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Managing the Monsters of Guilt & Worry

It has always shocked me how intense my life becomes when I actually ask what I’m doing with it. In fact this intensity makes putting off the question very easy.

But when I’m not avoiding the question the intensity inevitably starts me ruminating on the past and/or pitching wishful projections for my future. And the minute I do that I’m inviting the world of guilt and worry into my life.

Because invariably there’s things in the past I regret or wish were different, that went badly and I could never put right, not now, not ever! No, I did it, I’m sorry. I’m guilty! Period! Or I worry that it’s too late to attempt something new, or I’m not ready, or I have too much other work to do, and my list of worries can suddenly grow all on its own!

But the problem is guilt and worry are two of the most useless emotions we have on the journey to find ourselves!

Guilt is about making sure the past stays in your present. And that makes moving forward with our life doubly hard. The past is past, and there’s nothing we can do to change it. So why attach it like a ball and chain around your ankle? If you want to still have the past in your present there are better ways to do that than feeling guilty.

Feeling guilty is like you were driving a car and got stuck in the mud and you sit there ‘gunning’ the accelerator and your wheels go round and round. With guilt you go nowhere except deeper into the mud!

Why not take the thing you’re feeling guilty about and reflect on it, study it as closely as you can- see yourself in the situation, see any others, see your feelings and motives and the actions of the other people involved, see the issue or problem in its context (like where, when, how)?

Ask your feelings to give you a little space to do this. And then work out how you are going to not do this again if a similar situation arises. There’s no guarantees re the future but at least you’re not stuck spinning in the mud!

And forgive yourself. I stick this in here cause it’s incredibly important that we develop a compassionate approach to ourselves and the events of our lives- but it’s least likely to happen when we’re trapped in the intensity of guilty feelings so that’s a huge topic for another time.

Worry works the same way as guilt in our lives. Only worry is how we bring the future into the present. But we have no actual control over the future so we’re in the mud again spinning our wheels about future events that may or may not happen.

It would be better to get practical again and ask yourself ” What small steps could I be taking right now to bring about the things I want in my future?”

Again no guarantees, but…

Ultimately, the important question here is why do we choose to bring guilt and worry into our lives? After all, we’re already here and just asking for a little clarity, a little direction- aren’t we?

Memory is our bridge to the past, as are expectations our bridge to the future. Both are just pathways to fixed and beyond our control places. That should alert us to the possibility that the sources of guilt and worry actually belong to our present selves, and not the past or future at all.

So what inner narratives and images, what ways of valuing ourselves, and ingrained behaviours are guiding us to choose guilt and worry?

And with that question we enter a territory where we need time for reflection, insight and dialog, a territory that our feelings won’t be happy about because they will get no immediate relief.

But it is every person’s job to integrate their head and heart so that living becomes more than just a rush of sensations and feelings or a rational exercise in assigning meaning (and blame).

And to do that we have to increase our capacity to live with stress and discomfort while we work at that integration and let things work themselves out. Cold comfort I know for when we’re in intensely stressful situations, but if we love ourselves, and want to love one another, we have to ask “ Why am I choosing to have guilt and worry in my life?”

But there is a positive side to all this. With these questions we are firmly on the journey to finding ourselves, and no longer spinning our wheels in the mud.

(These few words are in homage to Dr Wayne Dyer and in memory of his recent passing)

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