Do Not Regret the Past

Shinshu’s Commentary: A couple of weeks ago I was watching Charlie Rose interview Russell Crow on TV. Russell Crow made the comment that he had no regrets because regrets were ways that we learn about our life. If we learn a lesson from our mistakes; then what is to regret? For this reason he doesn’t harbor regret about past actions. Shantideva says something similar in the Guide to A Bodhisattva’s life. He wrote: Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied? And what is the use of being unhappy about something if it cannot be remedied?” A little tough love from Shantideva.

Regrets are about looking back at a decision we’ve made in the past and wishing we’d done something else. Dictionary.com has various synonyms: sorrow, remorse, loss, fault, and disappointment. What a mental burden to carry around such disheartening emotions. Yet, we do.

The antidote to this is surely looking at these situations/decisions from the past and taking up Shantideva’s and Crow’s advice. What have we learned? If we have changed, then we might explore focusing on the present and seeing our regrets as a positive – as a kind of atonement. This is in the ballpark of Shantideva’s “what is the use of being unhappy?’ but with a positive spin. Why not turn our remorse into a moment of growth and appreciation?

We make amends for what we can, we remember that we might want to change our response in the future. We can’t go back. It’s not possible. We can only go forward with what we know. Going forward is the immediate present. Dogen wrote to the effect that no matter how long we have been doing something, it is only this moment that defines our experience. If we own this thought moment, we see that it becomes the totality of our experience. Even if we are on our deathbed, if we can find gratitude for this moment, where is the regret?

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