Hello my fellow human Beings:
Have you ever found yourself berating yourself over and over again for something you did wrong a while ago?
Do you say self-scolding negative remarks in your head, like, “I’m so stupid. How could I have had said X or done Y?” or “I’m such a loser. I deserve all the bad in my life.” or “I’m such a jerk. No wonder no one loves me.”
Feeling endlessly guilty about past actions or words and whipping oneself repeatedly with negative rebukes does not help ourselves or the others whom we have wronged.
It’s like drinking poison and hoping another person falls down dead.
Yet, in our society we tend to focus on the negative. We remember the one criticism, rather than the ten compliments. We keep a checklist of our failures, rather than an account of our blessings and triumphs. … and for those who have perfectionist tendencies, we focus on all the mistakes and imperfections, rather than the accomplishments.
Focusing on feeling guilty can consume us. It depletes our energy, narrows our perspective, and inflates our ego’s concentration on the “poor-me” attitude.
Endless guilt serves no one, but remorse and restitution can help us let go of the past and move forward into the future.
Buddhist meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg explains the difference between guilt and remorse in her book, Loving-kindness: The Revolutions Art of Happiness:
“The feeling of guilt, or hatred directed toward oneself, lacerates. When we experience a strong feeling of guilt in the mind, we have little or no energy available for transformation or transcendence. We are defeated by the guilt itself, because it depletes us. We also feel very alone. Our thoughts focus on our worthlessness: ‘I’m the worst person in the world. Only I do these terrible things.’ However, such an attitude is actually very ‘self’-promoting. We become obsessed with ‘self’ in the egotistical sense.
Remorse, by contrast, is a state of recognition. We realize that we have at some point done something or said something unskillful that causes pain, and we feel the pain of that recognition. But, crucially, remorse frees us to let go of the past. It leaves us with some energy to move on, resolved not to repeat our mistakes.”
We can cultivate this distinction between guilt and remorse in our loving-kindness meditation practice, where we first start by offering love to ourselves – an essential foundation for being able to properly love and care for others. Then, with this base of compassion in place, we share the love and kindness with our benefactors, neutral persons, and then those who have harmed us and whom we may have harmed. We remember that all beings want to be happy and that recollection unites us. We are reminded of our interconnectedness as we end with offering love to all beings.
So the next time you start to feel endless guilt for a past wrong, PAUSE, be still, practice loving-kindness meditation, and feel remorse for the pain of your wrongdoing. Be accountable for your actions and words and make amends. Then let go of the past and learn from your mistakes. Cultivate the goodness within you. Tap into your endless inner source of love, peace and joy. Share that love with your benefactors, neutral persons, those whom you have harmed or who have harmed you, and finally with all beings. Be your authentic, good self and share your light with the world, so that you can live abundantly and help others to live abundantly as well!