We imagine the life of a beach-beer commercial, where all is at ease, and the past and the future don’t matter. We think we wish for a life free of regret, but then, how would that be? And how could that be? It would mean a life without dreams and the inability to evaluate past decisions.
Even in the contemporary mindfulness industry, the “Be here now,” mantra is often interpreted as if our capacity for sorrow is eclipsed by a mandate of “Happy, happy, joy, joy.” Electro-shock therapy and lobotomies are probably effective after a fashion too, but at what cost?
No, regret is not only necessary, but marbles the richness of life like fat in a good steak. Now I’ll admit a leaner cut is probably best. At the same time, have you ever tasted moose meat? It is so lean that in making “mooseburgers,” and other far north carnal preparations, beef fat is added so that it will be fully palatable.
Regret flavors our life in ways that are hard to appreciate, I’ll admit. But appreciating every aspect of the human experience is the richest fodder for a full and interesting life. Not to mention important source material for every writer who dares to jump off the cliff of her ordinary experience and into a groundless sky, with only his/her imagination as the hang-glider that will bring them down to the earth, hopefully as slowly as possible. Let the regret of gravity linger as long as possible. Let descent be about the view, and not about limitations.
his our primary regret, hiding in plain sight? Our primary regret might be expressed as the limitations this human life affords. Limits in companionships, resources, time, and maybe even more importantly, timing: the confluence of support, resources, verve, and insight, all in the same “right moment” that creates transformative outcomes with life-changing impact.
And how about the coral reefs of ambitions, that, when even we are reveling in an ocean of success, conquer us through our own self-deception? The waves of this sea that lift us up high, again able to see farther than is natural to sea-level creatures such as ourselves, only to crash us down on moving targets, unseen hazards within the seismic plates of the revolving human dervish drama.
As we gather ourselves up, and lick our wounds, it would be easy to see regret as a spouse we have outgrown. We wonder why we have paused with that which now repulses us. Perhaps it is a deserted island we have washed up upon, or simply a desert. Or perhaps we have been plopped into a carnival marketplace, a place which dazzles the senses, but for which we do not have the coin of the realm, or any means to acquire it.
A fanatical resolve to extinguish regret has all the common sense and lucidity of a Holocaust denier. Yes, it’s a given that our impulse to push regrets away, often carries the day, or at least the moment. But if we can pause here, we can come to understand that regret has been sent to rescue us.