The Path Has No Regrets

In No Particular Path on June 17, 2013 at 1:53 pm

I like to think that I have no regrets about my life. And perhaps that’s true. And perhaps regret is the wrong word to use for the way we respond to the past. Guilt, regret and blame are all judgments about the past that allow us to believe that if we or someone else had simply behaved differently at some particular point, made a single specific different choice, then things would be better than they are. Self-congratulation is the same response when we are happy with who we are or what we have and tell ourselves that it is because we chose well at some specific point that has made all the difference.

We judge our lives, and in the process select certain specific choices for special consideration. There’s nothing wrong with this. We cannot live our lives amorally. A moral code is important to being human. Without a personal sense of right and wrong, good and bad, we couldn’t self-actualize, couldn’t prioritize, couldn’t participate effectively in the social contracts our interactions with others require of us. But guilt, regret, judgment and responsibility are not all the same thing, and it is possible to evaluate, and judge, and take responsibility for our choices, without guilt or regret.

The best we can say is that had things been different, had we chosen differently, then the present would be different – but we cannot know whether better or worse.

I know that in my life I have hurt and been hurt. I have loved and been loved. I have chosen well, in ways that nurtured and cherished and were healthful and positive; and I have chosen badly, in ways that were harmful and destructive to myself and others, that sought to meet my needs without consideration of the consequences for myself or others. I have given and received. I have made human choices and human mistakes.

I cannot even say that I always meant well, that I have always tried to be kind or patient or gentle or even honest or authentic. I believe that I never intended to do harm, but cannot say I did everything I could to prevent it.

We all have needs –social, spiritual, emotional, psychological, physical, material – and we seek to have those needs met. Sometimes we try to meet them in life-affirming, healthful, nurturing, responsible ways, and sometimes we seek to meet them in self-destructive, harmful ways. Sometimes we meet them through our own, separate, individual ways; sometimes we seek the help of others. Relationships are always about the meeting of needs. In healthy relationships, people help each other meet their needs in healthy ways; there is an ongoing discussion, even negotiation, about the meeting of needs and both the possibilities and the limits of the relationship in getting those needs met. There are compromises, and sacrifices, and disappointments, and disagreements; and there are cooperation, and acceptance, and allowances.
In the end, of course, we can do nothing about the past except regret it or embrace it. About the present we can do nothing except live it. About the future we can do nothing except fear it or be open to it.

I am who I am today, with all my fears and sadness, with all my moments of courage and all my joys and all my passion for life, because my choices (as so many wiser than I have said before) have led me to this place at this time. I don’t regret anything in my life, despite the mistakes, despite the sorrows, despite the hurts; and I don’t claim any special gift of wisdom or brilliance or personal superiority despite the proud moments, the achievements and triumphs, even despite the love.

My hope for the past is that I can keep it in my human heart and let it inform my soul; my hope for the present is that I will see my choices clearly enough to make them in healthful, nurturing and peaceable ways; my hope for the future is that life will bring me opportunities to make those choices and that I will not run from them, or judge them, but will face them with a heart and soul that know the value of the past, and the challenge and possibility of the present.

The path itself has no regrets. The stones do not desire to be flowers; the hills do not wish to be valleys. The sun does not regret the storm and the cloud feels no guilt for its shadow. Falling is movement, as is standing up again. The present is fleeting and this moment contains all the truth of our lives.

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