I woke up very early on the Saturday before Easter and took a beach walk. The sky and the sea were the same shade of ever-lightening gray, and there was no one else in sight. As I walked, I prayed, and the voice came to me and said, "Quit thinking you're doing this wrong."
"Quit thinking you've screwed up. You are leading your life in precisely the right way. Your life is unfolding perfectly. Not the way you'd planned, I know. But still: diamond-perfect."
And I started thinking about all the choices, events and situations that we revisit over and over in our minds, and how all that revisiting is stealing valuable energy and mind-space and creativity from NOW.
So I devised a few questions to help unlock a few of those... Oh, "regrets" seems like a strong word to use, but the life choices that you still think about and feel sort of bad about.
Step One: You Have Learned Your Lesson
Perhaps you have a lot of these regrets and you really feel them getting in the way of your leading your best life. Or maybe you only have a few, or one or two. But all of us have at least one.
So pick an event from your past that you wish had gone differently. Could be anything:
A trip you didn't take.
An apology that you bungled.
An opportunity squandered.
First, what is the life lesson of that event? What is the "moral of the story?" What behavioral change do you continually reinforce by dwelling on this?
That you are free to choose adventure over safety?
That you need to speak your heart?
That you can lean into the future rather than hanging back?
Good. So, how are you doing with that life lesson? Have you got it? Are you sure?
Think of three examples from your life where you have demonstrated an increased ability to be adventuresome, to heart-speak, to lean -- or whatever your lesson was.
I believe that you have learned that lesson. You may give yourself an A+ (or, for those of you who've studied with me, you may give yourselves a "C") because now, in the same way that you no longer have to recall the lesson of "How do I tie my shoes?" or "How do I safely pull my car into the driveway?" Because you've done it a million times, you may now assume that lesson is part of you. It is part of your unconscious competence. It's in your bones now, and you can't unknow it.
So maybe you can afford to be a bit less vigilant, hmm?
Step Two: You Did Not Act Alone
Let's return to that troubling memory for a minute, and let me ask you a question:
Is it possible that you are over-accepting responsibility for this event? Really. Give it some thought.
Were there other people involved who also bear some responsibility for the way things went down? Could someone else have helped you out a bit more than they did?
And I don't mean to say that anyone ought to have done anything differently -- after all, those other people are leading their lives just perfectly, too -- but I want you to notice that you did not act in a vacuum.
How inexperienced were you at the time?
Did you have all the information you needed? Are you giving yourself a hard time because you didn't know then what you know now? Can you see the ridiculousness of that?
Now write down the name of someone else who might've had a hand in this decision or event of yours. And write down one piece of information that you have now but did not have then.
Do you see that this maybe was not all your fault? That you were a part of a larger set of circumstances? Could this new perspective maybe help you put down the whip for a minute?
Step Three: Do You Still Desire That Alternate Future?
Finally, answer this: how do you think your life would be different if you had, in fact, behaved differently?
Complete the sentence, "If I had/hadn't done XYZ, I would now ________________."
What goes in the blank? Be a painter? Be married? Have lived abroad? Still be friends with... ?
Good. Breathe that in.
Do you want that still?
If the answer is yes, then what is one small (less than 15 minutes, easily within your budget) step you can take today to bring in this thing that you still want?
And be realistic with yourself -- maybe you can't move to Paris today, but you can buy some geraniums and a small photo of the Tour Eiffel to put on your desk. You can start a penny-jar to save up for a plane ticket, yes?
Or maybe you think you would've been a famous textile designer now, so you're going to spend 15 minutes researching new silk-screening technologies today. Make it fun -- a celebration -- an experiment, even!
And perhaps you realized that you really don't want that thing anymore. How marvelous! Take a moment to celebrate that you "Do not want what you haven't got!"
And so maybe you are so glad that you didn't marry that person, you decide to buy a special bottle of wine or imported soda pop or special after-dinner tea to commemorate your freedom from that choice.
Because you are here for the joy. And to spend even one moment criticizing yourself for something that could not have gone any differently than it did is a waste of your light.
And the world needs your light.