Fri 22 Sep 2006
A few days ago I wrote about fear. And indeed, fear leads people into choices that lead no one, even themselves, to joy and happiness. It is a limiting factor, forcing to see limits instead of potentials, obstacles instead of paths. But a very similar and equally harmful mental concept is the feeling of guilt.
Feeling of guilt is, as one wise man sad, inherently impotent. It usually deals with events that happened in the past, which means nothing can be done about them anymore. Specifically, it is not possible to address the same situation differently again or return to the point in time before it happened. Feeling of guilt is therefore merely a form of mental self whipping. It helps develop a sense of unworthiness – and stimulates fear of behaving in a negative way again.
Renouncing guilt doesn’t mean, of course, to be ruthless and not caring for what one has done. But one should distinguish rational, sane assessment of situation and one’s behavior form unnecessary tormenting oneself. If you did something wrong – admit it honestly to yourself, regret it – and try to understand why you did what you did. If anything can be done to correct the situation now – do it, but take into account the situation as it is now. In other words, don’t base your decisions on the event or events in the past, because you are likely to make a blunder again. Think ahead, not allow your mind to languish behind.
Sailing offers a perfect analogy here. If you discover you are off course, then you should not sit in the cockpit accusing yourself of stupidity and lack of seamanship. You should adjust your course. But first, you have to recalculate it from where you are now, not from where you have been when you veered off course. And while doing so you should reconsider the whole situation. Maybe the weather is changing and you should go to a different port than previously planned to avoid a storm?
Interestingly, the Catholic church is (in its popular, traditional form, especially strong in Poland and Ireland) pushing those two feelings as an important basis for its teachings. One should feel guilty and fearful. Fearful of god – and the church. Guilty by default since birth, unworthy by default as compared to the ideal god etc. This mix of sedative mental concepts acts like a social straitjacket. It affects even those who are not ardently religious, since it became ingrained in the culture. It is beneficial in a sense that it helps prevent people from harming themselves and others, but does it in a very crude way thus making mature spiritual growth much harder. And offers little help to people in tough situations, because the vicious cycle of fear and guilt leads them to bad decisions bringing more suffering – and therefore more guilt and more fear.
If you feel guilty, unworthy and afraid – don’t dwell on those feelings. Better try to understand where they came from. This will help much more than being attached to them – and devoured by them.