Though both are often avoided at all costs, regret and anxiety have something to teach us.
A quote that clearly aims to highlight the need and importance of being present has taken on a much different shape for me, bringing forth two strange questions.
The shame over what has been done or not done.
The guilt that accompanies it.
It can feel existentially threatening.
We are hard-pressed to find much in our environments and within ourselves that we possess control of, which only intensifies the existential frustration that comes with the errors of commission and omission we often make.
Healthy guilt is the feeling of discomfort after we have done something wrong.
It differs from unhealthy guilt, in that it is attached to a specific action or inaction.
It differs from shame, in that it is not a condemnation of one’s entire Being.
Unlike shame, experiencing healthy guilt can be good for our overall well being.
Sometimes, it is good and necessary to feel remorse
for something you said,
for something you did
A proper response after doing something wrong is to, even if for a moment, feel as if you did something wrong.
Feeling a sense of guilt after stealing or lying is an appropriate response.
After considering how you could have better navigated that relationship or conflict, carrying a sense of regret may be an appropriate response.
We do not have to make a spectacle of our errors, as if they were formerly foreign to mankind, nor do we have to convince ourselves we never erred, in a failed attempt to maintain some idealistic view of ourselves.
Our collective aversion to regret and guilt doesn’t come from nowhere.
Maybe you grew up in a culture where your errors, wrongdoings, and flaws were the center of your identity.
Maybe you were taught to have a low view of yourself, to be suspicious of and slow to trust yourself.
There is something deeply harmful in cutting yourself off from yourself.
It explains why the world is not as we would like it to be
why our idealized view of self seems permanently out of reach.
It is not surprising to see many hold onto this conception.
It instills a degrading view of humanity
seems to divorce us from God (Life, Being, The Universe, etc.), the world, others, and ourselves.
It is not surprising to see many let go of this conception.
Yet, it often does not stop at letting go.
It escalates, often without our conscious awareness, to a type of rebellion.
Rebelling against the overt, external assertions of your depravity is understandable, though, it can lead to negative unintended consequences.
Guilt is now simply a glitch in your programming.
A flaw of your former culture.
Merely residue from your time in oppressive institutions that you are now free from.
This isn’t to our benefit.
Banishing all negative emotions only leads to us further deluding ourselves.
Our negative emotions, regardless of how unpleasant their methods may be, are able to instruct us in much needed ways. They provide helpful, illuminating information as to how we could better live our lives and be closer aligned with reality.
We would be wise to see what regret, shame, and guilt have to teach us.
The beautiful thing about ancient texts is there are innumerable ways to make sense of and meaning from them.
Regardless of how you identify or label yourself, you may find life in them.
You may pass on 99% of a tradition, but have your life utterly transformed by 1% of it.
Believe it or not, it does not have to be all-or-nothing.
The story of Adam and Eve begins with them living in paradise.
The author of the story writes about a peace they are experiencing.
A type of wholeness and completeness with no unfulfilled desires.
Life is good.
Then, like all good stories, a major conflict arises.
Adam and Eve disobey God.
Then, they are punished for their disobedience.
They are now aware of
and their own mortality.
They are now aware of the never-ending toil required for
They are promised a sorrowful, anxiety-filled life until they return to where they came from: the ground.
The story of Adam and Eve can be read as an explanation as to how humans became conscious and the suffering (and anxiety) that consciousness brings with it.
We are forward-looking creatures.
We are frantically considering what may come of our health, loved ones’ health, relationships, jobs, and projects.
Endlessly, we scheme ways we can have a more meaningful life, a better quarter, pursue a desirable job, or lose weight.
We are fragile creatures whose very existence is at the mercy of innumerable forces, both seen and unseen.
How can you not be anxious in the ongoing act of ensuring your ongoing existence?
Anxiety should never surprise us.
What is more surprising is when we are not anxious.
Acknowledging and accepting anxiety as a normal aspect of our shared humanity, though, appears to be a worthwhile goal to pursue.
Our anxiety is simply trying to keep us alive, illuminating our needs.
Our anxiety, when operating smoothly, helps prepare us for whatever may be around the figurative or literal corner. It keeps us awake and alert to life, though we may find ourselves far more alert than we desire.
Our anxiety can nudge us to set an aim for what we desire and then prompt us to act.
Living with anxiety can feel like being entirely surrounded by fog. The low-grade terror that living in the fog brings is sufficient enough reason for many of us to distract ourselves from the chaotic feelings this brings.
It is far easier to bury your head in the sand than it is to acknowledge you are vulnerable and afraid, without the sight necessary to emerge safely from this alarming state.
Yet, when the fog begins to lift, if we remain steadfast, we may be left with greater clarity as to what matters and what does not.
Passions, relationships, and worldviews can change (or, more accurately, be revealed).
“If your mind wasn’t currently filled with these particular anxious thoughts, what might you have to think about right now?”
You may surprise yourself with your answer(s) if you sit with this question.
With our limitations and needs, seeking to entirely rid ourselves of any regret or anxiety keeps us from crafting a life we desire to live.
To refuse to explore the past and understand our shadow is a form of self-sabotage.
To refuse to prepare for the future and the unpredictable, arbitrary nature of life is a form of self-sabotage.
By no means must we seek out regret or anxiety; they will both naturally find a way into our lives.
Realize there are valuable insights on the other side of (and within) regret and anxiety.
Be curious about your negative emotions.
Notice how you may distract yourself from them.
Seek to learn from their oftentimes-harsh teaching methods, and notice their sting and frequency potentially lessen as you do.
We may lose part or all of today because of regret or fear.
Maybe this is not all bad.