“Be kind to past versions of yourself that didn’t know the things you know now.” ~Unknown
My yoga classes were held in Colorado prisons and New Jersey jails. When teaching, I always ended the class with Metta Meditation.
Let us all be open to forgiveness.
We all should feel joy.
Let us all know that we are loved.
We pray that all of our sufferings are healed.
Let us feel peaceful.
They would all be wearing light gray sweatpants. They would shine brightly, just like they do in prison. Some women could close their eyes. Some wouldn’t.
I lead the meditation by using quiet, peaceful music, keeping in mind that there would be a lot of outside noise. Often, we could hear the incessant dribbling of basketballs in the men’s gym. We would all have to get past the yelling of someone in the complex.
As I spoke that first line, “May I feel forgiveness,” their tears would start, steady streams rolling down their faces. Afterward we spoke and the two of them said the hardest part about the practice was to forgive themselves.
They would look just like every other group of students, if these prisoners had been permitted to dress however they pleased.
I couldn’t tell who had murdered someone—because their life felt so desperate; or who had too many DWIs—because their addictions (the ones that they used to cover up abuse and trauma) were out of control; or who got a restraining order against an abuser, and then violated it herself—because she was sure he would be loving this time.
Their parents and their children suffered the same consequences as they did while in prison.
Makes It Easy to Regret
All of us can see that sometimes our choices create difficulties for others. Some of us were just lucky that we weren’t incarcerated for our decisions.
All of us have made mistakes that we regret. There have been things we regret. It was a mistake that we made, which led to serious consequences. There were also emotional consequences for being too focused on perfection or principle, which could have led to us becoming too ignorant.
These thoughts lurk deep in our hearts. They can be like shadows in the back of our minds, with ropes snatching at our self-acceptance and keeping us from reaching our full potential. You might be still feeling the consequences of decisions made 20-30, 30 or 40 years ago. Shame and guilt still have an impact on our decision making today.
It was the hardest to deal with my mistakes that had an impact on my children. Abuse in my second marital relationship was detrimental to me, my family, and the community I lived in. It took many years for the fallout to be remediated.
When life seemed back to normal, I had time to see my part in the trauma—mainly the red flags that I ignored when I was dating him. Ignoring what went on in his first marriage and the comments that he said, that made me feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t respond to, are my hindsight, my ball and chain, dragging on my self-worth. Even small mistakes can trigger me. Time is healing. Even if I made a mistake in conversation, as we all do sometimes, it could lead to me sliding down the slippery slope into unresolved regret.
It is now a habit that I don’t think about such stories as much. I’m not sure that I will ever find total peace with some of them. They still possess the ability to disturb my peace of thoughts, I am sure.
It is well worth it. SomeEven if it takes us a while to get over our mistakes, we can resolve them.
Write out my regret. Dump it all out of my head—including the hard stuff. Write down what you would say or do differently next time, if possible. Knowing that I’ve learned from past failures is a healing experience.
Also, writing the story will give you a better idea of how to fix it.
Is there someone to say I’m sorry to? Does it help to be able to open a dialogue with other characters in the story? Or if I have already said I’m sorry, do I need to forgive myself? Are you ready to let go of the story? Do I need to remind myself that it doesn’t do me any good to dwell on the story?
My regrets are also part of my meditation practice.
The morning I was sitting in front of the stone house’s garden roof, one of the most powerful times for processing my regret was early in the spring. It was heavy. I was feeling heavy from the weight of my second marriage and subsequent divorce.
Listening to the birds singing to each other, I felt a sudden inspiration to recite the Metta Meditation—the one that had brought tears to the inmates’ eyes in those faraway jails.
“May we all feel forgiveness,” I began. This time, the wonderment of my surroundings combined with the ancient familiar words to give me a feeling of release and freedom I hadn’t felt before. It was the sound of birdsong that allowed me to let go of my regrets over not doing things differently. I was overcome with emotion. My heart relaxed.
Accepting the fact that there might be some resentments is part of letting them go. Other clients have said it.
Women in their second half of life face common challenges. They don’t feel close to children. Marcia, a mother to five adult children regrets what a difficult time she had with her oldest child. Her attempts to repair the relationship haven’t had the results she wanted. It is difficult to accept that the estrangement may or not last. It is difficult to accept that her daughter wants to be closer and this peace is what she seeks each day.
Also, we might have to reach a solution with someone who is already deceased. Twelve years after her death, I found peace with my mother using the Metta Meditation. It was a complete surprise to me, and it liberated my heart beyond what I could have ever imagined.
We are all guilty of regrets and memories of shame. When we are driven by them, we might make choices that aren’t in our best interest. We might believe that we don’t merit good things or that we deserve to be relentlessly punished. We can increase our shame by repeating our mistakes and increasing our emotional load. We will still feel broken and tied to the past.
These hard memories can be used as part of our wisdom banks if we are able to accept our mistakes with kindness and compassion.
To live wholeheartedly is to accept all of our failures. Compassion for the mistakes we have made in life is part of wholehearted living. It is understanding that we are not alone—every single adult has regrets. We can live with more heart and have happier relationships. This will allow us to be more confident in our decisions.
Nancy Candea, a yoga therapist and second-half of life coach, helps women to make peace with the past and accept themselves. Yoga therapy for addiction and trauma is her specialty. She’s led yoga retreats, trainings, and workshops in Greece, Uganda and Jamaica. NancyCandea.com has her freebies.
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