A Garden Metaphor: Resolving Guilt and Regret

©Jane A. Simington, August 2014

 

For years now, my garden has been a great teacher. I treasure the soulful prompting I receive daily in witnessing the seasonal changes of growth and decline. Today I ruminate on how fruitful some early spring decisions and planting choices have been, and on how underproductive others were. Why did some not turn out as planned? Was the planting time wrong; the location wrong? What can I do now to altar those early choices? What will I do differently next time?

Jane's Garden

Looking back at the choices and decision we have made at an earlier point in life can sometimes lead to feelings of guilt and regret. Guilt and regret are the emotional expressions of the spiritual need for self-forgiveness. Guilt is an expression of things done we wish we had not done. Regret is an expression of things not done we know we should have. These emotions are often articulated in phrases such as “If only…” and “I wish I had…”

 If you are holding guilt or regret over a past event here is a four-part process I find to be both helpful and healing.

1)    Place yourself right back in the event over which you are experiencing guilt or regret. See yourself and your circumstances exactly as they were then. Now ponder; “If I were right back there under those same circumstances and in that same time and place, would I make the same decision?” We often judge yesterday based on the knowledge and experience of where we are at today. When you place yourself right back in the circumstances of the time when you made the choices over which you now hold guilt or regret, you will be more capable of seeing and experiencing that situation as you saw it then.

2)    Following the examination of those past circumstances and the conclusions about the choices you made, take a few more moments and ponder how that event and the action you took, changed the course of your life. To do this, I encourage you to use a circular form of questioning. A circular form of questioning is to simply repeat the same question over and over after each answer. In your case, now that you have examined the details of the event and the actions you took, please ponder…“and then what happened?” When you find the answer, ask again…“and then what happened?” When you find that answer, ask the same question. Repeat this question and answer process until you are able to see how the choices you made at that time changed the course of your life. Then spend some moments pondering this question: “Did my actions at the time of that event result in some positive outcomes?

3)    List at least three things you learned from making those particular choices. Now conclude what is the greatest lesson you learned from taking the action you took. Reflect on these and then journal in detail your responses. There is great value in taking the time to externalize in written form the thoughts and ideas that are free-floating in your mind. Writing them down rather that just thinking about them will make the process more concrete and real, thus adding to the healing benefits of this exercise.

4)    To conclude this therapeutic activity, memorize and use frequently this affirmation. “I have grown and changed since those days. I made the choices then that were right for me. If I am ever again in a similar circumstance, I will make different decisions because I can now make choices that are right for me at this time in my life.”

Has the above therapeutic exercise to release guilt and regret made you more compassionate with yourself? Self-forgiveness is an exercise in compassion. Self-forgiveness is an exercise in freedom. As the past is released, space becomes available for the planting of seeds in groundrich and ready to support new life and growth.

 

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