There are a lot of quotes about regret being a waste of time. For a long time, I would parrot those types of phrases. I understood them intellectually but it wasn’t until I really sat down and got to know some of my regrets that I really came to understand that what they say, is actually true.
The poet Ghalib said “Every particle of creation sings its own song of what is and what is not. Hearing what is can make you wise; hearing what is not can drive you mad.”
When I originally read this I was thinking about vicious “thought wheels” that we get stuck in when we are trying to make a decision and every option appears to be fraught with impossibilities and things that are beyond our control. We get stuck in a horrible pattern of going around and around from option to option, and our anger, fears, and frustrations grow. Ghalib’s words are a wise reminder in this situation. Interestingly, what came to me when I was thinking about this is that they are also really important when we think about regret.
To look backward and to wish you had done something differently is to hear what is not. Because we can only ever make assessments from the present it makes it impossible to accurately assess our actions or behaviours from the past. To look backward and regret what you have done is to take for granted what you know today and the experiences you have had between then and now.
We are growing and learning beings in every moment. Thoughts travel through our minds at a constant and incredible pace, literally, new things are occurring to you all the time. This is giving you a different perspective. Add to that external inputs and you are pretty much a changed person every time you wake up. Of course, when you look at “it” today with everything you have learned since then, it’s easy to see how you could have done things differently (better even), but that’s like saying if I had been a bird then, I could have flown. You’re a human, so you couldn’t have been a bird. You had, had the experiences and knew what you knew then – and so, you made the decisions that you did.
Hearing what is, is to understand that you can’t beat yourself up for the impossible.
Now, what about learning from our mistakes?
It’s not a bad thing to learn from what happened in the past. Of course, it isn’t! But, what if it wasn’t a mistake? What if it was the exact right thing at that moment? What if it was the only possible thing at that moment? It seems to me, that if we take this approach, our minds can shift from judgment to more learning. Without judgment consider what created that moment. How does it change things if we are then learning from our actions and not our mistakes?