It’s not healthy, this method of self-brutality we’ve named ‘regret’. Often you can’t do anything about what has caused it. But if you allow it to build up or if you build it up into something that surrounds you, then you soon find yourself lost and consumed by it. It can affect your vision of everything else. And until you can get past it – knock down the house of regret and pave it over, as the song so eloquently puts it – you will be hindered by it, worn down by it, held back by it.
I’ll share with you a short allegory I've found useful:
The Woman at the Riverside
Two Buddhist monks, Bankei and his student Joshu, were traveling along the riverside when they reached a washed-out bridge. A woman was there, wishing to cross, but she was very small and unable to withstand the river’s current. Bankei took the woman upon his shoulders and the three crossed the river. Once upon the other side, Bankei set the woman upon the riverbank and wished her well in her travels. He and Joshu then went on their way.
They walked for several miles in silence before Bankei finally asked his student what was troubling him. Joshu replied that it was Bankei’s actions back at the river that concerned him.
“How so?” asked the teacher.
“You know as I do that we are not to so much as touch a woman. And yet you took that woman upon your own shoulders! How am I to reconcile that, teacher?”
“What I did for that woman was an act of kindness, nothing more, and when we reached the other side of the river, I left the woman there.” Bankei then looked Joshu in the eye and asked him, “Why are you still carrying her?”
This short parable has helped me to realize the complete uselessness of regret. Bankei made a moral decision and then went on his way with no regrets. His student, however, spent a lot of time in resentful silence before realizing his folly.
Sadly, what took Joshu a few miles’ walk to come to terms with has taken me decades.
I’ve had more than a few bouts of potentially crippling regret throughout my forty years. I have lost more time than I want to admit all but disabled by contrition and self-reproach. And none of it was ever worth the anguish I poured into it.
It’s a shame it took me so long to realize that there’s no value in regret – that all we can do is move forward learning from our mistakes and honestly rectifying whatever problems we’re responsible for. This is not to say that we are not accountable for our own wrongdoing; only that penitence is pointless if not used as an impetus to change for the better. Languishing in regret serves only to turn the regretted event into an even larger beast.
I can say it now. All that shit in my past that I thought was worth beating myself up over means nothing. It’s what I do from here on that matters. I move forward without regrets.
NOTE: If you enjoyed the song featured in this post and would like to have the mp3, you can acquire it here or here.
(If you're using Firefox as your browser (and you should be), simply right-click and choose "Save Link As…")