A fresh new attitude that heals the pain of regret

by | June 6, 2016

In 2003 the New Yorker magazine published an article about the suicide capital of the world, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

The article featured thoughts from the small percentage of people who had survived the jump. Most of these people reported feeling instant regret the moment they stepped off the bridge.

As one young man put it,

“I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable — except for having just jumped.”

We all have many bridges we’ve stepped off in our past that we regret.

We yearn to take back and do over the hurtful things we said in anger, the times we’ve lashed out at others because of our wounds and insecurities, the opportunities we’ve run away from because of fear, the precious time we’ve squandered aimlessly, the mountain of moral mistakes that make us feel irreparably broken.

Regret comes so easily and hurts so badly for us in the West because we view life as a duality: true versus false, right versus wrong, good versus bad. We beat ourselves up for all the “bad” things we’ve done and try hard to be “good.” We’re acutely aware of how far and how often we fall short.

But there’s another way to view life that instantly transforms all our bone-headed mistakes into invaluable lessons, our painful shortcomings into peaceful evolution.

That is to understand that everything in life is perfectly designed to directly contribute to our progress, happiness, and redemption.

Our worst mistakes are the source of our best insights. Our biggest blunders are the bedrock of our greatest contributions. Our flaws, weaknesses, and deficiencies are the compost out of which flowers our beauty and goodness.

In his deeply insightful book You are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment, the renowned Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh explains,

“If you look deeply at a flower, at its freshness and its beauty, you will see that there is also compost in it, made of garbage…

“The flower is also going to turn into garbage; but don’t be afraid! You are a gardener, and you have in your hands the power to transform garbage into flowers, into fruit, into vegetables. You don’t throw anything away, because you are not afraid of garbage…

“The same thing is true of your happiness and your sorrow. Sorrow, fear, and depression are all a kind of garbage…

“You can practice in order to turn these bits of garbage into flowers. It is not only your love that is organic; your hate is, too. So you should not throw anything out. All you have to do is learn how to transform your garbage into flowers.”

Without the compost of failure there can be no flowers of success.

There is no regret that cannot be redeemed. In the end, the primary purpose for which we came to earth was to learn, and there is no other way to learn but to make mistakes.

Even lives that appear to be almost entirely wasted serve a profound and noble purpose: to teach us all what leads to sadness and what contributes to happiness.

(For tools to redeem your past by living your purpose in the present, click here to download my free toolkit now.)

And is it ever too late to transform? Many people on their deathbeds believe so, as Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who cares for people in the last few weeks of their lives, discovered.

Bronnie interviewed her patients and asked them what they regretted most about their lives. The most common responses she received, which she expounds on in her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, were,

  1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
  2. “I wish I didn’t work so hard.”
  3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
  4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
  5. “I wish I had let myself be happier.”

Those regrets are certainly valuable insights for the rest of us to pay attention to.

As for the people feeling weighed down by them as life closes in on them, I wish they would read the breathtaking poem “Everything Changes” by Bertolt Brecht:

Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your final breath.

But what has happened has happened. And the water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again.

What has happened has happened. The water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again, but

Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your final breath.

No matter what stage of life we’re in, regret can be instantly transformed into contentment with nothing but the fresh start of a new attitude towards our regrets.

Everything in life is fixable — especially how we view our past.

(For tools to move forward in living your purpose, click here to download my free toolkit now.)

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