas when I am riding on my bike! Also, when we do take the action that is suggested to us, it’s almost always worthwhile, because it’s not coming out of fear – instead, it's inspired action.
I’ve had so many amazing blessings come my way by following this process. If I think about trying to make all that has happened to me as a logical process, it’s impossible! How on earth could I have done this all on my own? Instead, it’s happened through my thinking, “Oh, I wouldn’t mind such-and-such happening with my work,” and then, a week or a day later, someone gets in touch and says, “So-and-so's mentioned you might be interested in ....’ And I just smile, and say thank you
And … you've sold a million books and are about to have a movie made about your life! Yes! Living in my tracky-dacks on a farm, talking to the birds, with an old, outdated website and everything. I didn’t know back then what the formula for success was, or even what websites looked like - I had no idea! I was just doing my best with my own resources, and the timing and readiness came together. You don’t have to follow a formula or rules. That’s not how it works. Trust and surrender - and the readiness and timing will come. I don't know how it feels to have my life made into a movie. I’m definitely grateful that I will have another income stream that really doesn’t require that much work for me, except for interviews once it comes out, but as far as the creative side of it, that’s not my job now: that’s the film team's. I just feel grateful that they believe in my story so much. I also feel like I’m sort of having a chuckle with my (former) patients, saying “Have a look at this! Look at what you guys and I have created together.” Because I had humour with all of my patients, and I love the idea of saying to them “See? The things that you taught me have all ended up here!” That’s the true wonder of it all. So, I will just take it all one step at a time, like I always have. I will sit with my birds and do what I do, and feel grateful; and then, I will grow into the readiness of it all.
The ‘formula’ for manifesting
I believe that we don’t just arrive ready, we have to grow into our readiness. We might think that we’re ready for something and we get so frustrated, saying: “Come on, life - bring it to me now!” In fact, we’re not actually ready; we’re still growing into readiness. It is only when we are completely ready that the timing lines up, and boom, whatever it is comes our way.
When things don’t happen the way I want them to happen, I now realise that maybe I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was. If I find myself thinking: “OK, I’m so ready for this now - why, oh why isn’t this coming together like I want!” Then I know I have to let go again, I have to surrender again; I have to say to myself: “No more forcing, no more striving, no more demanding. I’m going to trust in the big picture. Maybe I’m not as ready as I think I am.” Then, another week or month down the road, I can see clearly why I wasn’t ready at that earlier time because of what I’ve learnt since then.
So, learn to trust that the timing is going to align very soon. If you are not ready now, you can already see that you will be ready sometime in the future; and when the two factors of timing and readiness line up together – there will be no stopping you!