Life Review

Persons experiencing serious illness often find benefit from engaging in life review. Life review is a process of thinking back on one's life and communicating about one's life verbally with another person, or in writing for generations to come. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be seriously ill or at the end of your life to benefit from life review. The following poem by poet laureate Stanley Kunitz can inspire a look back on our lives to remember and reconnect with what matters most. Read the poem aloud, several times, slowly. 


The Layers by Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives, 

some of them my own,

and I am not who I was,

though some principle of being

abides, from which I struggle

not to stray.

When I look behind,

as I am compelled to look

before I can gather strength

to proceed on my journey,

I see the milestones dwindling

toward the horizon

and the slow fires trailing

from the abandoned camp-sites,

over which scavenger angels

wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe

out of my true affections,

and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled

to its feast of losses?

In a rising wind

the manic dust of my friends,

those who fell along the way,

bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,

exulting somewhat,

with my will intact to go

wherever I need to go,

and every stone on the road

precious to me.

In my darkest night,

when the moon was covered

and I roamed through wreckage,

a nimbus-clouded voice

directed me:

“Live in the layers,

not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art

to decipher it,

no doubt the next chapter

in my book of transformations

is already written.

I am not done with my changes.


For Reflection alone or together:

What words or phrases stand out to you in this poem? 

What images capture the sense of your past?

Looking back over your life thus far, what has mattered most? 

Next week: The zen of business administration