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Springs of Joy: If onlys and shouldn’t haves… PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 04 November 2011 14:42

BY Jane dela Cruz Bascar

I’d have wanted to write about my recent personal experiences but since I’m not in top form right now, I’m quoting excerpts from Martha Beck’s article entitled “Who’s Sorry Now?” instead.  I’m sure you will find them not only entertaining but enlightening as well.  

Beck begins her article with this anecdote: “So here’s the story: After a lifetime of hand-copying ancient texts, an elderly monk became abbot of his monastery. Realizing that for centuries his order had been making copies of copies, he decided to examine some of the monastery’s original documents. Days later, the other monks found him in the cellar, weeping over a crumbling manuscript and moaning, “It says ‘celebrate,’ not ‘celibate!’” Beck continues:

“…If you’ve ever made a bad decision or suffered an accident, regret has been your roommate, if not your conjoined twin. It’s a difficult companion, prone to accusatory comments and dark moods, and it changes you, leaving you both tougher and more tender. You get to decide, however, whether your toughness will look like unreachable bitterness or unstoppable resilience; your tenderness the raw vulnerability of a never-healing wound, or a kindness so deep it heals every wound it touches. Regret can be your worst enemy or your best friend. You get to decide which… You can act now to transform the way you tell the story of your past, ultimately making it a stalwart protector of your future. Try these steps, more or less in order.

1. Get beyond denial. As long as you’re thinking, “That shouldn’t have happened or I shouldn’t have done that, you’re locked in a struggle against reality. Many people pour years of energy into useless “shouldn’t haves.”…Even drearier are the sad ones, who forever drone some version of “If only.”… I call this unproductive regret. People use it to avoid scary or difficult action…If you’re prone to unproductive regret, please hear this: Everyone agrees with you. That thing you regret? It really, really, really shouldn’t have happened. But. It. Did. If you enjoy being miserable, by all means, continue to rail against this fact. If you’d rather be happy, prune the “shouldn’t haves” from your mental story and move on to…

2. Separate regret’s basic ingredients. Of the four basic emotions – sad, mad, glad, and scared – regret is a mixture of the first two…Whatever the proportions, some regretters feel sadness but resist feeling anger; others acknowledge outrage but not sorrow. Denying either component will get you stuck in bitter, unproductive regret…Write down all the causes for your rage (and sadness), even if they’re irrational. Once you have a clear list of your sorrows and outrages, you can move on to step 3, where you’ll work both angles to transform unproductive regret into the productive kind. This is extraordinarily useful, but also profoundly uncomfortable, because the only way out of painful emotion is through.

3. Grieve what is irrevocably lost. Sorrow is a natural reaction to losing anything significant: a dream, a possession, an opportunity. Productive grief passes through you in waves, which feel horrific, but which steadily erode your sadness. The crushing mountain of sorrow eventually becomes a boulder on our back, then a rock in your pocket, then a pebble in your shoe, then nothing at all – not because circumstances change but because you become strong enough to handle reality with ease…If your sadness stops evaporating, if a certain amount of it just isn’t budging, simply grieving may not be enough. Regret is telling you to seek out a part of whatever you’ve lost.

4. Reclaim the essence of your dreams. You can’t change the fact that you binged your way up to 300 pounds, or lost a winning lottery ticket, or spent decades in celibacy rather than celebration. But you can reclaim the essential experiences you missed: loving your own healthy body, enjoying abundance, feeling glorious passion. In this moment, resolve that you’ll find ways to reclaim the essence of anything you can’t stop grieving…If you decide to reclaim the essence of anything you regret losing, you’ll find it – often sooner than you think, in ways you would never had expected.

5. Analyze your anger. The anger component of regret is every bit as important and useful as your sadness providing you information about exactly what needs to change in your present and future so that you’ll stop suffering from old regrets and create new ones. Basically, your anger will roar out this next instruction…

6. Learn to lean loveward… So the ultimate lesson of regret, the one that will help guide you into a rich and satisfying future is this: Every time life brings you to a crossroads, from the tiniest to the most immense, go toward love, not away from fear. Think of every choice in terms of “What would thrill and delight me?” rather than “What will keep my fear – or the events, people, and things I fear – at bay? Sometimes the choice will be utterly clear. Love steers you forward, and no fear arises. But on many occasions, things will seem trickier. The path toward what you love may be fraught with uneasiness, anxiety, outright terror. The pound dog will tug at your heart, but worry about upkeep will push away the first sparks of love and leave you without a four-footed friend. You’ll long for success but dread the risks necessary to earn it. Your impulse to champion the oppressed might compete with panic for your own sorry hide… That’s when you can call on regret – not as a burden that you still have to bear but as a motivator that can forcefully remind you not to make choices that will feel awful in retrospect. If you’ve grieved your losses, reclaimed your dreams, and articulated your anger, regret will have made you the right kind of tough-and-tender: dauntless of spirit, soft of heart, convinced by experience that nothing based on fear – but everything based on love – is worth doing. Living this way doesn’t guarantee an easy life; in fact, it will probably take you on a wondrously wild ride. But I promise, you won’t regret it.”  

I hope Beck’s article provides you with enough motivation and inspiration to ensure that you do everything in your power to eliminate the “what ifs, if onlys and shouldn’t haves” from your life. Freed of your many regrets, you can then journey through life with a lightness of spirit you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to achieve.

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