When I played golf for a living years ago, one of the important things I did when preparing for a tournament was to play a practice round and locate the hazards on the course, all the places I didn’t want to go. It was critical to know where the trouble was—for obvious reasons. Success meant not allowing my ball to end up in those areas.
Likewise, on the spiritual path, there are “hazards,” places we don’t want to go. And to experience a successful spiritual journey means avoiding one “trouble spot” in particular. In this month’s newsletter, I’d like to point out what might be the biggest, most dangerous hazard or trouble spot for those on the spiritual path. In a word, it’s regret.
Having been on the self-awareness path for quite some time now, let me tell you what will undoubtedly happen to you, if it hasn’t already. When you look within, you will see your life and the way you’ve lived it with a kind of clarity that will leave you dumbfounded, saying, “Omg! What was I thinking? How could I have done something so stupid? I’m ashamed of myself! What was the matter with me? I can’t believe I did that!”
In my experience, regret happens to everyone who embarks on the spiritual path. By definition, the spiritual journey, especially early on, is about self-awareness, which means waking up to our blind spots, our real motives and the damage done by being governed by our crazed egos. In other words, our evolution begins by facing our insanity, our unconscious patterns, our mistakes—frankly—our shit.
This is horrifying. When we see the damage we’ve done to our lives, or our kids, our partners, our bodies, our careers, our friends, etc., etc., a mixture of grief, guilt, shame, and profound, almost unbearable regret arises in our soul.
What we do at this point will determine whether we continue to open and evolve into who we really are, or, whether we spiral into negativity and possibly abandon our spiritual path altogether. Regret is deeply disheartening and can cause us to turn back, returning to the numbed-out, self-medicating, drama-filled life we used to live. So, make no mistake about it—regret is a dangerous “hazard” on the spiritual path.
Back in 1995, I was living in St. Louis, pastoring a church I started a few years earlier. I had left the PGA Tour to follow what I thought was a calling from God to serve Him and use my life to build His Kingdom. It was around that time that I embarked on my self-awareness journey. (I talk about this in detail in my book, A Drink with Legs, but I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version here.)
What I found back then, when I faced my true motives, filled me with regret. I discovered that I was more concerned about building my kingdom than God’s. I wasn’t serving Him. I was serving my ego’s needs to be seen as special, successful and spiritual. This awareness floored me. I can still see in my mind’s eye the exact place I was standing when this awareness hit me. It’s that vivid.
I was horrified to face the fact that my life was not about God but about my huge, needy ego. Here I was the pastor, the preacher, the leader of a growing Christian community, yet my life was NOT about God—at all. It was about me. This knocked the wind out of me. (I resigned a number of months later.) The regret I felt was palpable and if it weren’t for a very evolved mentor in my life, I might have spiraled into a deep depression and maybe given up on myself altogether.
If you embark on the spiritual journey, you will be faced with a similar awareness. It might not be about your true career motivations, as it was for me, but it might be about the way you’ve raised your kids, or how you’ve related to your intimate partners, or why there’s so much drama between you and your family and friends or why you’ve struggled with your weight all your life. I don’t know the source of your regret. All I know is that if you choose self-awareness over a life lived unconsciously and numbed-out, you’ll face regret when you wake up to your unconscious patterns.
Let me give you a simple, yet profound illustration to help you avoid the “hazardous” effects of regret and continue to open and evolve into who you truly are.
Have you ever had a new puppy in your home? If you have (or even if you haven’t), you know what they do, don’t you? The adorable little thing pees on your carpet and chews on your shoes, right?
While peeing on the carpet and chewing on your shoes might be really frustrating and annoying, the puppy isn’t being bad, is it? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the dog. It’s not making a mistake. You would never say to the puppy, “How could you? What’s the matter with you? You should know better!”
It doesn’t know better. It’s doing what puppies do. They pee on the carpet and chew on shoes. The puppy is simply acting in accordance with its level of maturity. Its actions reflect its stage of development. The puppy is being a puppy. Its behavior is congruent with its level of understanding—at that moment.
Eventually the puppy will grow and be trained to pee outside and not chew on shoes. But in this moment, when it’s just a puppy, it’s behaving like one. It can’t do otherwise. The puppy can never—ever—behave in a way that doesn’t reflect its level of maturity.
I ask you to stop right now and take a deep, slow breath. “Drop in” and get what I’m about to say—deep in the marrow of your bones.
At every moment of your life, you have been, and always will be, acting in accordance with your level of maturity in that moment. It cannot be otherwise. You are the “puppy.” No matter what you’ve done, no matter how stupid you think you were, no matter how much you think you should have known better or acted differently or made different choices, you were simply reflecting your level of development and understanding in that moment. In other words, you could NOT have done differently.
I have let go of the regret I felt about how I was serving my ego instead of God’s kingdom because that’s all I knew in the moment. I was a puppy, reflecting my stage of consciousness at the time. Back then, if I had the self-awareness I do now, I would have done it differently. But it’s silly and unfair to project my current level of self-awareness onto the guy I was back then. And so it is with you.
Jesus understood this. While he was on the cross being mocked and crucified, he famously said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He understood that the people who were killing him were doing what they thought was right. They were acting in accordance with their level of understanding and development at that moment.
And you, my friend, whether it was yesterday, last month or decades ago, can forgive yourself for “you knew not what you did” either. You were a puppy back then, peeing on the carpet and chewing on shoes.
If you get this, you’ll quickly realize why all true spiritual teachers say that there are no mistakes in life—there are only actions that are congruent with your current stage of consciousness.
Make a list of all the things about your life that you regret. Now, close your eyes and visualize yourself, back in those moments, as a little adorable puppy, doing the only thing you knew how to do—“peeing on the carpet and chewing on shoes.” Can you love that little “puppy” and let go of your regret? It’s a waste of time and energy to hold on to it.
Can you now, instead, put your attention, not on the past, but on this present moment and use that freed up energy to more fully open up to who you are?