To live and die without regret seems implausible to most of us. Yet the lives of sages like Milarepa illustrate the possibility of becoming free of thoughts and emotions that rob us of our potential, our energy, and our joy.
Milarepa is considered one of Tibet's greatest saints because he overcame a destructive past that brought him to the brink of suicide. He realized he needed to take a different path that would free him from his misery. Over time, he turned his life around and purged himself of guilt, regret and other destructive emotions that sapped his strength. Instead of grieving over the past, he learned how to live in the present moment with a daily practice of meditation which deepened his understanding of his own mind and opened his heart to compassion for all beings. He then dedicated the rest of his life to help free others.
While a feeling of regret can be the catalyst which prompts us to make amends to those we have hurt or harmed, when we habitually dwell on our regrets, it's like beating ourselves over the head with a sledge hammer. We end up in a hell of our own making. To be enslaved by regret is a recipe for hopelessness and depression. How many times have you reprimanded yourself for either doing or not doing something? How many times have you told yourself you're not worthy of love or success because you've done stupid or thoughtless things? When was the last time you looked in the mirror and smiled and given yourself permission to be happy?
We live in a culture that celebrates the superficial; fast cars, big houses, expensive jewelry, designer clothing -- nothing wrong with the finer things in life, but is it who you really are? And if you don't have what you think you want, do you regret it? Every day, every minute, our regret over what might have been sucks out our life force like a vampire draining blood from the body, and we aren't even aware of it!
The first step to becoming free of habitual regret is to notice what you are feeling and thinking. Just notice the way you feel when you long for something to be different than it is, and like any good detective, see if you can trace your feeling back to the thought which triggered the emotion.
For example, were you thinking about a lost opportunity that might have earned you a lot money; a friend or partner who left you, or whom you left, and who might have been "the one;" a job you didn't get; a health issue you ignored which then got worse? It could be any number of things that play havoc with your mind and cause feelings of regret, sadness, guilt or loss. But just noticing that certain thoughts provoke feelings of regret is already a step toward freedom.
Once you become aware of what prompts regret, allow yourself to be with it. See regret for what it is -- a thought about the past which you have made into a story about your presumed failure to do or not do something. Notice that the person at the center of this story is you. It's not happening now, except in your mind.
It is not a matter of resisting or denying what you feel; that only gives it more force. But if you watch as thoughts of regret arise in your awareness, you will empower yourself to see the vicious game you are playing with yourself. And then you can develop the capacity to finally let go of regret and begin living a more integrated and fulfilling life.
Wishing you every Blessing,
"My religion is to live and die without regret."
Reflections for Daily Life
REGRET:To feel sad or sorry about something that you did or did not do; to have regrets about something; used formally and in writing to express sad feelings about something that is disappointing or unpleasant.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary
What is regret?
by Cynthia Overweg