When You Have Unfinished Business
If you were to take stock of your life, would you be uncomfortable with the amount of unfinished business you have? Maybe you meant to clear the air with someone or begin working toward a certain goal, but something always stopped you. Reflecting on unfinished business can help you to take actions that will tie up loose ends, provide closure, and possibly help you and others to heal.
Years ago, when my father was admitted to the hospital with a life-threatening condition, I visited him. At his bedside, I told him, “I love you, Dad.” I hadn’t said that to my father very often, even when I was a child. Men and boys growing up in the postwar Midwest often avoided sentimentality, and Dad and I conformed to that social norm. Now seemed a good time to make sure I affirmed what he surely knew but I rarely expressed.
“People throw that term around a lot, Carl,” my father replied.
I paused, but then I pressed on. “That may be true, but still… I love you.”
He seemed uncomfortable, but then he said quietly, “I love you, too.”
My dad recovered from that health scare, but in the years that followed, until he passed away, he told the people he cared about “I love you” more often. Maybe my choice to break the old rules about what a father and son say to each other had loosened up something in him.
As you look back on your life, is there something you wish you’d said to a loved one but somehow never did?
Have you been fully present for people in the ways you would want them to be present for you?
Have you asked forgiveness for having wronged them? If someone wronged you, did you remain silent or simply cut them off but are now thinking you would like to clear the air?
St. Francis is said to have been asked while he was working in his garden, “If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do?” His answer: “Keep working in my garden.” Whatever your garden, however you occupy your time, think about what you have and haven’t done to resolve any unfinished business. How do you feel about any loose threads that could use tying up?
Unfinished business with others may be something you have to resolve within yourself. That can be particularly true if they rebuff your outreach to have a conversation or they ignore your letter or phone call to them. You can energetically release anger, guilt, fear, sorrow—or something else, such as your need to be right, your need to have the last word, or the need to save face.
A ritual outdoors or at a window you can open can help you to release whatever it is you want to let go of to gain a sense of resolution. You might say aloud (or silently) “I release my anger at this person” or “I release my need to get my adult son to see things my way” or something similar. Then let the wind carry away your words and the energy of your feelings. As you do so, imagine the wind taking whatever it is that you’ve held onto for too long and dispersing it as it travels over land and water, far away from you.
When you feel you’ve released what you need to let go of, pause and observe how you feel.
Do you sense that now you are holding space for something new to come in?
Do you feel relief arising? A sense of lightness?
Close your eyes and notice whether you experience any thoughts, emotions, or sensations.
Do you feel revitalized? Empty? Numb? Something else?
You might also want to resolve your relationship with Source or Spirit. When you use the term for Source that you were taught in your youth, how does that make you feel?
Do you want to let go of any negative connotations with the word “God,” for example?
What if anything could you release to create space energetically for a new relationship with Source? For example, have you held on to certain beliefs about God and religion and spirituality that you now realize make you feel sad, lonely, or uncomfortable in some other way?
If you discarded those beliefs, maybe your relationship with the Source of all wisdom, life, and creation would shift in a positive way.
Unfinished business with yourself and your spiritual nature can be addressed through spiritual practices. You might try out ones you haven’t used for years, such as praying, or try a new one. Let yourself be uncomfortable at first if that’s what happens.
Or, write the chapter in the story of your life about your relationship with Source and any unfinished business related to it. See how you feel as a result. Would you like to change the story?
And if so, what would you like it to be in the future?
Reconnecting with Source can help you to relativize your problems and see them as less overwhelming. Would you like to experience that? If so, you might want to engage in spiritual practices more often and spend more time being in nature outdoors—or connecting with nature in some way indoors, if you can’t go out.
As a clinical psychologist and Jungian analyst, I sometimes worked with stage-4 cancer patients who came to my office for healing and who found that regardless of what was happening with them physically, resolving unfinished business with others or with Source helped them experience healing that was valuable to them. Those of my clients who chose to deal with their unfinished business and work toward achieving closure in some way often had a sense of calm, acceptance, and equanimity despite the prospect of succumbing to their disease.
You, in contrast, might be in excellent health and good spirits—and confident that the end of your life is a long way off. Even so, addressing unfinished business can help you to feel less burdened, less resentful, and freed up to live with increased vitality.
Shamans say that to die a good death is to leave behind as much unfinished business as possible. Are you creating more unfinished business or cleaning up what lingers so that you can move forward with no regrets?
A version of this article appeared in OM Times.