Through meditation, I have a new-found fascination with emotions! As a child, I grew up in a household where emotions were not artfully addressed. In other words, “how we felt” did not receive a lot of attention. Through meditation, I’ve learned not only that emotions are part of one’s DNA but they need to be acknowledged, pondered, and embraced – the good, the bad and the ugly – with an eye towards watering those that are more beneficial to happiness and peace.
Lately, the strong emotion that has been cropping up is regret. My Mom died last May and in the aftermath of her death, my siblings and I uncovered a treasure trove of pictures of her as a teen and 20-something. They reflected a fun-loving, vivacious and beautiful young woman surrounded by friends. They were truly a revelation – showing a completely new aspect of a person I thought I knew, a person who often seemed to dwell in negativity. This picture and just the awareness that she is gone (except for my skewed memories), has been sending me into keen moments of “regret” – that maybe I should have tried harder to communicate, maybe it was my fault that our relationship was sometimes strained, that I did not choose to spend more time with her, and that maybe I had never really listened to her.
Regret in spades. So, how do we address that sticky, painful emotion?
Thich Nhat Hahn starts, as always, with the concept of being present:
When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love. . . .
Around us, life bursts with miracles – a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles. Eyes that see thousands of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.
To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past or responsibly plan for the future. The idea is simply not to allow yourself to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. If you are firmly grounded in the present moment, the past can be an object of inquiry, the object of your mindfulness and concentration. You can attain many insights by looking into the past. But you are still grounded in the present moment.
Thay’s wise words and my meditation practice have helped me to focus and embrace the regret, to treat it kindly, and to return to the present without getting lost in a miserable bog of self-doubt and lack of compassion for the life I actually led with my Mom, which had both beautiful and dark moments. While my “emotion of the week” has been regret, the above principles are useful for addressing in a fruitful way all of the strong, negative emotions we encounter as part of simply being human.
I look forward to seeing everyone on Monday night!