“Nothing is more expensive than regret.” My son said these words to me several years ago and somehow they stayed with me.
How often do we say to ourselves, “If only I had done that, I could have or would have or should have done that….”
Everyone knows the feeling of regret. They are aware of something they did or did not do that haunts them. At one time or another during my sessions, I’ve heard several people say, “I wish I’d been kinder to my Mom,” or “I regret not working harder to get it,” or “I regret not thanking my Dad,” or “I wish I hadn’t given up on my dreams.”
You know that feeling, right? If you’ve never felt remorse or regret, you’re a liar! Or worse still, you haven’t lived! No one makes it through life without words left unsaid, poor judgments or thoughtless omissions.
Regrets are an existential wake-up call and quite often it takes hard work to let go of them. There is a story I read about Johnny Depp who got a “Winona Forever” tattoo when he was dating Winona Ryder. He unsuccessfully tried to get rid of it after the failed engagement, but what still remained of the tattoo was “Wino Forever”! Yes, it’s hard to get rid of regrets; they’re stubborn!
Most often we confuse regret with remorse. Regret is what we feel for ourselves; when we limit our options, when we hurt ourselves, our careers or reputations. Remorse, on the other hand is like a nip of conscience; what we feel when we hurt another with manipulation, withdrawal of love or even not noticing another’s pain.
In our world today we have infinite options and we have a finite amount of time to sort through them. We are pressured to make the absolute best decision; it’s like we can never have enough info or ability to make the wisest choice. We feel duty-bound to exercise the best choices because we are addicted to success! This is as much a fetish as freedom of choice; we are entrapped to ‘maximize our utility’ as the economists would say.
Another remarkable fact about us humans, we spend more time deploring our loss than we do enjoying our gains; we remember unhappy experiences more than the happy ones. We brood more obsessively about the dumb things we did and as we age we grieve more about all the things we have failed at.
In his book ‘The Art of Happiness’ the Dalai Lama speaks of regret, “It’s still there, yet it isn’t associated with a feeling of heaviness or a quality of pulling me back. This heaviness indicates that you are clinging to something in the past; living life being spiritually conscious means letting go equally of past and future and being present for every moment as it arises. It serves no purpose to judge yourself or wish to undo that which is now written in the sands of time. Start by just knowing regret for what it is so that you are not swept away by it. Say to yourself, “This is regret. Why do I want this now?”
When we cling to the past or future we are denying what is sacred about life with its unique pain and joy. So the key lies in surrendering to the truth of every experience as it arises one moment after another; never fixed… always moving.
Until next time….