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Making Peace with Our Regrets - Chef's Choice Three �Regrets, I�ve had a few,� sang Frank Sinatra. �But, then again, too few to mention.� Old blue eyes was lucky. �Regrets? Don�t get me started!� most of us would scream instead.

I know this now about regrets: they don�t go away. Most things distance themselves with time and space, to eventually slide off the edge of our consciousness and disappear forever, but not regrets. You can shove them aside, disavow them for a lifetime, but they always return. And the longer you deny them, the more they punish you when they can no longer be held at bay.

Regrets are particularly poignant for the old and the dying, those who have used up most of the chances they�ll ever get and are left to make peace with their failed choices. The right choices result in our goodness and character. The wrong choices harden into bitterness and despair. And if we don�t have the wisdom to make good choices when we�re young, we need the grace to make peace with the bad ones when we�re old.

Luckiest of all are those who still have the time to replace their bad choices with good ones. Good choices in the nick of time can banish regrets.

�Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that�s gone,� Shakespeare counseled in The Tempest. Great advice, Will, but much easier said than done. Worth keeping in mind, though.

Gratitude for Unique Gifts

�My biggest remorse is that I�ve been a smug, inflexible, overbearing, egocentric know-it-all control-freak my whole life,� revealed Tyrone, 68, in reply to our last question of the month: "Have you reconciled and forgiven your regrets? How? And why was it important for you to do so?"

�Have I come to terms with the lifelong unhappiness that my controlling personality has caused me? No, but I�m still trying,� said the former marketing vice president from Syracuse, New York. �Will I succeed? I doubt it. Have I forgiven myself? I don�t think I�ll be able to do that either, even though I realize, above all, that this is what I must do to salvage the remainder of my life. Still, there isn�t a day that goes by when I don�t mourn the disappointment and heartache I caused the people who had the temerity and misfortune to become part of my life.

�I�m aware now that the greatest damage I did was to myself,� he added ruefully. �I was highly successful in my corporate career, earned a handsome salary and have salted enough away to assure myself of a comfortable retirement. I also have two failed marriages and five children whom I�ve estranged, and I have no real friends -- I don�t think I ever did. I knew how to ingratiate myself with other people so that I could get what I wanted from them. But I never tried to be a friend to anyone in the true sense of the word. I don�t think I even knew how.

�Since there are few blessings, therefore, for me to count in my twilight years, apart from my financial assets, what I do have is a great deal of time to dwell on the myriad failures of my life caused by my enormous ego. Looking back,� Tyrone went on, �the saddest thing I did to myself was to persist in the conviction that my lack of compassion for the shortcomings and failures of others was due to the rigidly high standards I held for myself.

�After all, I always told myself, I wasn�t expecting from anyone else what I didn�t demand of myself. In short, anyone who didn�t behave as I wanted was letting me down. It was my way or the highway, no ifs, ands, buts or any exceptions. The result was that everyone, sooner or later, managed to disappoint and alienate me. Inevitably, one by one, I rejected them, until the only one left was myself.

�There�s something else I hugely regret,� Tyrone concluded. �By trying to control everyone�s behavior, by insisting they become exactly what I wanted, that they conform to everything I expected them to be, I rejected their uniqueness as individuals. I discarded the rare and original gifts they offered that would have greatly enriched my life.�

Take Your Regrets Out of Hiding

"It is of utmost importance that people accept themselves as they are, and that means both the bad and the good," wrote Clarice, 61, from Carbondale, Illinois. "I have taken my regrets out of their hiding place, I have examined them carefully and then I have studied them to see what I learned from my mistakes -- and the roads not taken.

"Once I have discerned the impact those choices had upon my future, I accept them as lessons I needed to learn in order to enable me to continue on my journey.

"I have many enormous regrets. But I have paid the price for those missteps. No longer, therefore, are they mistakes. They are now the understandings that prepared me for the journey for which I was destined."

"If I'd hugged them a little more..."

�I have quite a few regrets,� confessed Dianna, 51, who describes herself as a housewife. �Things like not going to college, picking the wrong men, running away from the right men, never having the courage or self-esteem to succeed. All the normal human things that, sometime in our lives, we think about.

�But the two things I regret most are not talking to my children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and not hugging my children enough. Don�t misunderstand me: I feel I was a good mother; I adored my children and I was affectionate with them. But there were times when I look back now, I know they could have used a hug or a supportive word. I would swoosh them out of the house and tell them to go play because I needed to wax a floor or cook a meal or to do a load of laundry.

�It was the �70s, and keeping a clean house and cooking a good meal was top of the list in keeping your man, and being a good wife and mother. I wish I would have sat down and talked to my children about drugs and alcohol, but that was not an important issue where we lived. The mind-set then was only hippies and bums took drugs. And alcohol -- what was wrong with that? Didn�t everyone drink a little? After all, you need to relax after the daily stresses of life, and even though I did not drink, well, it just did not seem an important issue. It was the �70s, and having a drink or so was OK.

�Now it is thirty years later and I have one son who is a recovering crack addict, and another son who will be going to an alcoholic treatment program. They have spent all their adult life in a haze of alcohol and drugs. I have helplessly watched my children become more and more lost as each year went by. Even though they are trying to get help now, I know they face a lifetime of trying to stay sober.

�Maybe, just maybe, if I had hugged them a little more and encouraged them a little more, and warned them that it�s just not the hippies and bums who can get entangled in this web of destruction, but also innocent little altar boys who plan to become doctors and forest rangers. If I had done all that, then I would not be writing this today.

(Excerpted from DAMN! Reflections on Life's Biggest Regrets by Barry Cadish)

Prevention Through Mindfulness

Helen Ng tries to avoid accuring any more regrets by pretending that everything she does she is doing for the very last time.

�I tell myself as I�m talking to someone that this is the last time I�ll see or hear or speak to that person again,� says the 46-year-old pharmacist.

�Or this is the last time I�ll be visiting this place or experiencing this particular pleasure. This is the last chance I�ll have to do whatever I need to do. Or say whatever I need to say. I remind myself that when this time passes, when this person leaves, when this chance is gone, it will never come again.�

It�s her way, she says, of not collecting any more regrets. �By thinking to myself this opportunity may be the last, I won�t wait until it�s too late.�

For what? �For whatever,� she replies. �To say thank you. Or �You did a good job.� Or �You were right and I was wrong.� Or �I�m sorry.� Or �I love you.� Whatever.�

Pretending that each act, each event, each encounter, each occurrence could be the last makes nothing too trivial to put off, Ng says.

(Excerpted from Celebrating Time Alone: Stories of Splendid Solitude)

And the Next Question, Please

Finally, this offering came in response to our first question of the month, �Why do you think you have to be by yourself at times to be better for those you love?�:

�I just finished browsing through your columns at the "Spiritual Sisters" website,� wrote a young man from Beaverton, Oregon. �I agree with so much of what you have to say -- that we need to love ourselves first in order to really be capable of loving someone else, and that taking time to be alone with ourselves is essential and healthy and positive.

�I'd really like to see one of your future columns explore the ways that 20- and 30-somethings with spouses, kids and careers can partake of �splendid solitude� -- even as we enjoy the many good things about being in the company of others. Is it possible to have the best of both worlds? I hope so. Sign me: A Dual Citizen.�

Thanks, D.C., for your most excellent suggestion. Your wish is our command. Next month�s question, then, is: "How do you partake of 'splendid solitude,' be it in opportunistic chunks or slivers, while continuing to enjoy the myriad rewards of your home, family, business and social life."

Share some your insights, experience and wisdom, would you, so I can pass them along to our Spiritual Sisters and Brothers.

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Lionel Fisher is the author of Celebrating Time Alone: Stories of Splendid Solitude (Beyond Words Publishing, 2001). Reach him at beachauthor@hotmail.com to share your thoughts on magnificent aloneness.