Let’s admit it, we all have some regrets from our past. “I wish I had not done/said (whatever).” So we should ask ourselves, what purpose does regret offer?
In yoga, we are reminded that our muscles hold memories. As we find our Boat pose, we move our bodies from a place of ease to a place where the muscles begin to shake (not hurt, but shake). We know that THIS is the place we need to work in Boat pose, so those muscles being used can make new memories.
Our brain is not a muscle, but it too holds memories. It catalogs those memories through the emotions we experienced them. When we have regretful memories, they get stored in the “hurtful” catalog bank.
Regret reminds us of our failure. Regret reminds us of old hurts. Regret repeats those failures and hurts over and over, and so, like Pavlov, one little word or comment triggers the entire failure and hurt in our memory.
And so our work is to desensitize those memories. Some people will do this with alcohol or drugs. So the regrets get desensitized, but they are still there, just waiting for the effects of the drug to wear off.
So the really hard work needs to occur if you want to release the regrets for good. How do we do it? Time and practice (and often prayer) are required to truly get over regret. Some people get assistance from a therapist or counselor. That is a good route to go, especially if you find yourself repeatedly making the same mistakes/regrets (like addictions), or if you become obsessed with your regrets. Professional assistance is necessary when regrets are interfering with your everyday activities.
However, if you are in a fairly emotionally healthy place, and you are wanting to work through some regrets, you can do the work yourself. I’ve found a few techniques that have helped me through some regrets, which I will share here.
First of all, the action/words are in the past. There is nothing we can do to change it, and so we must recognize that. Let it go. Letting go is a topic in of itself, and I am sure I even have a blog or two on the topic. But basically, letting go can take a long time, and so we might want to advance that process a bit more with some accompanying techniques.
One technique that I have found effective is to find a positive affirmation to repeat to myself when I have that regretful feeling in my heart. A very general affirmation that applies to nearly every situation is “I am a Spiritual Being having a Human Experience.” Boy, does that change our perspective on life’s regrets, if we take those words to heart. Other people might say the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Words of comfort, as we are healing a regret, offer us an opportunity to replace the hurt with acceptance.
When healing a regret, we also need to make amends. There is no amount of healing that can occur without having spoken to the one we hurt and asking forgiveness. Even if the person has died, we can do this by speaking Soul to Soul. If they offer forgiveness, then the process can continue on. If not, then we have to go back and repeat our affirmations. We cannot change others, only ourselves. We are not responsible for their behaviors and judgments, only for our response to them. If we have been sincere about our asking forgiveness and they reject us, it is their issue, not ours.
So we first begin the process of letting go by replacing our regretful feeling with a positive affirmation or prayer. We then ask forgiveness of the one we offended. Finally, we visualize ourselves healed.
This is the trickiest part of releasing a regret. In the simplest terms, we pretend that we have moved on. But of course, it is not that simple. A lot of people scoff at visualization as some kind of make-believe game. But in truth, visualization is just another term for goal-setting.
Most of us have goals in our work environment. Producing “X” amount of products, reaching “X” amount of clients, teaching “X” amount of material. And so on. These goals may seem a bit lofty, especially as we first set them. But we take steps toward achieving our goal.
The same is true when working through regret: letting go and asking forgiveness are those steps. And so we visualize ourselves replacing the hurtful feelings from regret with acceptance of ourselves. A common theme for me, especially when I do something which I know I might regret down the line, is to stop the regret from happening with a simple mantra: “It is what it is. I can’t change it now, and so I am going to move on.” If we can remind ourselves of this right away, we can avert any future regrets.
We actually do gain something from regret: we gain a life experience. We gain an opportiunity to grow more as a person through self-reflection and the work that accompanies it. So regret, in itself, is not bad. It is a part of our life experience that cannot be avoided. However, how long we hold onto it, can be our issue.
There is one regret in my life that I have not released yet. It is a big one, and I am working through it. But frankly, I am not quite ready to let it go, though it happened probably 15 or more years ago. I have done much of the groundwork for releasing this regret, but I am still holding on to a part of it. The ones involved are not yet ready to hear my asking forgiveness and understanding how much I need that forgiveness. They just are not mature enough yet, and so I am waiting until they have some life experience and then I will complete the process. And so I live with that regret, but I have desensitized it a bit, so it is not so painful when it creeps into my memory. It is my opportunity for growth.