I have woken up the last 2 mornings with a heavy sense of guilt. I have often felt guilty and usually over things that have little to do with me. It’s not like it’s beneficial even for the events that I am responsible for. The past is gone and there is nothing I can do about it now. It is a heavy, burdensome feeling.

I used to get caught (let’s be honest – often still do) in the spiral of recursive thinking, my thoughts looping over and over in my head about all of the different reasons I should feel guilty, how I am a bad person, how if I had only done this or that differently things would have turned out better, how I’d never learn because I kept doing the same things again and again. This could go on for days, and often did. I would tell myself that this was helpful because if I got uncomfortable enough maybe I’d learn my lesson and change.

I now utilize a different tactic to deal with this problem, one that seems to work much better. In yoga it’s called viveka, translated as discrimination or discernment. It consists of changing my perspective to one that’s more honest. Yes, I have made mistakes in my past because I am human and, amazingly enough, I don’t know everything. It’s okay to cut myself some slack.

This leads me to consider samskaras, neural pathways. If I spend all of my energy rehashing what I’ve done wrong in the past, I’m cementing those thoughts in my mind. By cementing them there, I’m more likely to repeat them.

If I can distance myself emotionally from the thoughts in order to see them from a more honest perspective, I have a chance to change how I act. What could I have done differently so the outcome would have been better? If I mentally rehearse this new line of action, I’m more likely to do that when faced with the same situation later. (I seem to keep getting myself into the same situations.)

I also call on ishvara pranidhana, a turning to a force in the world that’s bigger than me. What if I acted the way I did so I could make the mistake in order to learn the lesson from it? What if there was a power at work that had nothing to do with my will, but where I was merely a player? What if the other person who I imagine to have harmed needed the lesson they received? Horrors, what if it’s not all about me?

I try to remind myself that I’m not powerful enough to make anyone’s life turn out differently than it has. I do have the ability to change how I act though so I can be more peaceful, and everyone else has the same capacity. It’s not my job, or even in my power, to effect that change for anyone else. Hell, it’s hard enough to do it for myself!