Fear and regret—two things in life that we all want to avoid. Fear is an emotional reaction to a situation that we are frightened by; regret is feeling sorry for our past decisions, words or actions.
The former feels unavoidable while the latter can be avoided. Both bring us great angst in life.
Fear can be placated if we know that what we fear will not happen or that a particular situation, thing or person will not harm or frighten us. This can happen if we somehow feel safe and protected.
For example, a bear in an enclosure at the zoo or safely under the care of its handler doesn’t frighten you. But if a bear shows up while you’re hiking alone in the woods, it’s terrifying.
Aside from the fear that comes from the outer world, we also experience the fear of not being enough or not having enough.
We feel incomplete no matter how much we have. Even after gaining many material things, enough wealth, power, positions, skills, degrees and desirable relationships, there remains a sense of, “what next?”— “What more can I be, do and achieve?”
This nagging sense of incompleteness plagues our lives, and we can’t seem to shake it off and be content.
Regret comes when we act in haste or act against our truth or what we know to be right.
We wish we knew better or stopped to think carefully before saying or acting in a certain way.
Our conscience is always communicating with us through our inner knowing and feelings. It is always guiding us to make the highest choices that will be for the good of all.
But we often get carried away by the flood of our desires and emotions and disregard this guidance. We drown out our inner voice and justify the reasons why we are right, or why we “need” to do or get something that we want.
When we do this, we suffer the pain of looking back with regret.
Two remedies for fear and regret
Fear is worrying about the future, whereas regret is agonizing over the past. Both rob away our peace in the present. How can we overcome them?
Fear and regret can be overcome by two powerful practices—surrendering to the divine and cultivating discernment.
1. Surrender to the Divine
What does it mean to surrender to the divine?
It begins by first accepting that there is a divine intelligence with infinite power that creates and controls this entire cosmos. You and I are mere specks in this vast creation. Our intelligence and power are laughably finite and miniscule. In fact, they are not even ours. Like the waves that rise, exist and die away in the vast ocean, our existence and power come from the great divine source of creation.
Inwardly, we feel small and limited. This sense of limitation and inadequacy comes from thinking ourselves to be alone and separate from our great source. Think of how powerless a wave would be if it thought itself separate from the ocean.
The ego, our sense of individuality, holds us captive in fear.
There is potential danger in everyday life and regularly fearing the unexpected can be debilitating. But there is one way to always feel safe and at peace, and that is to humbly surrender our worries and fears and place our entire life in the protection of the divine.
The divine—call it God, the Universe, or any other name, is the source from which we all come from. The divine is the ultimate controller—the handler of the bear, so to speak.
By surrendering to this great higher power, we are better able to mentally handle whatever happens.
The way to do this is to invoke the divine through prayer. Prayer tunes the mind to this infinite source of power. When we call out for protection with full faith and sincerity, we are indeed protected from harm. Read How to cultivate faith in the higher power.
Prayer helps us surrender our fixation on specific outcomes because we feel the presence of a benevolent hand directing our lives. Even if something “bad” happens, its impact will be lessened because a mind that is keenly focused on the divine loses fear and gains inner strength to effectively meet life’s difficulties.
What’s more, prayer and surrender help to erode the ego and its constant inner narrative that we are not enough, and that we need to do more and be more.
Surrender brings inner peace.
2. Cultivate discernment
Regret can be avoided by cultivating discernment. Discernment comes from gaining the right knowledge of life and then acting on it. This is how we gain wisdom.
Gaining the right knowledge isn’t always easy. Sometimes we aren’t looking for it or we can’t find it. And so, we make a decision without having the full information about a situation and then regret it.
When you make a mistake because you simply didn’t know any better, it’s important to accept what happened, forgive yourself and move on. Learning from mistakes is how we grow in life. Read, The way to forgive and be free.
Making mistakes is unavoidable. But the regret that we feel when we knowingly act without carefully considering the consequences is what we want to avoid and can avoid.
To sharpen our discernment and ability to make the right decisions, we must be mindful about our higher goals in life. We have to learn not only about worldly matters but also strive to gain spiritual knowledge.
Our choices must reflect what will eventually be for the higher good of ourselves and others in the future. This is what Vedanta calls taking the Path of the Good. The Path of the Good can be difficult, unpleasant, or inconvenient. It requires making a sacrifice now but brings happiness in the form of peace of mind, satisfaction and inner growth in the long run.
Conversely, when we take the Path of the Pleasant—the choice that brings us immediate pleasure or gain but is detrimental in the long run, we find ourselves wallowing in regret.
To get a better understanding of these two paths and how to avoid regret, read, How to make the right choice.
Regret can also be avoided by surrendering your worries, fears and your entire life to God or the divine. You can read a prayer of surrender and forgiveness in The way to forgive and be free.
Keep spiritual company
There is a special daily discipline that will help us learn how to surrender to the divine and avoid regrets. Through this discipline, we gain the knowledge about our inner Self, true purpose and connection to Source. It also promotes our spiritual growth. This is the practice of keeping spiritual company or satsang in Sanskrit.
Satsang means being associated with the truth, or that which is good and noble. To be in satsang is to read, listen and learn about spirituality, our innate spiritual nature and the purpose of life. We can listen to talks given by spiritual teachers, meet with other like-minded people to discuss spirituality, or read spiritual books, magazines, and articles on our own.
Everything that we take in through satsang positively influences the quality of our mind. It instills it with higher ideals and noble emotions that help to keep us inspired and on path. To read about the transformative effects of satsang, read, The squirrel who became a prince.
Fear and regret come only when we wander away from the knowledge of our true spiritual nature and our connection to the divine. The way to come back on track is through satsang.
Satsang is the vital discipline that teaches us how to avoid fear of the known and unknown through surrender to the divine and helps us gain discernment in life that will help to eliminate all regrets.
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