My grandpa Fred died earlier this month. I went home to help my mom out a bit after his passing and have had time to reflect on life, meaning, happiness, compassion, regret…I think death tends to make us philosophers, does it not? Especially when we have regrets.

Regret

I told my mom that I felt guilty for not coming home sooner to help her, that I felt bad for not being there in the last months of my grandpa’s life when he suffered most, when she suffered most. She responded that she hadn’t come to me when I was in the worst of my pain, either. Something I had never thought of before and definitely not what I was expecting her to say. I never even realized that I may have needed her, to be honest.

I never asked for help, just as she never asked me for help, both of us believing we should be strong enough to handle it without burdening the other. But though neither of us asked  the other for help, we each knew the other needed us. But we didn’t go.

My mom said that she didn’t come to me when I was in pain because it was easier not to. It was easier not to. And I didn’t go to help her when she was in pain because it was easier not to.

This doesn’t mean we didn’t love each other, that we didn’t want to help, that we didn’t want to relieve the other’s suffering. It doesn’t even mean that we intentionally didn’t go. But it does mean we have had to come to terms with the fact that we didn’t go because it was easier not to.

Avoiding the uncomfortable

I think we, as a society, have a tendency to try to avoid mental discomfort and emotional states or situations that we perceive as negative or difficult. It’s easier not to deal with them, or so we think. But is it really easier? What are the results of doing so?

Some of the consequences are that we may not be there for people when they need us most because it’s easier not to be. And we don’t ask for help when we need it most because we don’t want to be a burden on others or make others uncomfortable, we want to make it easier on them.

In so doing we miss out on something, we miss out connection, on contributing to other’s lives in a meaningful way, on contributing to our own lives in a meaningful way.

What if, rather than trying to avoid that which is uncomfortable, we faced it? What if we acknowledged our distress, our discomfort, our unease, our sadness rather than trying to bury it beneath a facade of strength and happiness and I’m fine? Would our lives be more enriched by allowing for such experiences? More full? More meaningful?

Pursuing meaning

My home woods, helping me to accept my regret

The woods I grew up in across the street from my grandpa’s house

I think we get caught up in the pursuit of happiness, we get caught up in the carefully curated lives we see on Facebook, we get caught up in the pursuit of a ‘perfect life’. But life ain’t perfect folks, not for any of us. And that’s ok, perhaps if we talk about the imperfections a bit they won’t become so monumental and they’ll become easier to bear, to deal with, to cope with, to move on from.

Perhaps rather than pursuing constant happiness, pursuing perfection, we’d be better off pursuing meaning.  Negative emotions and experiences, including pain, including regret, can be a part of a well-lived, loved, and meaningful life. We needn’t suffer for them, we can learn from them, grow from them. We can take action.

Without the mud, you cannot grow the lotus flower ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

There is also plenty of room for happiness, too, though. For joy and laughter, delight and humor, love and well-being. For self-kindness and gratitude and giving. For purpose. And each of those things in turn provide our lives with more meaning, it’s a virtuous cycle.

If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Perhaps, just perhaps, negative emotions and negative experiences don’t have to be construed as ‘bad’, then. Perhaps they don’t need to be avoided but rather need to be explored. Rather than just ‘feeling bad’, can we be more nuanced in our expression? Are we in despair? Regretful? Sad? Angry? What can we do about it?

Perhaps allowing ourselves to experience negative emotions also allows us to experience life more fully, more precisely, more authentically.

Facing the uncomfortable

We can pursue meaning in our lives even in the midst of adversity, after all. Even when we’re challenged or uncomfortable, when we’re in pain, when we’re exhausted when we’re struggling.

I’m not talking about finding meaning in what happened or is happening, mind you, I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. I’m talking about pursuing meaning in how we live our lives. Being grateful, being of service. Loving and being loved. Meaningfully connecting with others, with our environment, with ourselves.

I think that connection may be the key that allows us to overcome or cope with the adversity, the challenges, the struggles, the discomforts, and the uncertainties we are faced with, not just as individuals but collectively, as a society. Perhaps it helps us to become more resilient, more adaptable, more flexible.

Perhaps it allows us to do that which is not easy.

Acceptance

When I said to my mom that she needn’t feel guilty about not coming to me when I was in the worst of my pain, she replied ‘oh Jo, I got over that a long time ago’.

That statement resonated with other things she had said during the time that I was home, such as when a friend of hers said he felt bad that he couldn’t attend my grandpa’s funeral service. ‘Ok, feel bad then get over it,’ was my mom’s reply.

Feel bad, then get over it

Both of those phrases are important. Before we can get over it we need to actually do the feeling bad part, even if it’s uncomfortable, even if we’re remorseful, even if we have regrets. Who among us has no regret? I certainly regret not having gone home sooner. I certainly regret other things that I’ve done in my life, too. Who has experienced no sadness? No disappointment?

But we have to get over it, too. We have to be able to live with the regret. Maybe if we can sit with our remorse and our sadness without judgement, if we can accept our actions and our emotions, then we can move on, vowing to be better people for having had the experience.

Perhaps we can only learn from remorse, from sadness, from pain, from regret, if we allow ourselves to experience it and then accept those experiences as a part of who we are. They are part of who we are, after all, even if we don’t like it. And then we have to move on, we needn’t wallow in it, we needn’t go down the rabbit hole. We can become better people for it. More resilient, more appreciative, more loving, more compassionate, more giving, more kind.

I’m not trying to say it’s easy. It’s most certainly not. But maybe we shouldn’t always do what’s easier.

Self-compassion and self-kindness

In order to do this, though, to experience these negative emotions, to face our regrets, to sit with them and accept them in order to move on, we have to be kind to ourselves. We have to have self-compassion or sitting with these things would be unbearable. This isn’t about blame or guilt or about whether we’re good or bad, t’s about acknowledgement and allowing ourselves to feel without judgment and with kindness.

We don’t necessarily need to forgive ourselves, mind you, but we do need to accept that we are not perfect, that we make imperfect decisions that we may regret, and that we can do better the next time we are confronted with a similar situation. We are only human.

Perhaps we just need to be able to sit with, to feel, to experience a gamut of emotions, ‘negative’ or ‘positive’, without judging them to be good or bad. They just are. It just is.

And maybe if we allow ourselves to experience this gamut of emotions with nuance, acknowledgement, nonjudgment, acceptance, and self-compassion, we’ll be able to handle whatever comes our way with a bit more grace, a bit more peace. Perhaps it will allow us to live a bit more fully, a bit more meaningfully.

Perhaps we will start doing that which is easier not to do.

The sunset the night my grandpa died, pretty spectacular

The sunset the night Grandpa Fred died

Thanks for *listening* folks! The more I delve in the human experience of chronic pain, the more I realize how much of it has to deal with just being human. And I think in order for us to be human, we have to be able to experience and accept a wide range of emotions, sensations, and situations. It ain’t easy. And the better able we are in facing that which is not easy, the better able we are to get on with life and living. As always, I’d love to hear from you. Hit me up in the comments section, via my contact form, or on social media. 

Until next time…

(psst…one last thing. here are the external links shared throughout the post with titles in case you’re interested)

Are you in Despair? That’s Good by the New York Times
The Differences between Happiness and Meaning in Life: There can be substantial trade-offs between seeking happiness and seeking meaning in life by Scientific American
Sometimes Embracing Emotional Distress is the Best Medicine: Avoiding mental discomfort at any cost can be a self-defeating strategy by Scientific American
Self-Compassion Promotes Personal Improvement From Regret Experiences via Acceptance from the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

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5 Responses to "Regret and facing that which is not easy"

  1. It’s been awhile since I’ve commented, my dear friend! This post is so timely for me. I am grateful that life has given us a small break from any familial of friend deaths recently. When someone is diagnosed with an illness or dies from an illness or from a sudden incident it is certainly a heightened awareness that arises in me. An awareness of how little time I actually have on this here planet. An awareness of how much I actually love the people in my life. An awareness of how I actually want to live my life. And, as you say, it is a time for regret to appear.

    You know that one of the things that has saved my sanity over the course of my adult life is the practice of yoga – not just the asanas, although I admit to being a deeply physical person who delves into herself via movement. I have learned through my practice and being deeply involved in another spiritual practice/group that “sitting with” is the only way “through”. There is no “around”. There is no “over”. There is no “under”. We must move through and this can take time and great patience.

    I have spent a great deal of time in this last year working on some personal and emotional goals. One of those goals is to just be kinder to myself. Period. Can I just be who I am and accept that? Not that I want to accept being an asshole, or being rude, or saying too much. That is, however, very “human” and we all do it. But what I really want to do is not fall into the self deprecating abusive head game of hating myself so much. Anyone who is reading this must understand that I say “not hating myself so much” as a human experience – no worries, I am healthy and happy and all is well.

    I have been spending a lot of time decluttering our home recently. Today I found a folder full of printed triathlon training schedules that a coach used to send me every week. I would then send her an email with how my training went, etc. I sat and read some of them today. These writings were almost 19/20 years old and today I recognized that I am still struggling with the same sense of “not being enough”, “not liking myself”, intense self judgment that I would never want anyone I loved to feel or think about themselves, and a deep sense of needing to be perfect or somehow different.

    I was so saddened by these readings because I look back at that woman in her early 30’s who had a toddler and worked and was trying to train for a sport she apparently loved (although seemingly was using as a weapon to beat the emotional shit out of herself!) and I have such compassion for her. I have such regret that I wasn’t able to see myself in a more realistic way. And then I stopped and realized that I still am this hard on myself a good deal of the time. Really. Really? Really! There is nothing to be had from such self abuse. This is not making me a better person. This is not making me a kinder person. This is not making me a more lovable and loving person. This kind of critical self thinking is not allowing me to give to the world the amazing gifts I have to offer.

    So, your post today is so timely (as most of them are). Although you and I are looking at different “regrets” it is time for me to sit with the self hatred that lives within and make friends with it so that maybe I can live out the rest of my life with more sense of loving myself. This not only makes me a happier more fulfilled person but allows me not to apologize for my humanness and maybe, just maybe makes me more compassionate to all.

    I just recently read in a piece of spiritual literature about “identifying with” rather than “comparing”. Comparing makes me either better or worse. Identifying with allows me to meet you on a human level.

    Thank you for allowing me time to express myself. This is almost as long as your post! Ha! Maybe I need a blog?

    Love you, Jo.

    • Oh Laurie! What a lovely post my friend, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and insights, it was beautifully written and spoke to the very heart of me (I definitely think you’d be a wonderful blogger, I would devour it!).

      Your statement that “sitting with” is the only way “through”, that there is no around, no over, no under, is so very true, yet so many folks try to do just that, skirt the issue rather than face it, avoid it ratehr than sit with it. And the effort it takes to avoid, evade, ignore these issues is greater than the effort it takes to sit with them. But it’s scary! But I think it’s the anticipation of how bad it will be to do so that paralyzes us, when we actually get in there it may not be so bad as we thought. I think we suffer more when we try to pretend those thoughts and emotions are not there. I think we suffer more when we deny our responsibility for actions we’ve taken or things we’ve said (to ourselves or others).

      And oh how I can relate to your reflections on self-hate and berating ourselves for never being good enough. It’s so superficial and silly but having gained a bit (a lot!) of weight in the past year I found myself hating my legs, my belly, my body. Not liking myself. Wishing I was a previous self (who I’m sure I was also unhappy with at the time!). I’m not overweight, just soft and flabby. And rather than sit with the self-hate part of me and try to be kind and compassionate with myself, I avoid that conversation with myself or become hypercritical or create a false narrative of body positiveness that “allows” me to eat whatever I want and then feel not so positive. *sigh* And in the grand scheme of things, it’s so shallow, so unimportant. I’m healthy, I’m feeling the best I have in 6 years even if I’m not ‘looking’ my best, I’m pursuing things that are meaningful to me, I have a dog and husband I love and adore beyond measure, I’m happy. What does cellulite matter to all that? Why do I beat myself up for it? It’s ridiculous!

      Your post has made me realize I need to be having a different conversation with myself, and one that I hopefully can come to with some kindness and compassion! So I must thank you as well my dear friend!

      Ok…now off to respond to your email, too. So much love to you, Laurie!

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