How often do you hear people exclaim “No regrets, right?” or state emphatically “You should never regret anything in life”? Regret seems to be one of the most denied or rejected emotional states. It often holds connotations of bitterness or melancholy, and although these other feelings can be there also, regret has an additional adaptive and functional role to play within our psyche. It adds a 3 dimensionality to our history and demands that we own our choices and mistakes. It lets us feel greater empathy for those we may have hurt and can create resolve to live more mindfully, soulfully in the future.
Experiencing regret means that we learn to bear ourselves even more deeply… with all our imperfections, impulsivity, and flawed humanity. And this task, to learn to truly bear ourselves, is surely one of the most important of a soulful adult life.
I enjoyed reading the passage below from the acclaimed poet David Whyte, where he speaks of holding an honoured place for regret in our emotional world.
“Regret is a short, evocative and achingly beautiful word; an elegy to lost possibilities even in its brief annunciation, it is also a rarity and almost never heard except where the speaker insists that they have none, that they are brave and forward looking and could not possibly imagine their life in any other way than the way it is. To admit regret is to understand we are fallible: that there are powers in the world beyond us: to admit regret is to lose control not only of a difficult past but of the very story we tell about our present; and yet strangely, to admit sincere and abiding regret is one of our greatest but unspoken contemporary sins.
The rarity of honest regret may be due to our contemporary emphasis on the youthful perspective; it may be that a true, useful regret is not a possibility or a province of youth; that it takes a hard-won maturity to experience the depths of regret in ways that do not overwhelm and debilitate us but put us into a proper, more generous relationship with the future. Except for brief senses of having missed a tide, having hurt another, having taken what is not ours, youth is not yet ready for the rich current of abiding regret that runs through and emboldens a mature human life.
Sincere regret may in fact be a faculty for paying attention to the future, for sensing a new tide where we missed a previous one, for experiencing timelessness with a grandchild where we neglected a boy of our own. To regret fully is to appreciate how high the stakes are in even the average human life. Fully experienced, regret turns our eyes, attentive and alert to a future possibly lived better than our past.”
Excerpted from ‘REGRET” From CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
2015 © David Whyte: