My Account

The Pain of Regret

rose in snow
Why does the mind try to revive the dead instead of letting go?

The Pain of Regret

It is easy to get caught in thinking about the past. Every once in a while I notice it: an old decision gets unearthed and mourned again. Usually, it happens when something brings me back to that old period of time: a visit with an old friend, or seeing someone who is living the life I could have had. 

That’s when second-guessing starts again. I am literally stuck back in the past thinking about the same decision that I made years ago and wondering what would happen if I had chosen the other path. 

The Mix of Phantom Happiness and Pain

The thing that’s most confusing about revisiting past decisions is that the mind can imagine a fantasy version that is full of happiness. “If only I had chosen that path…” and it shows images of how great it could have been. 

But this phantom happiness is a ruse because the decision was made long ago and imagining doing it differently now feels disconnected. In fact, it gives rise to hopelessness. The past can never be changed so that imagined happiness from the past becomes a source of suffering today.

The mind may not notice though because it is so focused on the imagined happiness. So it misses the suffering it creates. I call it a mix of nectar and poison. No matter how much nectar may be there, if it is mixed with poison, I’m better off not tasting it at all.

How to Disengage from Poisoned Nectar

Awareness is the only requirement. If I pay attention to the effect of my hopeful, wishful fantasies of past decisions, I notice that they are never pure joy. They are always a mix of happiness and pain. This awareness alone can be enough to reject the poisoned chalice. But in case it isn’t, there is inquiry.

Simply find the want hidden in that past situation. “I want to go that way instead.” Or, “I wish I had chosen the other path instead.” Then, question this pain-causing want using the four questions and turnarounds of The Work of Byron Katie

This process of questioning the want can be so liberating. I have found many times that my mind is able to let go once I question these kinds of wants. And when I do, I start to notice what I love about where I am today. I see how I continue to have decisions that I can make moment to moment which lead to genuine happiness (not to an impossible happiness of the past). 

Join Us In January

There are two opportunities to do The Work of Byron Katie with me early next year. On Jan 8-9, we will be doing a virtual retreat—a great way to question thoughts in spoken form over one weekend. And from Jan 17 – Mar 20, we will be offering The Work 101, my 9-week course for diving into The Work in written and spoken form.

Have a great week,

“In reality, the pain we feel about a past event is created in the present, whatever our past pain might have been. Inquiry looks at this present pain.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is

Further reading: Be Here Now, How?

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.