This morning, we woke to a refreshed world. Heavy rain fell in most places last night, washing away the dust and dessication of the last few weeks, and the air feels lighter and clearer this morning. For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like I’m wearing a too-tight hat made of red-hot metal, and a headache isn’t threatening to engulf me. It’s a nice feeling.
Because of all this freshness, several related things are on my mind this morning, things like: learning from the past and then leaving it behind, new beginnings, corners being turned and change being made for the better (hopefully, at least). Today’s the perfect day to think about things like this. The earthy, rich air is coming in my open window and the grass is sighing with relief outside, and everything feels new.
Nobody goes through life without making mistakes, or doing things that, on reflection, they would have decided against if they’d been given a second chance; everyone has done or said things which cause them to cringe with embarrassment when they creep into mind weeks or months or even years later. I am no exception, of course. Learning from your mistakes, allowing them to shape your future in a positive way, and eventually letting them go, is a very important life skill. I’ve always had trouble with the ‘letting them go’ part of this model; I find it very difficult, and always have. I tend to hold on to my regrets and my embarrassments, and over time they ferment into something more damaging, something which feels a lot like guilt.
Guilt can be a terribly corrosive emotion – I’m not even sure ’emotion’ is the correct word. Perhaps ‘force’ is better. It’s something which can erode a person’s self-belief and confidence, warping their ability to lay down plans for their future life, robbing them of any ability to move forward and keep going. I’m not talking here about ‘justified’ guilt – i.e. the natural and perhaps deserved guilt a person may feel if they commit a crime or harm someone else or break the law; I’m talking about the pernicious kind, the self-directed, self-harming kind, the sort of guilt that eats you up over mistakes made, things said in anger or in error, things for which you can’t forgive yourself. Things which you carry with you like a ball and chain. I think certain people are perhaps more prone to this sort of thinking than others; perfectionists, for instance, or people who feel (rightly or wrongly) that they are carrying a burden of expectation, or people who are serious, and careful, and who like to be right. People, in short, who can’t deal with the fact that sometimes, they’re going to say or do the wrong thing at the wrong time, and that it’s just another part of life. There has to come a point, however, where this foundation-dissolving guilt is allowed to trickle away, and the person can be washed clean of it; that’s difficult, though, when the person can’t let themselves get past it.
When I make a mistake that causes me to be embarrassed by my own behaviour or when I engage on a course of action that I later regret, I tend to build a skin of forgetfulness over the whole thing; of course, like any skin, it’s vulnerable and porous and prone to being popped. I push away my mistake, I try not to think about my error, I don’t allow myself to deal with it rationally and come to the (inevitable) conclusion: ‘it wasn’t all that bad. What are you beating yourself up over?’ Instead, the memory remains, buried deep, ready to explode at any moment. Like a sore tooth or a niggling pain, though, the awareness of the bubble of guilt deep within me is always there. I might choose to ignore it, but I know exactly where it is. In that way, then, my attempts to forget it, to cover it over, to leave it behind, are all fruitless. It becomes the focal point of my mental life, and an insurmountable obstacle.
I’m not really sure why I do this. Perhaps I’m a bit of a weirdo.
Forgiving oneself, and starting afresh, are not always easy things to do – but they have to be done. You can live your life with a bubble of guilt and regret inside you, but you won’t take any risks, and you won’t do anything for fear of doing something wrong, and you won’t say anything at all for fear of saying something inadvertently hurtful or stupid or embarrassing – and what sort of life is that? I find it difficult to allow myself the space and compassion to make mistakes, to learn from them and atone for them, and to move on without the burden of them hanging around my neck, but as I grow older I am getting better at it. I’m trying to treat myself with more kindness and consideration, and trying to realise that I am going to make mistakes, sometimes, but that it’s perfectly all right. On a day like today, when the cooling rains have come to refresh my little patch of world and make it new, I’m going to make another effort to keep this lesson to the forefront of my mind.
A life of writing, where you are your own sole motivator, is a life incompatible with being handicapped by guilt and regret. You can’t keep moving forward if you’re afraid to move on, after all. It’s time to leave my regrets where they belong and allow myself the freedom to learn, and grow, and move into the future.
Happy Thursday, everyone! It’s almost the weekend. Hang in there…