“My religion is to live – and die – without regret.” Milarepa
The capacity to regret your past actions is part of what makes you fully human rather than hardened against life. Regret is not wallowing in guilt or shame, although these feelings may be all mixed in, and need to be processed as well. Regret is the willingness to take responsibility for the impact of your actions, and to act accordingly.
In his autobiography, Lord of the Dance, the great Tibetan spiritual master Chagud Tulku Rinpoche recounts a dream he had near the end of his second three-year retreat, which he began at the age of eleven. At the time, he was extremely ill. He thought he might be about to die.
In the dream, he was shown the ocean, and told that he would be reborn there. This prompted him to recall a time when, at the age of four, he had killed a tiny grey fish with his knife seeking an ornament that he mistakenly thought would be inside. Even at this early age he knew he had made a mistake, and felt regret.
After awakening from the dream, this tiny fish appeared in his field of vision, and wouldn’t go away. And so he did one million recitations of the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum to purify this past action. He dedicated the benefit of his practice for all beings, but especially for the fish he had killed, wishing it find happiness and ultimate freedom. Although his sickness didn’t immediately dissolve, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche went on to live a long and profoundly meritorious life.
Likewise, when I was on retreat, I felt regret about not being more loving, kind, and appreciative as a child. I felt haunted for a period of time, but by working directly with the regret I resolved it once and for all.
Retreat has a way of surfacing all that needs to be cleansed, but you don’t have to seal yourself in a cave to heal the regrets of your life.
The Benefits of Regret
While it might be against the popular notion of how to attract happiness, it’s essential to scan your life for unresolved regrets if you want to feel more peace of mind.
When you have the courage to acknowledge your errors and feel genuine regret, you have a second chance to:
- Learn from your past mistakes and change your behavior now.
- Make amends, either physical or symbolically.
- Pray for forgiveness and/or forgive yourself.
- Process the regret, make peace with the past, and let go.
Set aside some quiet time to reflect on any regrets you may have. Let it all surface in your mind, or on the pages of your journal. Then consider how you wish to transform regret into peace of mind. Once you meet regret head on, you’ll feel cleansed, whole, and ready to move forward with a stronger heart.
In a similar light, it’s worthwhile to consider if there’s anything about the way you’re living your life right now that may give birth to regret at a later point in your life.
Do you have regrets from a former time in you life? Are you living without regret at the present time?
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