Article for reprint:
Making Guilt Work for Me
A Lesson in the Power of Awareness
Last night, I was approached on the street by a woman, a stranger in need. In
tears, she shared her story. I listened, gave her money and held her for a few
moments. Then we parted.
Through the rest of the evening and now, the next morning, she is still with me. Iím kicking myself Ė I could have done so much more! Iím feeling so guilty and it feels awful!!!
Awareness Step #1: I acknowledge my feelings of guilt. I let go of resistance and truly experience these feelings. They want attention!
Whatís to be done? As I have no way of connecting with her again, I canít follow through on what I might have done better. So how do I deal with this raging guilt? I need a bigger picture here so I take time to reflect on this whole experience.
After just a moment of attending to my feelings, Byron Katieís wise words pop into my mind:
ďI can find only three kinds of business in the universe: Mine, yours, and Godís. Ö Do I know whatís right for myself? That is my only business. Let me work with that before I try to solve your problems for you.Ē
Clearly, itís my issue now. The stranger is dealing with hers, somehow,
somewhere, and itís useless for me to dwell on how she is. My business is to
resolve my own situation. Iím feeling better already.
Awareness Step #2: I pay attention to my thoughts.
Hereís what Iíve been thinking: ďI could have been more loving, more open, more generous ÖĒ Then my inner critic gets more harsh: ďYou were selfish and fearful and stingy and suspicious ÖĒ Yup, beating myself up again. Itís an old habit. Fortunately, I now know not to believe my inner critic. This helps me stay clear of the emotional black hole that used to suck me down. I am now breaking this old habit. And so I reply to my critic, ďYes, I could have done things differently. And I did the best I could.Ē
Thereís more to be done here, though. I believe this chance encounter happened for a reason. So, on to the next step.
Awareness Step #3: Find a bigger picture
How do I learn from this situation? How could I do things differently if thereís a next time?
I reflect back on how I was with this woman.
In hindsight, I can see that my first reaction to her was on unconscious autopilot. The program running in my subconscious is: When approached for money, give money. This usually ends the encounter but this time, it didnít.
She continued to talk and I reacted in two different habitual ways. First, I was in new territory I didnít know how to handle so I moved into mild fear. Second, my conscious mind tried to take control. I tried to mentally figure out what to do for her, even before I knew her problem! Because I was in fear, my thoughts were scattered and muddled. I was preoccupied with my thinking and not really present to either her or to myself.
In hindsight, I can also see that I was struggling to figure out what was right and appropriate. It was as though I was trying to decide what other people would do in this situation, rather than trusting that I could know and do what was best.
Looking back on this, I know how I could have handled the situation differently. If I had stopped thinking and opened to really be there with her, I would have truly heard her story. I trust that my heart would have sensed her needs. I trust I would have known how to support her without having to think everything through.
What a gift this experience has been! Iíve realized that the stabs of guilt Iíve felt around this episode have been helpful. They were my conscience speaking, alerting me that my thoughts and actions could have been more skilful.
I also realize thereís no value in carrying guilt any longer. In fact, through this process of reflection, the guilt has vanished. I can truly see that I did the best I could, given my current level of awareness. I can trust that having had this experience, I am more likely to be more present and soulful should a similar situation occur again.
And Iím even more committed to being fully present in each moment. Now that this chapter is closed, I can open to the gifts of this moment. Itís only by practicing full attention now that I can hope to be truly there for the next stranger who appeals for help.
~ Patrice Robson
ďWe all long to be better people Ė more loving, more aware, more true to ourselves. But when we punish ourselves for our failures by feeling guilty, we can get locked into a cycle of despair and hopelessness that robs us of all clarity about ourselves and the situations we encounter. You are absolutely okay as you are, and it is absolutely natural to go astray from time to time. Just learn from it, move on, and use the lesson not to make the same mistake twice.Ē Ė Osho
P.S. As embarrassing as this is, I must admit to you that I did make this same mistake twice! I wrote the story above just a few weeks ago. Last night, my husband and I were approached by another woman in need. I wonít go into the details here but the bottom line is that though I did make a move to serve her more directly as a result of my previous lesson, I allowed my companionís perspective to prevail. We responded by giving her money. Yikes! Here was the universe giving me another chance to be more aware and in proper service, and I blew it again! This type of scenario had never happened to me before, and now I had two almost identical experiences in less than one month. Talk about life as a schoolroom! Please, Life, may I have one more chance? Iím a slow learner. And now, time to release the guilt thatís arisen this time.
John and Patrice Robson
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