Shame, guilt, blame and regret. These are emotions that have been given great weight in Christian culture. Christian values are based on the concept of sin. You make mistakes and can make them right by confessing them to God. You are actually supposed to prevent them. This can cause a convulsive attitude towards life, in which people try to control themselves and often observe themselves as well as others with a judgmental attitude.
Sin concept or bonnos
This concept of sin is absent in Buddhism. They talk about bonnos there. Bonnos are our desires, our illusions, what we use to create other realities. Alcohol can be a bonno, but also the desire for material wealth, status or power. Bonnos are not seen as bad, they are watched with a mild demeanor. Because ‘ bonno soku bodai ‘, it is precisely through the bonnos that we can also develop, through spiritual practice we can transcend our fixation and bonnos can become the source of future wisdom.
That frees us from many complexes and feelings of guilt. It’s never too late to transform. Our past illusions will be the source of new insight and behavior.
Aren’t you ashamed?
Shame and guilt have in common that they contain a rejection of the act and often also of the person. We can burden ourselves and others with this negative emotion. “Aren’t you ashamed?” “Don’t you feel guilty?” It seems as if the spasm that causes shame and regret must make amends for the thoughtless act of the past, as if we have to carve extra deep into our souls never to forget the blunder.
The question is whether this attitude really makes us evolve. In fact, we lock ourselves or the other. We pass a harsh judgment and the perpetrator must pay. Children raised with this drug may become obedient but also fearful children. When a person has understood that his act was unpleasant to another, it is better to let go of the blame and return to love and affection. And even if the other person doesn’t see his mistake, you can still return to warmth and affection. We don’t have to have the same experience.
For example, it is healthy to be able to forgive yourself after a blunder or gross mistake. Breaking yourself down will get you very little. It is better to let the shock run through you and then return to a warm and forgiving attitude toward yourself.
Benedicte was a Zen nun with curly black hair and a beautiful, slightly dreamy look to her face. She often sat on a wall somewhere smoking a cigarette and mused. She never had a boyfriend as far as I know. I didn’t know she was hiding a big secret. One day we start talking and she asks about my work as a coach. I explain to her what I do. While she rests her cigarette for a while, she tells me in slow words that at the age of 20 she caused the death of her friend in an accident on her way back from a party. She stares into the distance and I feel time stand still. I
I do not understand that year after year she punishes herself with reproaches. She keeps cutting herself in the soul because she is responsible for the death of her friend. Also the Zen practice does not help her to digest the original pain, she keeps on cranking up the guilt with her own thoughts. I try to explain to her that this helps neither the friend nor herself. In my view, she has only one important task: to embrace the tragic incident and to actively feel the love for her friend and let it live on in herself.
Some time later I am shocked by the news that Benedicte has died suddenly. In addition to the first secret, she had a second. Secretly she submerged herself in the alcohol. One day, an inner bleed puts an end to the remorse.
Forgiveness of others, forgiveness of yourself means in practical terms: daring to feel the intense emotion of the first moment and to stop thinking: I don’t want this to happen. You can integrate the event, just like someone with a physical disability can integrate their disability. If you accept that the wound is in the body, it can heal. The scar will give extra strength to your character, for example in the form of compassion or altruism.
Regret and blame are technically no different from ‘if-then’ thoughts. “If this accident hadn’t happened, she would still be alive.” Once you recognize these forms of thoughts that may be hidden in many of our contemplations, you can observe them. You see them passing by, but don’t give them any further breeding ground.
This story comes from the chapter ‘Defensive reactions to unpleasant emotions’ from the book Good Feeling, emotions as medicine , written by Paul Loomans. Every week Paul posts a blog on Inspiring Life in which he gives advice on how to return to a basis of peace and trust, often illustrated with personal experiences.