What are we to do with our memories of past mistakes and failures? Many times every day, I am suddenly reminded of the embarrassing things I have done or failed to do.
This is one of the great burdens of being human. There is no easy answer. Do you think about the positive things you have done or the good things that were done to you?
Do you also remember the negative things done to you?
No. I never think about them. I’m obsessed with my own faults.
Perhaps we can agree that we humans like to place blame for the fact that our life is full of difficulties. Some blame others and some blame themselves.
Do you actually remember accurately? Often, I do not. My memory is selective. I tend to remember the worst of my actions and not the efforts I made to undo them or correct them. When you take a walk down memory lane, begin the journey with a little humility…all that you remember is partial and prone to error. I say this not to give you an easy pass but rather to acknowledge that frailty is in all things, including the ability to remember and bring myself to account.
Recite the Compassion Prayer. Every one of us is caught in a cycle of insufficiency…guilt by limitation. To quote from a musical, we’re depraved on account of we’re deprived. If we were conscious, we would do better but we are asleep. For this, which is the ordinary state of things, we should feel compassion, for ourselves, for others, for all sentient beings and for the One Who made us all.
Clearly, it is best if you can undo the wrong you have done but often this is not possible. However, serious transgressions can be re-entered. Allow the memory to arise. Allow the sensations of remorse, guilt and shame. Do not turn away; avoidance enables these reactions to persist. Acknowledge your failing. Ask for forgiveness. Pledge to do better. This is a process that can bring relief and perhaps even correct the past.
The memories that disturb us are electrical anomalies held in the nervous system and the muscles. That’s where the unpleasant sensations of remorse, guilt and shame remain. Voluntarily bringing them to consciousness, facing them and asking forgiveness for self and others…this is a wonderful practice within the Christian tradition…contrition, confession and penance. What penance, you ask? This process itself is penance.
Attention and the higher emotions of compassion and forgiveness can ‘digest’ the anomaly, the one in myself and perhaps also the anomaly in the person I may have injured. Our experience is shared, so why not also its resolution? I have seen this work. Undoing the knot in myself, the other also finds freedom from the past.
As always, sincerity is the key.