Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of April 8, 2013

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(Developing Wisdom: Part 1)

If only

We all have regrets: regrets about choices that turned out badly, opportunities passed up, mistakes made, misdeeds committed, and times beyond our control when life brought us what we did not want or failed to bring us what we wanted. Regrets can color our approach to life and can even be debilitating. The classic one is to have loved and lost, and then resolved never to love again. Regrets can eat away at us, as we descend into bitterness or its cousins: self-blame, lack of confidence, and even self-loathing. Wisdom, though, knows the limits of regret and does not let regret paralyze us in the present or drain our initiative toward the future. The antidotes for chronic regret are acceptance of and then gratitude for our situation as it is.

Acceptance of our situation as is does not, however, mean giving up on improving it. It does mean letting go of the emotional recoil against what is. That chronic inner rejection, that ongoing regret, does not contribute to healing or remedying the situation: it only exacerbates it by turning us away. So we acknowledge our regrets, face them, adopt the resolve they inspire in us, and then let them go. Failing that, whenever regret casts a continuing pall over our psyche, we can change the inner subject by acknowledging the good things in our life, the good things about ourselves, and by being grateful for all of that. Debilitating regret cannot coexist with gratitude. Whenever we notice such regret arising in our mind and heart, we can let that remind us to turn to gratitude.

Our regrets are useful insofar as we learn from them, learn not to repeat the same mistakes. Regrets can be useful if we let them spur us to action, to improve or to remedy our situation. But really to learn the lessons of regret, we need to experience fully the consequences of our actions, our mistakes and misdeeds, we need to experience fully the events of our life that bring what we do not want or do not bring what we want, and we need to experience fully our actions and situations that do not accord with our principles or goals. To experience fully any of these sources of regret, requires us to be present, unflinchingly present to our life.

So wisdom begins in presence and lets the fire of regret energize our way forward and remind us. In wisdom we do not repeat actions that we know we will regret and we do not allow regret over failures to stop us from trying again, though each time in a little more skillful manner. Whenever we fall, we immediately get up and get moving. Failures and their regrets are inevitable. Yet our response can be free.

For this week, notice your regrets, whether from your distant past or more recent. Notice what you regret. Notice how that regret affects your actions and attitudes. And notice what you need to accept, what you can be grateful for, what you can learn from your regrets, and what constructive course you can adopt in response. Transform the poison of if only into wisdom.


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