Updated: Aug 22, 2021
Many times I have heard people say (even I have said), "if I had only known, I would have...." This expression embodies, and is indicative of, the experience of regret when one's past actions do not yield the result or outcome he/she desired or planned. But really, what could you have done differently if it was remotely possible to have known the end result(s) of all your decisions? Would you even have trusted that knowledge in the first place? No one will ever know. So, what then is the use of that feeling to the present? What are we really communicating when we say it? And what can we learn from it? Let's have a look.
When we spend our time and energy regretting past actions, we are denying ourselves the right to experience fulfillment, meaning, and joys that the present offers. If you've ever sank into the feelings of regret before, haven't you noticed that each episode seems to only bring either bitterness, remorse, dissatisfaction, unease, sadness, anger, or a host of other negative emotions to the surface? If allowed, regret ultimately steals your stillness and robs you of your joy, and happiness. It may even cause an individual to sink into a state of physical, emotional, and mental paralysis. On the surface, however, regret is not a bad thing in its own right. It can be instructive if examined with keenness and objectivity. We do, in fact, can learn from past mistakes but only if we make them teachable moments. That way, they cease to be regrets. But what I am speaking about, is the futile practice of revisiting past actions or omissions without discernment or clear understanding.
Over the years, I'd often find myself slipping into bouts of regret - pining over lost time, opportunities, and wasted money. Usually, I'd be in a lazy state of mindlessness and inactivity, unconsciously sifting through every detail of the very thing(s) or experience(s) that caused me to sink further and further into regret and its accompanying despair and depression. I was acutely clueless that while I was busy regretting or dwelling on the past, that the opportunities of the present were quietly and quickly fading into the past, only to create a vicious cycle of regrets all over again. While the past is simply all the nows or present moments that have gone by, they are gone forever. But the present is a precious gift of many nows or moments that will yield future dividends if seized upon each second with intention and mindfulness. The present requires our active participation not our passive existence.
When we reside in the space(s) of our regrets, we become silent participants in the futile exercise of conjuring up moments that can never be resurrected. To say "if I had known, I would have done or said things differently" is, therefore, an act of self-defeat, remorse, and humiliation. The fact of the matter is, one can never undo, redo, or unsay the things of the past. Neither can one seize a lost opportunity. The past is gone forever. But you can choose to do things differently in each moment starting now! There are no do-overs, no righting our wrongs. But you can create a beautiful canvass or compose an exquisite melody for your life now. And you can forgive and live without encumbrances now. There is much creative power and potential at our fingertips simply because we get to choose what to do with it each second of each day! No need to live in the grasp of regret's slimy paws anymore. Be free!
So when you find yourself sinking into that dark space, immediately come back to the present. How do you do that? Simply find something to be grateful for, no matter how difficult, small or insignificant it may seem at first. And just say thanks. Whisper it, think it, or shout it! It does not matter. Gratitude is the antidote to (and for) regret. Practice gratitude and you will begin to find beauty all around, even in strange places. Take a refreshing walk outdoors, exercise, sing, dance, read, enjoy a good meal or the company of a friend (or friends). Just love on yourself and choose to be happy each minute. But be open to the way your awareness of gratitude might show up. It could be a smile of contentment, a deep sigh of relief, flowing tears of release, laughter of joy, or quiet reflection. Embrace these moments and be fully present. Just know that a grateful spirit is an attractive, positive spirit. You will attract what you are.
Gratitude, therefore, centers one's mind on what one has and on whom one is, not on what one has lost or on whom one was in the past. Give it a try and you just might be pleasantly surprised to discover that what you (felt you may have) lost was only what you never needed in the first place. With gratitude, you already have what you need.
"Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves, regret for the past and fear of the future."