A friend recently blogged a thought-provoking piece on ‘Regret’ and invited her readers to comment. This is my expanded reflection on the topic.
Regret is a spiritual gift. It’s that gnawing sign at a fork in the road, pointing us in one of two directions. One way, the one well-travelled, is a path of rationalization; the other, the one less traveled, is a path of healing.
The more inviting of the two, of course, is the seemingly sexier and alluring path of rationalization. (Since this is a skill that I have finely honed over the past 50 or so years, I am actually quite qualified to write about it). Rationalization makes me feel like an Old Testament God. It empowers me to create delicate balances of intricately intertwined systems of rules and beliefs that make me feel good about my choices, in spite of the trail of damage I have left in my wake. It tells me I am right. I believe the colloquialism ‘believing my own shit’ really applies here. Revisionism and moral flexibility are its seductive hand maidens, inviting me to the high moral ground to swim in an invigorating pool of self-righteousness. It gives me the perfect vantage point to look down on you, and the choices you are making; the choices I don’t like.
Honestly, isn’t it amazing the irrational BS we hang on to make us feel ‘right’ about our past?
Invariably, however, the inherent conflicts between the layers and shades of rules and beliefs we embrace arise to create a crisis of conscience, resulting in a meltdown of the mind and an implosion of the soul (Enter antidepressants please!) God only knows the real damage we do to our loved ones and to ourselves when we reach this state. The good news is, there is always an escape hatch taking us back to the path less traveled; the path of healing.
Healing is the more difficult path. It is a slow and winding road with no certain destination. You don’t travel it – you trudge it. BORING! It is sheer drudgery compared to our previous lofty perch. Even more difficult, it calls us to personal accountability – and to acknowledge our fallibility. Yikes! I’m not perfect?
Carolynn Myss says, “Forgiveness is the currency of healing”. While many struggle mightily to forgive others for their misdeeds, what I need to remember is that I have to be willing to forgive myself for my past choices. I am only responsible for cleaning up my side of the street, but I do have to do that. Let me be clear, I’m not talking about whitewashing the past by hitting a spiritual ‘reset’ button, pretending it never happened. On the contrary, I need to embrace failings and misdeeds as an integral part of my being. Joan Borysenko writes, “Forgiveness has nothing to do with condoning poor behavior in ourselves. Rather, it calls us to responsibility. In forgiving ourselves we make the journey from guilt for what we have done (or not done) to celebration of what we have become.”
I know I am at my best when I am on the path less travelled. I can look at only my part, I accept me as just an average man, with all the emotional flaws, scraped knees and bloody noses my life choices have rewarded me with, and know I am just working my way home. But damn! It sure is a rush bathing in that pool of self-righteousness, looking down at you!
Regret is a divine gift. Face it and embrace it. When the pain of the pain is greater than the pain of the change, change will happen. There is always an escape hatch