The Deep Pain of Regret
My grandmother was my best friend. I lived in California back in the early 1990s when she fell ill and was hospitalized. The doctors said they didn’t know how long she would live- maybe a year or so. I quit my job in California and took one where I could live relatively close to her in Ohio so we could spend as much time together as possible. That was in October.
Fast forward to Easter weekend the next year. I spent the entire weekend with my grandmother in her hospital room. We had a great time together laughing and joking around. And when she slept I kept busy watering flowers, shifting her “Get Well” cards about and cutting the crust off the bread on her sandwich. It was easier for her to eat that way. That’s the kind of stuff we did for each other.
I left on Easter Sunday to go back to work promising to return on Tuesday. Tuesday came and I called her to say I had to work. “I will come tomorrow”. Wednesday came and I called her to say I had to work. “I will come tomorrow”. Thursday came- this time the phone rang on my end. It was my mother. She said the doctors are calling all family members to the hospital immediately. I packed a bag and drove two and half hours from my house to the hospital with tears streaming down my face most of the journey.
When I arrived, she was already gone.
I’ve regretted the decision to work instead of going to see my grandmother for most of the time since then. Regret is a living hell.
The Business of Regret
If you’re like me, you have experienced regret many times in your life. The regret could be about something you did or said or something you didn’t do or didn’t say. Guilt, anger, blame, judgment and unhappiness are part of the business of regret. We experience these and the mental and physical stress each time we run the event through our heads .¨ over and over .¨ wishing it was different. But, regret is really nothing more than a personal torture chamber. If it’s so horrible, why do we regret anything?
Regret is born out of the wish to undo an earlier decision. But, we decide this after we have more information than we did at the time of the event. We expect ourselves to have done something different based on this new material, but that is not possible. It happened as it happened and it’s over now. The best we can do is to learn our lesson from the situation and then move on.
Regret is also based on the assumption that we have done something wrong. But, how could that be? We did the best we could at the time based on what we knew and how we were feeling then. To think we could have made a different decision at the time is unreasonable. You can’t make a wrong decision. Everything that happens is meant for us to experience or to learn something. If you didn’t do what you did, you wouldn’t have learned what you were supposed to learn.
With regret, we assume that a different action would have been better, but that is just made up reasoning. There’s really no way to prove that. Any change would ultimately change everything else associated with that decision down the line since everything is connected. Every thought we have and every action we take sets subsequent events in motion in a very specific way. For instance, a decision not to take an umbrella when it’s threatening rain will provide a different experience for the entire day than if you take the umbrella. This is the way it is with everything we think and do. A different choice creates a different life experience. This is the point of the film Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow.
The Unreasonable Aspect of Regret
Regret is tied to worry since we often worry about the effects of our decision, thinking the worst. But, there is always another way to view the situation. The potential for a favorable result constantly exists whether we see it or not. If you are not in the habit of looking for favorable, alternative or positive outcomes, start practicing that today. Just because you don’t see another way doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. It’s all out there for you to notice and embrace if you choose to do so. It starts with the acceptance of what you have done.
When we have regrets we are involved in the practice of non-acceptance of what is and what was. We lack an overall trust that everything will turn out just the way it is supposed for our benefit as well as for everyone else involved. But, when we look at any experience in this way, we are being short-sighted and closed-minded. How do we think we can see all of the far-reaching effects of any event? We can’t. So the natural thing to do is to accept what we have done as part of a greater plan that is still unfolding. There is so much more to life than meets the eye. Everything happens just as it’s supposed to and is perfectly timed for the maximum benefit of your soul’s higher purpose.
Speaking of perfection, when did we decide that it’s not okay to make mistakes and learn from them? No one is perfect. We are all imperfectly perfect. So rest easy and stop trying to be perfect. It is an unreasonable goal and brings self-hatred to the party. No one deserves that!
Finally, it is important to bring to light the fact that regret is about living in the past. When we spend our lives regretting anything, we are missing life in the present moment. This is the only moment that truly exists. This is where life is happening. When we align with the present moment, the pain of the regret subsides and we focus on the experience and lesson. From this vantage point, we can honor our prior choices and reduce our stress and improve our health.
The Physical Effects of Regret
Over the years, we pile up our regrets to the point of paralysis in our lives and the ensuing stress takes its toll on our body. When we relive the regret event, our emotions arise as if the event is happening now. As we react to the memory of the regret, our bodies go into action calling upon the adrenal glands, the eyes, the digestion, the sweat glands and many other functions brought on by the regret experience. The problem is, nothing is really happening .¨ it is all a figment of our imagination. We are conjuring up an old memory, old thoughts and old emotions.
With this pattern of thinking, regret sets us up for illness that is completely preventable. We end up using valuable vitamin and mineral resources to deal with the stress of reliving the regret and this puts us in an internal deficit situation. Such nutritional deficits wear down our natural defenses and upset the homeostasis of the body, both of which are meant to protect us from viruses, degenerative diseases and digestive issues, just to name a few.
From the standpoint of our health, regret that is lived over and over in the mind with all of the resulting negative emotions, takes our health and vitality away from us. It’s time to end the madness of regret and heal from the inside out!
The Process of Healing from Regret
We are told, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Of course it is. With more knowledge of any situation, there is a possibility that you will make a different decision than you made without the knowledge. But, you made the decision you made at the time. Regret is an opportunity for us to learn what to do and what not to do in the future. We can use regret to help make our lives easier, happier and healthier. We can ditch the worry for acceptance and we can ditch the judgment for a new action plan.
How can we use regret to help us? If you regret something, decide if you can do anything to make it better. If there are old emotions left over, let them bubble to the surface and deal with them. This is healing at work. Keep your eyes peeled for a lesson .¨ there may be one in there for you. Then, let go of the regret. It serves no purpose any longer. You deserve to be free from it.
Practice honoring your previous experiences no matter how they turned out. It is easy to let go of experiences that turn out the way we think they should. That’s easy. We don’t seem to mind those. The challenge is to embrace the situations that you regret as even more valuable for what they can teach you.
Finally, always find your way back to the present moment. What is the present moment? It’s the time in your life that you are in right now at this very instant. The event that stirred up the old pattern of regret doesn’t exist in the present moment .¨ it’s in the past. Leave it there where it belongs. Come back to NOW. When you find your way back here, you automatically gain a clearer perspective of life. You will find it easier to let go of that which does not nurture your heart, mind, body and soul. Your life will become lighter, healthier and happier and more. You deserve all of that!
Come on, it’s time to break free.