It’s a tough job being human, I tell ya! On any given day, it’s as if little monsters have found their homes within us. No, am not referring to viruses but instead to our negative emotions. These little ‘entities’, of anger, jealousy, greed, envy, shame and guilt, sprout out of nowhere, any time they want! As if they own us. How dare they?! If it weren’t for them, we would all be saints!:) Truth is – they arise in us almost daily but they can be pretty harmless if we understand them, learn to deal with them and eventually eliminate them altogether. Of the above, I think one of the most burdensome and loneliest emotions we probably all faced, at some point or another, is guilt.
Is guilt a valid emotion/feeling?
When we regret our past actions so intensely, we end up harbouring very strong feelings of guilt. Often, guilt is associated with actions we are ashamed of and, it is then a given that we are unlikely to share any such incidents with anyone, except the Divine, if that. As a result, we end up bottling it all up, especially with no one to turn to.
First of all, it is very important to note that at any point in time, in any relationship of ours, each one of us is doing the very best they can. You may call it exercising compassion, self-compassion or perhaps stating the simple truth. Looking back at our past, if we knew, with absolute conviction, that our actions would cause damage and if we had the wisdom to act differently, there is no doubt that we would have done so. We did the best we could with what we had materially, spiritually and emotionally. So, if we take this into account, guilt is already an invalid emotion to dwell upon.
There is no point in looking back at our behaviour from months or years back and drowning ourselves in the guilt of the ‘what if’s’ and ‘should have’s’. Chances are, if we had to repeat the same incident with the same past wisdom we had at the time, we would have repeated the same mistakes.
Nothing is sillier than judging ourselves and spiralling into guilt. Guilt exists because the mind exists. When we feel guilty, we are simply standing at this current point in time with all our newly learnt wisdom and wishing we could change past events, which we in fact experienced as a completely different person altogether. The simple truth is, we did the best we could, and we learnt from it. Constantly feeling guilty is akin to sitting on a rocking chair. You move yet you remain exactly where you were to begin with.
We all know though, that it’s not always easy to let go of thoughts from our past. And a thought can turn into a storm of emotions in no time.
How to overcome guilt?
I believe that we have two choices if we wish to overcome guilt. Imparted by a dear friend/mentor, through whom my loving Master’s precious teachings found me. They worked for me. So, am sharing them.
1. Rectify your actions.
If there is still a chance to rectify our actions, we may choose to do so and therefore overcome the guilt we are faced with. In doing so, we end up sending a clear message to the universe and are showing the willingness to move on from the past.
Often, we feel guilty because we don’t quite approve of the way things turned out to be. Whether we hurt someone, or we messed up a project or we caused some irreversible damage. Whatever it is, guilt weakens us and the burden of guilt only intensifies day by day. As well as an acceptance of the situation and forgiving ourselves, we can overcome guilt by taking the necessary actions in reversing our past actions. If we can still change the cause of our guilt, then we may do so, if we wish.
If, we however decide not to, then it may be equally effective to tell the universe that we absolutely regret our actions and we shall not repeat them again. And leave it at that. Guilt is an internal conflict with oneself. It arises from having acted against what we believe was the flow of nature. Though, at the end of the day, all the good and the bad is a mental construct. Whilst we may be feeling guilty for having scolded a child, another parent may simultaneously be feeling guilty for not having been firmer with their child. Because had they done so, according to them, perhaps the child wouldn’t have hurt themselves etc. But there is only so much we can control in others.
2. Pick your life lessons and forgive yourself. Decide that from now on you will act differently, if such a situation arises. And move on, willfully.
In the case of past actions which cannot be rectified, we can choose to willingly forgive ourselves and release the consequences of our past actions to the universe. As far as forgiving ourselves is concerned, there is an extraordinary power in looking at ourselves from a third person perspective.
Have you ever noticed that a friend’s mistake is almost always more forgivable than our own mistake? Why is that so? It’s because we are always harsher on ourselves. We are our own harshest judges. If we feel guilty from past actions or behaviour, be it as a parent, a spouse, a child or a friend. We can go back in time and visualize our old self making the mistake. As a third person, our non-judgemental current-self becomes that loving and caring friend for our old self and forgiveness just flows. The mistake will seem very forgivable, because there is a flow of compassion.
Is there an antidote to guilt?
I would say that self-compassion and acceptance are the antidote to guilt. When we treat our past self as a ‘child’ who was doing the very best he/she could, there is an inevitable flow of love. In that flow, there is no space for guilt. Only love and self-compassion.
Ultimately, God is our loving parent and one who only knows how to love. All these self-judgemental thoughts of guilt, shame and anger arise in us because we are humans.
We are all loved by God, by our loving Master, but the ability to free ourselves is largely in our own hands. Holding onto guilt and constantly admitting that we feel guilty only adds up to our excess baggage.
The biggest gift we can give ourselves is being happy and contented. And to do so, we must remove the burden of guilt and expectations from our lives. How? By letting go. If we can rectify our actions, we may do so. If we can’t or choose not to, then forgiveness is the way. And if thoughts of guilt arise again, it is our duty to not pursue them. We can take it as a promise to ourselves and to the universe. A promise that we refuse to keep carrying the garbage of the past everywhere we go. And the rest is in our hands.
Eventually, we are better off letting ourselves be filled with love. But we must first empty ourselves for God to fill us up. We must be light and free of baggage to move forward. And that my friend, is in our hands.
And as our Divine Master, ultimate doer, Om Swami, Himself beautifully said:
“When you walk towards light, your shadow will go behind you. It will no longer obscure your path with darkness. And that’s just about the only method I know of dropping our baggage: we must journey towards light with hope and compassion for ourselves and others.”
I shall add no more and leave you to read this beautiful post here!
P.S: If none of the above works for you, I won’t feel guilty:)
Note: Deep gratitude to Swami and Anu who helped me grasp much of the above concept and then I was able to write it out, through His grace:)