Sorry for Taking So Long to Post, eh.

Apparently, frequent use of the word "sorry" ranks as a distinguishing mark of a Canadian.

Who knew, eh?

Expressions of regret are not just a Canadian quirk. Some research into the frequency of emotional words in conversation indicates that expressions of regret are the second most common.

Part of this results from the many shapes and sizes of regret. 

I regret eating those three or four oatmeal raisin cookies last night - or was it six or seven? I regret not taking out the garbage at the appointed time—these regrets I can handle with no more than the usual angst.

 Regret multiplies in strength when my choices involve others.

Consider how I did not appreciate the love and sacrifices of my parents. Or the loop of regret that plays when I think of my children’s pain when I separated from their mother. 

Decisions, right or wrong or somewhere in between, still can carry regret for their impact upon others.

Some regrets fall upon the spirit like raindrops; others, more acidic, erode the soul, leaving self-worth and respect pock-marked.

 Most of the books in the self-help section view regret as destructive, an unproductive focus on the past that builds barriers to happiness in the present. 

And yet to regret is human. 

The dance of regret involves two steps

First, we compare the actual outcome with an imagined one. The backup singers continue the refrain, "what if I had done …” Secondly, we assess blame, primarily to ourselves. "If only I had made the other decision, things would have been better." And, most often, we perform this little dance in the privacy of our hearts. Our little dances of regret never get posted to Tik Tok.

While some regrets can act as an anchor and draw us into a bog of emotional and spiritual quicksand, regret can nurture wisdom. Regret clarifies and instructs. Sober, honest reflection combined with clear intention can lift us rather than pull us down. 

The wisdom born of regret can help us reset our path away from destructive behaviours towards the ways of grace, forgiveness and compassion. 

This alchemy of regret into wisdom contains some element of mystery, as befits any spiritual activity.

 However, at least part of the formula for moving regret from destruction to construction begins by breaking the silence. Peel off the multi-layered covering of the wound and bring it to the surface, at least, to ourselves if not God.  

 Though confession has fallen out of fashion, naming our failings rather than hiding them begins to turn the ship towards the land of acceptance and renewal. 

Turning the acknowledgment of regret into a positive spiritual practice is not easy. Taking off the bandages to expose our regrets to the air can sting. But perhaps the most challenging part of regret (and guilt) is to accept mercy and forgiveness. No matter how often we hear that God forgives and, regardless of our actions, calls us beloved, claiming the new life is difficult. 

For, in some strange way, we grow comfortable with our regrets. They may be like my ratty old hoodie, ill-fitting and not attractive, but comfortable in its familiarity.

 Releasing regret and guilt can be challenging because letting go opens up the possibility of a different future, which may lie in an unknown direction. And stepping into that new reality requires courage. Freedom and grace are the gifts of this courage.

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P.s. A friend reminds me of this familiar spiritual practice. Write each regret on a separate piece of paper, name them to a friend or confidant; then burn them. Move them out of those places in your heart where they have been stored like old clothes in a closet.

For your journal or conversation

What is your practice for naming and releasing regret?

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