I believe God sends us people, songs, quotes, etc. exactly when we need them. I recently had a conversation with a friend during which I began to dredge up some of the things that will forever exist on my Coulda-Shoulda-Woulda List. (We all have that list. If only I would have tried… I should have done… Instead of choosing this, I could have chosen…) Even as I was speaking, I knew it was a pointless exercise, but I couldn’t help bemoaning that I didn’t act on a certain inkling at a specific point in my life. This friend wisely reminded me that “time is linear” and we can’t play those games with ourselves – every moment, regretted or cherished, brings us to where we are at right now. Every choice, and each unique outcome, helps mold us into who we are and who we will one day become. It was the kick in the butt I needed to fold up that Coulda-Shoulda-Woulda List and toss it over my shoulder. Naturally I went back and picked it up later (chronic anxiety…duh), but I slipped it in my pocket for future reference instead of reading or studying it just then.
Regret: “Feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over something that one has done or failed to do” (n.d.).
It’s true that we all have regrets. I think if anyone says they have absolutely no regrets, they should probably regret lying. When I was young and dumb, I used to arrogantly say that I would live my life with no regrets. After well over a decade of making adult choices and facing the humbling consequences of said choices, I have realized that living without regrets is an unrealistic goal. I would be better off setting my sights on facing those regrets, living with them, but not letting them control me. While mulling over these things, I was again slapped upside the head with words I needed to hear:
“Reflection is necessary, but dwelling is an issue. When reflecting, remember how it felt, what it was like, but don’t stay too long there because that dwelling opens the door for regret and disappointment, which then leads to longing and depression.” – Amy Thompson (a kick ass woman I am lucky enough to call a dear friend)
It’s like my other friend had a conversation with Amy and said, “Hey…say something to Amber about regret. She needs it right now.” What a beautiful thought that it is okay to reflect on our struggles, on choices we perceive as incorrect, and our experiences that came about because of our choices or the choices of another. But not dwelling on these things? I mean, come on… you’re talking to a an olympic gold medalist in overthinking, over analysis, and anxiety. If there is one thing at which I’m a pro, it’s dwelling on mistakes. Amy hit the nail on the head by saying that focusing on mistakes, or simply looking back more often than forward, delivers us into depression’s waiting arms while swaddled tightly in a cloak of shame and self-loathing.
After dwelling on the fact that I dwell on things too much, I’ve realized something today. Rather an epiphany, really – see Amy…good things can come from dwelling too long! Maybe not. ANYWAY. What I realized is this: I cannot value my personal growth from struggles if I cannot love my mistakes as well. Wait…what?! You mean that minor mistake that kept me awake for three nights straight? Or the big mistakes that led to three failed marriages? I’m supposed to love those?!
Yes and no. I’m not saying that if you are actively making a bad decision you should stop, take a selfie to celebrate the moment, and then hang the framed photograph on your living room wall. I’m not saying you should make decisions without any real thought because either way it will lead to growth. I’m not saying you should consciously make bad decisions to see what kind of profound, existential awakenings you have as a result. I’m also not saying that when others make bad decisions that negatively impact or even hurt you, that it’s okay to stay in that situation or relationship because you will grow through it.
What I am saying is that hindsight is 20/20. We can look back on our choices, at the fork in the road where we went left instead of right, and say we made the wrong choice. We can also look back and say there would have been less pain if we had gone right instead of left, but we don’t actually know that, do we? All we know for sure is that we made a choice that forever impacted the direction of our life and it will ultimately make us into a more beautiful individual if we only embrace the challenges and grow.
This is a nice segue into showing off more of my new ink (I have to give ink credit to Johnny Tracey at at Elysian Ink in Des Moines. He’s an amazing artist!). I absolutely love everything about the Lotus flower. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful in nature, it’s symbolism is moving.
In Buddhism, the Lotus represents enlightenment and spiritual awakening because “the wetlands flower begins life as a seed in muddy riverbeds, and must rise through muck before blossoming in the sunlight” (Mind Fuel Daily, 2018).
When we are in the grips of depression, an anxiety attack, a divorce, the death of a loved one, or any other emotionally traumatic situation, it’s difficult to picture surviving at all, let alone seeing beauty in the end. The Lotus reminds me that in the dark times – in those moments when I am surrounded by muck – it takes perseverance. It takes patience. It takes courage.
Perseverance: “Continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition” (n.d.).
My question to myself is this: when a regretted decision leads to painful experiences that in turn break me and make my soul a little more beautiful, can I appreciate the new me without also saying a prayer of thanks for the bad decisions? Can a decision actually be called “bad”…? I have regrets. I have lots of regrets. However, I am who I am because of what I could have done and did not. Those regrets are a gift in disguise. Maybe that Coulda-Woulda-Shoulda List should be renamed the Lotus List?
I leave you with wisdom from the Skin Horse.
Mind Fuel Daily. (2018). Symbolism of the Lotus Flower. Retrieved from https://www.mindfueldaily.com/livewell/symbolism-of-the-lotus-flower/
Perseverance. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster online dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/perseverance
Robinson, Katie. (2017, Apr 28). The Secret Meaning of the Lotus Flower. Town&Country. Retrieved from https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/a9550430/lotus-flower-meaning/