Sometimes, during sleepless nights, I’ll lie awake cringing at something I said or did 1, 2, 10 years ago. It doesn’t matter when it happened, really; all that matters is that whatever I’m cringing over seems so unlike my present self, that anxiety takes over and I’m left tossing and turning in shame, fear, confusion… regret.
How can I exist in the same body from birth until death, yet, when I reflect, feel like a different person from who I was just years before?
Well, even though our thoughts feel as if they’re our own, helping us to interpret and respond to the world, we’re actually much less involved in creating our thought processes than you might think. In reality, our thoughts are ever-changing, unstable, sometimes chaotic, processes of our mind. Anyone who has been through trauma learns to carry that trauma with them wherever they go- their thoughts may constantly be on the defense, analyzing everything people say to them, searching for any signs of threat no matter the situation. Even if the traumatic situation is a thing of the past, the mind keeps the anxiety very much alive.
This is just one way of explaining how we are not our thoughts. Even if we feel in control of our mind, always remember that our body has evolved for survival, not happiness. Have you ever taken a moment to simply observe your mind, without attaching yourself to any thought? The most random shit can enter your consciousness. From the most amazing dreams, to the darkest memories, your mind can feel like a nonsensical free-for-all. Where did these thought processes come from?
We change year to year, moment to moment, because we are observers existing in a body. We change based on the experiences and feelings we observe. The more we learn about the world, the more we change, we grow. The more conscious we remain of our experience, the more we can choose which thoughts to pay attention to, and which ones to let go. This is why practicing mindfulness and meditation is powerful, even though it can be painful. It’s not always easy to observe your thoughts and emotions. You might see some shit you’ve been trying not to see, but after a while of looking, you’re able to see situations for what they really are- just small fragments part of an endless, complex and beautiful universe. Your past doesn’t have to define you.
So I hate when people say “I have no regrets,” because, quite frankly, I think it’s a lie people tell themselves instead of having to process pain. Perhaps meditation has helped me cope with pain and turn it into something positive, such as my appreciation for creative expression, but if I could go back in time and change some of the things I said, did, wore, ate, etc., I 100% would. I have regrets. But the beautiful thing about a regret is that it causes enough pain to prevent the mistake from happening again, and creates enough honesty within yourself so you can trust new people and situations without carrying the baggage of the past. Admitting regret is the first step to learning and healing from it.
No one is born perfect- we’re born as observers, simply understanding and forming our worldview based on what we witness. So instead of cringing at, or wanting to erase your former self, try to go easy on your past- including everyone else in it. Sometimes, people are just products of their environment. While this doesn’t excuse people’s actions, it at least gives perspective. You can’t change your past or control other people, but the older you get, the more you can control what you observe or how you observe it. You might not be able to change your memories, but you can change how you perceive them and the meaning you give them.
Sometimes life throws you into a situation just so you’re forced to question yourself- your way of living, your beliefs about the world and its beings, your values, actions, etc. Sometimes life drags you to the lowest of lows just so you can learn to empathize, understand, become inspired, and appreciate more. Other times, it will be up to you to challenge yourself, to step outside of your comfort zone and consciously try to see the world from a different perspective.
My point is, never become so scared of the pain that comes with regret, that you sabotage your own spiritual growth. It’s healthy to realize you were wrong and apologize for it. You don’t have to defend your current beliefs or way of life until the day you die – you can change them whenever the hell you want. There’s an unnecessary, negative stigma around regret, but experiencing regret, and wanting to go back in time and change your former self, is a very positive, universal human emotion. It may feel cringe-worthy and anxiety-ridden, but when you take a moment to breathe and observe that feeling, you realize it’s simply a symptom of your growth.
So live your damn life the way you want to in this moment, regardless of who you thought you once were. Let yourself experience the various emotions of life. They may not all feel amazing, but every emotion has the power to inspire and teach, especially regret.
Remember – you don’t need to stay true to the person people thought you were; you only need to stay true to who you are.
Live & let live.