To regret the past is to deny the present

I can honestly say that I have no regrets. There are certainly a few times when I too say “If only …” or “What if …”, but rather than dwelling on these thoughts and being dragged down by them, I use them as signposts of important aspects of my self for reflection.

These paths not taken are less important than the drive behind the seemingly spontaneous thoughts. Why do I remember this? And why now? What was on my mind then? What am I feeling now? Nothing is as simple as it seems.

Not fully present

To regret is to deny our present, all or certainly a large part of it. For the choices we made, or that were made for us, in the past have brought us to our present. Bits and pieces of the past cannot be shuffled around without consequence.

Even seemingly pleasant wishes should be approached with caution. As you watch your children with great joy you might find yourself wishing you had started a family earlier. But then you are denying your current children. Didn’t you have them at just the right time?

I cannot regret my parent’s divorce because this sent me stumbling down the path that eventually brought me to my wonderful wife and children. And I would most likely not be sharing these thoughts with you without having experienced this traumatic event. This is my path.

Just as regret is a denial of the present, it is also a clinging to a past that never was. Would life really have been better? All we can truly say is that it would have been different.

Clinging to a belief in the certainty of a better past can occupy a great deal of our time and energy. It often seems easier than the work we have to do here and now. Blaming our past avoids our own responsibility for the life we are living and the real choices we have before us. Such negativity keeps us stuck in the past and missing even more of our present. This clinging is an endless, pointless suffering.

Acceptance is not denial

My lack of regret does not deny the confusion, fear, pain, inner turmoil, and passivity that can be attributed to this event. Unknowingly I have felt the need to continue hiding and protecting my true self from further injury. While this has indeed made great swaths of my life hollow, I must accept this past in order to be fully present. This is where we need to be for our selves and those close to us.

We must take the energy that we could put into regret and use it to do real work in the present. We have the gift of learning about ourselves—adversity can be a great teacher. Some of us should use our experience as an opportunity to help others avoid a life of suffering. And most importantly, we do not want to pass on our suffering to our children, for they will certainly repeat our past if we avoid this present work.

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Have you let regrets hold you back? What have you done to overcome this? Share your experience here.

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