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Do You Know the Remarkable Benefits of Regret?

School of Fish

“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?

I’m so glad you’re here! If you liked this article, please consider subscribing for free updates by email and share it with your friends.  With love, Sandra



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  1. Sandra, wow, this is a powerful piece! I’ve lived a long time, and I carry a bag of regrets that have proven to be powerful teachers, as you say. They are the place from which I can begin to forgive, and transform myself into the person I want to be, the woman I was meant to be. Thanks so much for sharing this with me, and now I’ll share it with my tribe…

    Love and light,

    • Thanks for your positive appreciation. I’m glad this piece resonated for you. I love hearing your testimony that regrets have been powerful teachers for you. Thank you for sharing with your tribe.

  2. jean sampson

    Thanks for making me think deeply, as usual, Sandra! At first I thought, naw, I don’t have regrets because I view everything as a lesson. But then, when I really began to think about it, why, yes, I DO have regrets. There is also a situation that I need to deal with or I know I will have regrets in the future! So, I believe I will get a journal and work there to see what comes of it. And I am making plans to deal with the situation which will foster future regrets. Great post, Sandra!

    • Dear Jean,

      I have no doubt you are pretty “clean” as you are so conscious. But, I know that I have my own little pockets of self delusion. I think we all do even if they might be teeny. I wish you the best with your journaling and transforming any regrets you may have.

  3. hi Sandra, Yes, I do have regrets of the past from time to time. I wish I would have done something differently, handled a situation or persona differently but then I realize that the past is something that cannot be changed. I can’t hold onto that regret to so try to change my perspective on that incident. Making amends with that regret and forgiving all involved helps me to move on.

    Resolving regret does bring peace of mind and will help us make wiser decisions in the future.

    • Hi Vishnu,

      I agree, we can’t keep holding onto regrets or we will be torn up inside. We need to find a way to process them, make amends, forgive, and let go. You have an excellent approach. May you continue to enjoy peace of mind.

  4. Hi Sandra,
    Letting it go is key for me…not that I’m always brilliant at it…but the more I practice the better I become. My belief is that feelings are intended to be felt, and released.

    Louise Hay wrote a lovely poem about regret a few lines of which say:
    To “let go” is not to adjust everything to my desires,
    but to take each day as it comes and cherish myself in it. To “let go” is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future.

    Says it all for me.

    Thanks Sandra for the perspective you hold.

    • Letting it go is really the answer, isn’t it, Elle! Far better not to carry all this baggage around. That’s a great quote. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  5. Hi Sandra…The regrets we have do not exist in isolation, they are connected with others… our loved ones, not so loved persons… and accepting our regrets, letting go, making amends and forgiving may give us peace of mind but certain hard facts which may have changed the course of life due to our regrets become very difficult to digest. Even if we don’t want to hold on to such regrets, they keep coming back to torment!

    I appreciate your insights into the unique topic you have chosen[as always] Thank you for the little autobiographical piece.

    • Hello Balroop,

      You always have a unique perspective, which I very much appreciate. I think what you say is very true and deep. It’s not necessarily easy to let go of regrets in one fell-swoop. I didn’t let go of my regrets about my childhood in a day or a week or even a month. It took time. I think forgiveness of self and others can be found if we keep aiming in that direction.

  6. Great piece, Sandra! I actually have gone through this process in the past, and found it to be quite helpful. I suspect that practicing things like EFT can be helpful in releasing regrets as well.

    In my case, I looked back and realized that when I did things I now regret, I was doing the best I could do with where I was at the time (i.e. young and immature) – and as Maya Angelou says, now that I know better, I do better.

    So while I still regret a few things that I did in the past, they are no longer Regrets with a capital “R,” because I can see that even at the time I learned from them and tried to make amends for them. “Go forth and sin no more” is often the best we can do in such situations.

    • This is a really important point, Jennifer! Of course, we were operating in a limited scope and doing the best we could. It’s really helpful to remember that. I love this idea from Maya Angelou. If we can take our regrets from the capital “R” stage and benefit from them by learning and changing, as you have done, that’s a huge step forward.

  7. I love this. I am learning to be more forgiving to myself so that I can let go of regret and this is surprisingly hard.

    • It really takes time, Kaylin. That’s what I found in my own experience. I didn’t let go of those regrets from my childhood in a flash by any means. But if we set our mind in a certain direction, it will happen. I appreciate how it seems surprisingly hard at the moment.

  8. So sorry you regret not being loving enough as a child. I wonder if it’s a true memory or a skewed one? I think children are innocent and free, they should never be blamed for what they do. I guess we were all selfish then but that’s just part of growing up 🙂

    My regrets are mainly about things I did in my twenties! But let’s not go there 😉

    • Hi Annabel,

      Thanks for your compassionate words. Of course, it’s a lot to expect a child to be perfect. I know I did the best I could given the circumstances. But, in retrospect, I see how my projections were askew.

      I can only imagine from your blog posts what might have happened in your twenties! Yes, we don’t have to go there. I’m sure all is forgiven though!

      Glad you are back.

  9. Merry Callahan

    Sandra, Thank you. A soft and smooth reminder to live in the present, while mindful of a past pattern we wish to correct- with an eye to one’s idea of a better ‘self’- even while daily actions can toll the struggle to be without regret for one’s actions.

    I can pledge today, again and with sincerity, to become what I envision.

    Your words inspire me.

  10. This truly is powerful Sandra. Thank you for sharing it, as it may help us to process pain in our lives – big and small. Like all of us, I have regrets. I find – maybe we all find – that I regret the moments that I’m not able to be the person I want to be in a big way. Sometimes I have small failings. I get angry, I don’t think about what I’m saying. But when I have those really huge moments of faltering – whether I know I’m doing something I’m going to regret in the moment or not – those are the things I end up having to live with in regret. When I fail my own vision of who I am or who I want to be – that’s when I have the most regret. There are a few things in my past I’m still wrestling with, and one thing in my present that I’m actively working to resolve in a way that I won’t regret in the future. Thank you for this beautiful reminder of how to have a life well lived.

    • Thank you, Jessica. I think you’ve captured so well the sense that letting go of a regret doesn’t usually happen in a snap. It really does call for our attention and takes some time to work it through. I appreciate your honesty so much and I wish you the very best coming to terms with regrets from the past.

  11. Hi Sandra,
    I think everyone has regrets. While some people choose to acknowledge them, others find it easier to ignore or suppress them.
    Personally, I feel unresolved regrets lead to a deep and constant ache in your heart. So, I focus on reaching a place of acceptance about what happened and then attempt to turn the incident into a learning experience. If I can find a positive takeaway from whatever happened, I find it easier to move on and find peace in my heart.

    • Hi Gaori,

      This is such a perfect description of the result of unresolved regrets: “a deep and constant ache in your heart.” In that case, the regret is really begging for attention, isn’t it! Thanks for articulating this so beautifully.

  12. I agree with facing your regret. At first I mistook as dwelling over regret. Because that would be terrible.

    Yea, the feeling of regret can be a great tool to learn from past mistakes to make sure we don’t repeat them.

    • This is a good point, Sebastian. I think there’s a fine line between dwelling over regret and learning to process it, learn from it, and let go. Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly where that line is. But, I think if the regret keeps coming up it’s begging to be processed. Thanks for your input!

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