Regret is defined as "to feel sorry, disappointed or distressed about something."
American Heritage College Dictionary
When Regret and Guilt Come Calling
I was raised in the Catholic faith. All jokes aside about Catholic guilt in the era when nuns still wore traditional nun clothing and before more recent events grabbed headline news, it's negative affects had me running for the hills as a young adult.
As a spiritual person I eventually explored, in different degrees and in no particular order, alternative traditions from Native American, Eastern, and New Thought to Islam, Spiritualism, and variations within Christianity.
On a related note, having been involved in "Know Thyself " personal development in one way or another for as long as I can remember, I thought I'd explored, handled or managed most of my stuff.
It was a surprise when unwelcome and unwanted faces and events from a particular period in my life started bubbling up in my awareness with regret, revulsion, guilt, and shame.
Specifically around experiences from my twenties that I'd describe as Life in The Big City Wild Child.
At that time, although feeling tormented by inner demons that at times were crippling, on the flip side I just wanted to experience the adventuresome side of life and have fun.
Since most of this was diametrically opposed to my Thou Shalt Not upbringing, experiences were mentally compartmentalized as time went on and shoved into a dark corner.
Fast Forward, Present Time
However you define or not define God or Something Greater than yourself, it's said that He, She, Him, Her, It (or whatever politically correct pronoun you choose these days) works in mysterious ways.
Finding myself muddling through a series of unforeseen setbacks, the latest being a broken ankle that required wearing an Ortho-boot to hobble around, I was forced to live in slow motion so my body could heal.
Having read all the books in my house, I decided to finish one I'd started a year ago but had lost patience with. Timing is everything.
Spiritual Giants With a Checkered Past
Thomas Merton's The Seven Story Mountain locked my attention.
It's the famous autobiography of a brilliant and worldly young man and his struggles to find inner peace, which he eventually does within the framework of a Trappist monastery in Kentucky.
He was not only a monk who became a best-selling author, but also a social activist speaking out on political subjects during the time of the VietNam war.
Which may have cost him his life, but that's another story.
He came from a unconventional international background and after being yanked from a London school for illicit behavior during his teen years that also involved fathering a child, he continued his hard-partying lifestyle at Columbia College in New York, which had him booted out of his first attempt at entering a monastery.
During this time, he met and became friends with an Eastern Indian monk by the name of Brachmari who completely surprises Merton when he says, "There are many beautiful mystical books by the Christians. You should read St. Augustine - Confessions."
Which led me to check it out for myself.
Augustine is, to his parent's great disappointment and concern, a Wild Child rebel, capital "R", who comes from nothing and eventually rises to significance with friends in high places in the location where it's all happening in those days, fourth century Italy. Not before taking up with a mistress or two and also fathering a child. Come to find out, his mom became known as the "go to" patron saint for moms with troubled kids.
He eventually embraces Christianity as an older adult and leaves a lasting legacy as a force of the early Christian church.
So for all this Thou-Shall-Not-or-suffer-dire-consequences indoctrination via the Catholic faith, here are two pillars, spiritual titans that both had seriously
Wild Child backgrounds. They don't tell you that in church.
Reading about the very human lives of Thomas Merton and Saint Augustine, the lingering burdens of regret and guilt within myself started lifting.
Surprising Reasons For Letting it Go
Merton's book also talks about humiliation and the state of personal hell within those who go over and over their past mistakes.
He says feeling the burning of regret, guilt, or shame is a byproduct of pride or ego.
In contrast, he says that when saints remember their "sins" or negative behavior from the past, they don't dwell on their mistakes, but choose to remember the "mercy of God and therefore past evil is turned into a present cause of joy".
I had long ago buried the parts of my past that radiated regret – perhaps because from my current "I can't believe I did that" perspective it was too painful to look at until I was forced to.
Through no-such-thing-as-coincidence, I was given the opportunity, through grace, to read of two extraordinary people who's worldly experiences were necessary parts of their life path. As are mine and yours.
Knowing this has given me the perspective to look at past regrets and guilt through the lens of compassion – for myself and others.
According to Merton, if we've already been forgiven by the Divine, it's the destructiveness of pride that unnecessarily continues to revert to anguish and rehashing of our regrets.
The Bottom Line Takeaway
My mom is almost ninety so she's seen a thing or two. On this subject she said,
"We all do things we wish we didn't do.
Often it's survival.
God forgives us."
Learn from your experiences, forgive yourself, let go of whatever it is or was, and let yourself move on.
• Would you like help working through forgiveness for yourself, someone or something else?
My book, Your Divine Riches - Your How To Guide For Creating The Life You Want, has a simple yet powerful forgiveness technique in the chapter Freedom Through Forgiveness to help you work through regret. The link has a free preview of the book.
Consultation/Life Coaching is also available.
Photos: Ryanniel Masucol, Alexey- Chunihin
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