Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Silver Lining of Regret

Last year I came across an article written by Bronnie Ware, about the five things people on their deathbeds regret most:
  • “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
  • “I wish I didn’t work so hard.”
  • “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
  • “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
  • “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
How simple these thoughts are. Bronnie Ware worked in palliative care, improving the quality of life for patients with life-threatening illnesses. Her list gave me pause to reflect on my own years and the choices I’ve made. More than anything, I wish to meet the end of my life with as little regret as possible.
It’s not easy to make choices that go against expectations of society. In our culture, it’s not easy, nor often acceptable, to give yourself permission to take time for you and your passions. Our culture does not value emotions, and in many cases, actively frowns upon anyone who is emotional as being overemotional or overreacting. We see tears as weakness. We pride money, status, and material things over happiness and love between humans.
In your life, it is not easy to own all of your choices. Sometimes we make choices that we later would not have made. It happens. These are lessons for us to learn. Sometimes we make necessary choices, decisions that are right for us, and still, we incidentally hurt others we care about. That happens, too. Those choices are not ones we should regret, but if we have love for those who were hurt we need to acknowledge it. It isn’t about fault or blame. You are not to blame for their hurt. But if you love them, you apologize for the hurt that was caused, though no reparation is needed.
Still, sometimes we make choices that we regret. Sometimes immediately, often not for years, not until we can see the repercussion of the consequences we wrought. Why carry that around with you when the easiest answer is that it’s not too late? If you are living and breathing and walking the world, it’s not too late.
If your regret involves other people, and they are alive, it is definitely not too late. Maybe there won’t be resolution. Likely things will never be the way they were. You can’t undo what is done. You cannot walk with eyes open and pretend a thing has not occurred. But there might be peace. The only actions you can control are your own. But if you can say you did everything you could to make amends, you can let go of the regret you carry.
If your regret involves those who are no longer living, it is not too late. You can make offerings to the dead and explain your regret. You can wish them peace as well. You can do good deeds, some random acts of kindness as a way of making amends, of paying forward the fact that you had regret and are releasing yourself of it.
I speak mostly of small regrets. I should have… I could have… In these cases, amends aren’t about repayment or restitution. That’s important. I am talking about the human experience of being alive and loving other people. I am not talking about the materialistic culture we live in where people think nothing of taking friends and family to court over trivial matters. At the end of the day, it is not things that make our worlds go round. It’s people. It’s you and me. It’s those who came before us and those who will come after.
I want to mention, too, that especially in dealing with loss I hear many stories of regret wrapped around how the family members poured their sorrow into controlling the disposition of the deceased and their things. It seems all too common for families to displace their sadness into squabbling over material items, as if death equals inheritance rather than grief. I have seen families splinter and separate, as if they never were. It’s never too late to heal those rifts.
We owe it to ourselves to face that fear we feel swirling in our bellies at the thought of admitting our weakness. Our society tells us we are saying we are wrong by admitting regret. I say we are freeing ourselves and cleansing our spirit, our soul, by purging that shadow within us.

Sometimes all we can offer is, I made a choice and I am sorry for the unexpected consequences of that choice. I did not mean to hurt you. And our hearts will be lighter. And those we hurt will know we feel remorse, and perhaps they can find their own lightness. And there’s always hope that in that common place, there can someday be peace between peoples.

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