Wisdom Living

Regret, guilt and depression

Introduction

Before beginning, I must confess that I never experienced any severe depression, so I will write on the base of abundant literature and conversations with people who did. It seems to be sufficient to discover the sources of this phenomenon and how to address it. Since depression is connected with regret and guilt, so I decided to combine them into one chapter. 

Regret and Guilt

Experiences of regret and guilt are strictly related to our past and memory. We begin with the concept of regret because it is simple and more straightforward. It happens when we, for some reason, rehash our memory and find there something we have done, and now we think that we could have done it differently or not at all. We imagine alternative scenarios to that which we remember. It applies only to situations which we consider as negative – of course, we do not regret positive ones. Sometimes we think about opportunities which we believe we have missed, but more often we regret what we have done.                

Some moralists express a view that regret may have a positive effect helping us to learn what not to do again in the future. However, in reality, such an approach to regret is somewhat simplistic because the exactly identical situation never reoccurs. 

Regret is somewhat similar but much less damaging than guilt. While regret is strictly directed towards oneself, guilt usually involves others. They could be people, other life forms or even inanimate objects – a person experiencing guilt imagins how her or his behavior created discomfort or pain to others. I would like to emphasize the word “imagine” because often, the other does not even know about it. Guilt can be compared to a parasite that utilizes our innate empathy and compassion to torture us.

However, guilt can be induced by another person, often a member of the family, who expresses disappointment or pain by one’s behavior.

The effect of guilt can be quite devastating and lead to feeling responsible for the state of mind and body of some other person or a group of people.  

Collective guilt can be passed from one generation to another; for example, modern Germans sometimes feel guilty for murdering Jews during WW2 by their ancestors.

Guilt is often reinforced by some moral and religious beliefs which introduce the concept of sin. Catholicism purposely strengthens the feeling of guilt and then offers confession as a way for relief. Even Buddhism propagates “confession of evil deeds,” but its purpose is different: it advocates it as prevention of doing them in the future. 

Both regret and guilt involve the concept of the past and, consequently, since it is the memory where are stored versions of the past experiences of deeds which we regret and about which we feel guilty. Thoughts revive these memories, and we use them as a tool to torture ourselves. Consequently, from the MR training point of view, as soon as such thoughts are detected, we return to the natural state of mind resting. 

However, it is not as simple as it appears because, in some situations, it is true that our actions and behavior contributed to the present the suffering of others. However, there is a difference between feeling responsible and regretting and feeling guilty. Though we cannot undo what has happened in the past, regaining the clarity of mind may contribute to helping others, which, we believe, are our victims. Realization of that provides additional motivation for returning to the state of MR, which is critical in regaining such clarity.

Depression

First, I would like to differentiate the clinical depression from the psychological one. The former has to do with malfunctioning of our brain, so dealing with it belongs to the domain of psychiatry. Consequently, it is beyond the scope of this discussion.

In our modern society, psychological depression is a severe problem that affects the growing segment of the population. Mainly it is visible in more prosperous societies. Perhaps it is because in the poor countries situation is so dire that some more immediate life-threatening problems are so critical that depression is hidden behind them. 

In general, working with such a kind of depression is the domain of the psychotherapist, but it seems that MR practice may be helpful. For that reason, I decided to present it in this context.

 It is challenging to identify all sources of depression because there are too many of them, and they differ from one individual to another. Those sources are often interdependent and virtually impossible to separate. However, we can safely say that while regret and guilt are related mostly with the past, depression often looks at the future, as long as it is… depressing.

Now I will present the most common sources.

One of the primary reasons for depression is unfulfilling hope and expectations. These expectations are usually created by currently dominant social standards. They concern oneself in isolation or with the world at large. For example, we are expected to accomplish something of value, have a purpose in life, be attractive and liked, active, brave, etc. These expectations are initially implanted into us by our family, and later on, by friends, school, media, friends, and so on. For example, we may feel that we have not accomplished in our life anything significant, that we disappointed our parents, and that our future looks hopeless. 

Another source of depression is our view on the future of the world, which looks bleak. Since one does not know what to do about it, only reactions are ignoring it or becoming depressed or both.

 We look backward how it was when we were young, energetic, full of energy and enthusiasm for life, and the contrast between our current situation and the past makes us depressed.

Depression is often related to o self-depreciation and guilt. We feel that we have done something wrong, and there is no way to correct it. It may morphe into self-hatred and lead to extreme states like slow mental and physical decay or more violent action such as suicide.

To avoid discomfort created by depression, we may try to escape from it by entering the state of zombie-like ignorance. A growing number of people are becoming depressed while looking at the dire and deteriorating state of the environment and society and not realistic ways to stop it. 

The above short presentation intends to show the reader that depression may take many forms and comes from many sources. However, as far as MR practice is concerned, the approach is uniform. The first step is to admit to yourself that you subject yourself to depression. It requires looking into the state of mind and be honest with oneself. Next is to identify thinking involved and see that the external situation may contribute but is not the source of our depression. Once that is accomplished, there is time to let go of all this analysis and directly return to the natural state of resting mind. 

A question may arise: why resting mind helps in reducing and eventually eleminating depression in our lives. It happens because in the state of mind resting its natural wisdom has a chance to reemerge. It contains both decerning intelligence and compassion. The first shows that concepts that are sources of depression are fictional, while the second is directed toward oneself and brings into our life softness and humour.

However, this is not a one-shot deal: depression is one of the most deeply embedded destructive results of our attachment to concepts of how we and the world should be. Since such expectation rarely fulfilled depression has a fertile ground to reoccur. So we have no choice then use the MR technique again and again. 

 

Closing remarks 

The MR practice, as has been discussed so far, is supposed to be done in a unique environment: the practitioner sits or lies comfortably, there is no too much noise and other distractions. The reason for that is to minimize the level of difficulties faced by a beginner.

Consequently, all the thoughts, emotions, worries, fears and depression come primarily from our memories, imagination of the future and, occasionally, limited kinds of perception. 

In such an environment and situation, the practitioner does not need to interact with other people and the world as a whole and does not have to make any real-time decisions. It helps to gradually get used not only to recognize mental events as thoughts or perceptions but to return to the MR state. 

Many traditional meditations practice do not go beyond such situations and go even further, having a more restricted format. Because of that, a practitioner of such training faces a chasm between the particular practice environment and position of her or his body and the turbulences of everyday life. 

In our approach, however, we utilize the above-presented format as preparation for Wisdom Living, which goes beyond just comfortably sitting and rehashing our memories and fantasies. 

Therefore, in the following chapters, we present the expansion of MR practice beyond this mode onto the totality of our lives. In spite that it t is sometimes much more challenging, we do not need to wait until we “perfect” the practice in the “comfort zone,” so to speak. Instead, as soon as we reach some degree of stability in dealing with our thoughts, emotions, etc., it is time to leave our quiet environment, go outdoors and gradually face the world at large. 

However, this simplified preparatory form of practice not only must not be abandoned, but it should be continued and perfected. It is the backbone that allows us to face future challenges. 

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