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Over the years I have often heard successful spiritual teachers say that they no longer allow themselves the luxury of regretting their past choices. They say that we, as spiritual aspirants, should not let regret control us or make us feel bad; we should chalk up our past to lessons learned and get on with it. But I’m not sure this is the best attitude to cultivate. I think it’s time that regret reclaims its role in our spiritual growth process.
Is it possible the cultures of the 20th and 21st centuries have encouraged a global narcissism that needs a paradigm shift? How are we to move forward in altruism, supporting and nurturing this planet and its inhabitants if we can’t look back and acknowledge we made mistakes.
Regret is wishing we had made a different decision in the past, because the consequences of that decision were painful or disappointing. When we regret, we feel repentant; we look back with a sense of sadness about a decision we previously made and often vow not to make that same mistake again. Regret can be the very incentive we need to correct the mistake we previously made and take timely action, choosing differently this time around.
If we don’t have any regrets, maybe we ain’t learned a thing or grow’d a lick!
We’ve all met those old curmudgeons, you know the ones: “I don’t regret a single thing I’ve done…It made me the man I am today!” We think, “Well, no judgement here, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”
Regret doesn’t mean we wallow in the past or ruminate about our failures. Regret is saying that given who I am today, with my current level of awareness, and the lessons I’ve learned from life, I would make a different choice given the same set of circumstances again.
It is in a real sense, repentance: we have changed our viewpoints and our perspectives from the way they once were. We no longer think the way we thought or see the way we saw. We have grown beyond our old bubble of perspective. Now we are thinking outside the box we were once trapped in. There has been a fundamental and foundational change in our psyche. We are still the same individualized spirit at the core, only now we have realized a more soul outlook. We stand strong in a place we fought so hard to reach acknowledging we will never return to the outdated perception we once held onto so tightly. New again, we will never return to the old.
A Needed Change of Perspective
It is only with the perspective of some regret that we can appreciate who we have become. Now, we carry within us a sense of wisdom that we apply to our interactions with the world and our relationships. We can make better choices and take a moment of reflection, just the time we need to act not react and respond with emotional and spiritual maturity. Regret helps us be more empathetic and have a stronger sense of compassion for others experiencing perhaps the same challenges we once faced.
I think it may be possible that people who live without regret also live without empathy or a conscience. If we cannot feel bad about our own poor choices and wish we had chosen differently than we are functioning as if we move in this world in a narcissistic isolation caring only about ourselves, not realizing the affect we have on others.
How can we recognize the need for change and growth and take the altruistic action necessary to make amends if we do not regret our past poor choices?