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Letting Go of Regret

Healing Through Liberation from Regret and Denial

By Margaret McGoverne

Letting Go of Regret

Letting Go of Regret

Stuart Dee / Getty Images
Like probably every fellow human being alive today, I have done things in my life that I have later regretted. Certain actions will fail to meet our own or others' standards of behaviour, and when faced with such acts, most of us will opt for one of two reactions:
  1. Regretting our actions, and wishing them undone or,
  2. Denying that they were wrong, or denying that it was our fault by blaming someone else, or denying that there was any lapse in the first place!
Even if we accept to the world and to ourselves that we were wrong, it is very difficult not to regret or to indulge in a spot of denial. As a species we are very adept at justifying ourselves.

I tend to engage in regret, and in the past, this has brought me to my knees, in tears, praying for things to be undone. But they cannot be undone. Should I go into denial - or blame someone else?

Having read the teachings of Buddha, one of the first things I learnt of was the first Noble Truth, or path to enlightenment: that the nature of life is suffering.

By this, Buddha meant that all human beings wish to experience a lasting happiness, but that no one can live a life without experiencing problems and setbacks that reduce our happiness. Happiness based on improving our external situation is therefore doomed to failure, because we will all suffer setbacks at some point. True happiness must be sought from within, not by seeking more wealth, a bigger car, a nose job, or a new partner.

If we can develop and maintain a calm and happy mind, regardless of our material situation, then we cannot be disappointed by setbacks, and so we will break the cycle of suffering. And that is where regret and denial come in.

Regret and Suffering

When we regret our past actions, or when we deny responsibility for them, or the outcome of them, we are suffering. When we blame someone else for our woes, like a boomerang the hurt flies back to us. While we are regretting and blaming and denying what has been done, we are trapped in the eternal circle of suffering, or samara, the Buddhist cycle of life and death pervaded by suffering.

I cannot take credit for the solution - but thinking it through, the only real answer to the question "How do we heal ourselves and move on from regret, blame and denial?" is the answer provided by Buddha - to think beyond yourself and your own suffering.

I am no different from you, and you are no different from the person down the street. We all experience suffering in one way or another, and we all share certain suffering, beggar or king, we are all born, we all grow old or sicken or suffer an accident, and die. We all lose loved ones. We are all trapped in samsara, in suffering.

Letting Go of Regret

But there is an answer, and a way to liberate ourselves, and others, from the pain of suffering. Let go of regret. Let go of blame, and denial. Realise that everyone feels pain, and take some time to lessen, by however small a portion, the suffering of another. You may think your action will go unrewarded, or even unnoticed, but if we practise this enough, it will make a difference.

Think about it. You've had an argument with your best friend, and you're hurt and upset. He said some nasty things, and it hurts. You deny that you started it, but you may also regret harsh words spoken in anger. You are both suffering. You can both engage in regret, blame and denial, or you can extend forgiveness, bearing in mind that your friend is also suffering. So you say sorry first, and let go of the anger, the pain, and the regret. Your friend will hopefully recognise your compassion, and may be inspired to commit a similar selfless act to someone else in turn.

By letting go of your pain, you liberate yourself and others from suffering. Maybe not the first time. Maybe your altruism will go unrewarded, but stick with it - only you can make you happy, and the first step is to accept this awesome responsibility towards yourself.

Growing Your Compassion

By striving to live life in a spirit of responsibility towards yourself and others, your compassion will grow, and your regret and denial will become apparent for the waste of time and energy they are.

Just as no one else can be happy for you, no one else can be responsible for taking away your unhappiness, your regret, your suffering, your samsara.

About this Contributor: Margaret McGoverne is the founder of The Holistic Shop, a new experience in online shopping for gifts and products that promote a holistic approach to health, relaxation and spirituality.
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