Today we’ll be discussing how to use meditation for regret. Meditation can help you to forget your mistakes and to forgive yourself.
If we are honest, we all have at least one regret from the past. For instance, I personally used to regret leaving a career in software to be a meditation teacher. That was, until I learned to appreciate my life more. Now I am very happy with the decision I made. And you too can be happy with your past actions, even if you currently think you made mistakes.
Thankfully, we can use meditation for regret. Indeed, we can use meditation to control all emotions.
What do you regret? A choice you made in your career? An action you took that hurt someone? A missed opportunity?
Many people ruminate on their past mistakes. They constantly think of all the things they did wrong. If only they could learn to think differently about the past. Then they would learn that actually, many things they consider mistakes were in fact essential to their personal development.
Link between Meditation And Regret
If you want to use meditation for regret, you need to reframe the way you think about past mistakes.
Usually, we think about mistakes as things that cannot be changed. For instance, I regret that I wasn’t able to be with my father when he passed. And it would be very easy for me to look at that regret and think, “I can’t do anything about it.”
This attitude makes us victims of the past. If we don’t think we can change the past, we are stuck. What we need to do is realise that regret is something happening insight ourselves now, in the present moment.
The Oxford Dictionary defines regret as a “sad feeling because of something that has happened or something that you have done or not done.”
The important word there is “feeling”.
Regret is a feeling we experience in the present moment. And so, even though we associate regret with the past, it is in fact happening right now. The feeling is occurring in the present moment. And because the feeling is occurring in the present moment, we can change it.
The other aspect of regret is thoughts. We think about past mistakes and dwell on them. Again, those thoughts are occurring in the present moment. And that means that we can change our thoughts too.
In other words, even though you can’t change the past, you can change the way you think and feel about it.
Being mindful of regret
To change the way we experience regret, we need to be conscious of regret in the present moment. In other words, we need to understand that regret is an experience of certain thoughts and feelings occurring now. And to do this, we use mindfulness.
As S.N. Goenka has often said, when you can see the mind clearly you become less reactive to it. This is the heart of Vipassana, a Buddhist meditation technique in which we observe the sensory experience of the present moment.
I recommend that you sit with regret. Sit still, close your eyes. Bring to mind one thing you feel regretful about. And then consciously observe your thoughts and your feelings. When you see your thoughts, you can challenge them. For instance, let’s say you regret breaking up with your ex. In your mind you keep seeing past memories in which you were happy with your ex. And so, you regret breaking up. Challenge those thoughts. If you had not broken up, would life actually be better? Or is that just a romantic notion that isn’t realistic?
When you challenge your thoughts like this you will begin to change them.
You can also overcome the feeling of regret.
Again, bring to mind one event you regret. Now notice the emotions you experience. In particular, be aware of the sensory experience of the emotion. How does it feel? Is there a certain energy in your body? Maybe you feel a throbbing in your heart. Be mindful of those sensations. When we are mindful of emotions in this way, we become less reactive to them. If you get too lost in the emotion, bring your mind back to the breath. In turn, you will relax. Then you can mindfully observe the feeling of regret again.
When we mindfully observe feelings in this way, we stop being so reactive. We stop allowing every thought and feeling to influence us. And that is the key to using meditation for regret.
Change regret with Tonglen
One way to change regret is with Tonglen meditation.
Tonglen is a form of meditation used in Mahayana Buddhism. When we practise Tonglen, we breathe in suffering and then breathe out whatever will remedy that suffering. For instance, we can use Tonglen meditation for regret to turn regret into something more positive.
To do this, sit with good posture. Close your eyes. Now imagine breathing in your regret. With every inhale you breathe in that feeling of regret. When you exhale, you breathe out whatever will remedy the regret. Often, this is compassion. Breathe out with an understanding of why your past mistakes occurred, and a sense of self-forgiveness. This will transform regret into understanding, self compassion, and forgiveness. Also breathe in the regret of other people who are in the same situation. As you breathe out, visualize sending those people love and compassion.
Visualize doing the right thing now
One of the biggest mistakes with the way we process regret is that we focus on the past. Yes, you made mistakes in the past. And it is hard to forget mistakes from the past. And it’s hard to forgive yourself. But all of this is a negative and disempowering mindset.
Instead of dwelling on past mistakes, visualize doing the right thing now.
What was it that you did wrong? If you had the exact same event or opportunity today, how would you act differently? Visualize yourself doing the right thing now. This will reframe your regret. So instead of thinking about what was wrong then you think about what can be right now. Do you see how this turns regret on its head?
Appreciate regret itself
Arguably the best way to change regret is to appreciate it.
Now, trust me, I know that might sound counterintuitive. Why would you appreciate regret? But the truth is that regret happens for a reason.
We regret mistakes we made in the past so that the next time the same situation occurs we know to act differently.
Think back on one thing you used to regret. Now consider how that regret taught you a lesson, and how it made you change for the better.
For instance, I personally used to regret the fact that after Secondary School (High School in the US), I lost touch with all my friends. I felt lonely for a long time after that. And yes, I deeply regretted it. But it did indeed teach me a valuable lesson. It taught me to value my friends and to stay in touch with people. And because I learned that lesson, I now have close friendships.
Do you see how your regret can actually be a positive thing? Think about what your current regrets are teaching you, and how you will be better in the future because of lessons you learned from past mistakes.
The biggest mistake we make with regret is thinking that it is in the past. And this simply is not true. While the event (the incident we regret) happened in the past, the feeling of regret is occurring now, and our negative thoughts are occurring now.
Because regret is occurring in the present moment, we can change it.
Be mindful of the feeling of regret. Mindfully accept the present-moment experience of regret as a combination of thoughts and feelings. And reframe your regrets with the methods we discussed above. That is how to use meditation for regret. That is how to forgive yourself for past mistakes and move on.