This is from Snow Lion Books, publishers of The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
Howard Cutler: "Have there been situations in your life that you've regretted?"This is a good lesson in not becoming attached to our emotions, which is so easy to do. I got to practice this on a much smaller scale yesterday morning.
Dalai Lama: "Oh, yes. Now for instance there was one older monk who lived as a hermit. He used to come to see me to receive teachings, although I think he was actually more accomplished than I and came to me as a sort of formality. Anyway, he came to me one day and asked me about doing a certain high-level esoteric practice. I remarked in a casual way that this would be a difficult practice and perhaps would be better undertaken by someone who was younger, that traditionally it was a practice that should be started in one's midteens. I later found out that the monk had killed himself in order to be reborn in a younger body to more effectively undertake the practice..."
Surprised by this story, I remarked, "Oh, that's terrible! That must have been hard on you when you heard..." The Dalai Lama nodded sadly. "How did you deal with that feeling of regret? How did you eventually get rid of it?"
The Dalai Lama silently considered for quite a while before replying, "I didn't get rid of it. It's still there. But even though that feeling of regret is still there, it isn't associated with a feeling of heaviness or a quality of pulling me back. It would not be helpful to anyone if I let that feeling of regret weigh me down, be simply a source of discouragement and depression with no purpose, or interfere with going on with my life to the best of my ability."
At that moment, in a very visceral way, I was struck once again by the very real possibility of a human being's fully facing life's tragedies and responding emotionally, even with deep regret, but without indulging in excessive guilt or self-contempt. The possibility of a human being's wholly accepting herself or himself, complete with limitations, foibles, and lapses of judgment. The possibility of recognizing a bad situation for what it is and responding emotionally, but without overresponding. The Dalai Lama sincerely felt regret over the incident he described but carried his regret with dignity and grace. And while carrying this regret, he has not allowed it to weigh him down, choosing instead to move ahead and focus on helping others to the best of his ability.
When I was driving to my first client, a dove flew out of the bushes alongside the road and struck my windsheild. It was killed instantly. I felt horrible, as I always do when something like that happens. But I found myself being aware that I had a choice to dwell on the feeling, become attached to it, or to feel it and then let it be released.
I felt sad for a couple of minutes -- and I still feel sad -- but I did not become attached to the feeling. I did not allow it to become a shadow on my day. That's a new skill for me.
If it were a bigger situation, say a cat had run out, it might not have been so easy. If it were something much larger, on the scale of what His Holiness describes, I know I would not be able to do it. Small steps.
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