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What might have been

When we think back over our lives we sometimes wonder what might have been. How if we had done this or done that we would have lived a better life. Of course, we only think like this when we are feeling down. So our feeling of regret aren't really the issue. It is what is happening in the present. We might be thinking this way because we have a present problem that we wish to avoid by being miserable about the past!

In dealing with these feeling we would first check the present and ask if there are any things we are doing, which we would rather not be doing, or things we aren't doing which we think we should be doing. Perhaps we have had an upset with someone, or something hasn't worked out as we would like. So we think of what might have been.

I recall a story of a young woman who loved a young man. She thought he was too posh for her and wasn't interested in her. She married another. A few years later she learned the young man was indeed interested in her. He thought she wasn't interested in him. And this knowledge was more than she could bear and she had a nervous breakdown.

When we review our lives we might imagine certain times were choice points. Critical times when we had to choose between two or more directions. We made one choice, but we might think that there was another choice which would have made us happier or better off. We look back at that time and berate ourselves for making the wrong choice and feel sad.

Yet there is an assumption that we really did have a choice. We consider that we freely did what we did. We assume we could have done something else. For example, we might have found another very exciting. We may have married that other person because of the joys of physical contact. We may have chosen this person over another who we liked better, but who was less exciting. Another who was good with money and responsible. We thought they were boring! The other so delightfully sexy. Now we are with someone or have left someone who is no longer exciting and was never someone we could get on well with as a friend. Someone who was always irresponsible and bad with money. We feel we have nothing. We feel we were led by sensual desires, rather than by good reason, and in the end we are just miserable. If only we had made the other choice!

Yet did we ever have a choice? Or did we, as we always do, make the best decision we could at the time and considering who we are? Whatever happened was Fate. And if we were to go back to that past time and be that same person we were, we would do everything the same?

If we were to go back to that time and make what we now think would be the right decision, WHERE WOULD WE HAVE GAINED THE NEW LEARNING TO ACT WISELY?

If we had not made the decision we did make, we would probably have thought about the attractive alternative. We might have agonised on what might have been had we married the exciting person! We might have left the 'boring person' and agonised on what might have happened had we married the exciting one!

Yes, we would probably have got our learning anyway.

Had we made a different decision, then we might have had quite different experiences from what we now imagine. In an extreme case, having changed the past might have meant we were in a situation of great danger and died. We might have tried to cross a road at a time and in a state which we wouldn't have been in had we chosen the exciting person. At least we are alive now!

Yet we are treating our learning negatively. We are regretting that we now know what we know. This may be viewed as being ungrateful.

When we think of what might have been, we are trying to solve issues in the past. We are putting impossible demands on ourselves. We are saying we should have done something different. When we cannot travel into the past. So we cannot undo what we did. And, if we could travel into the past, we could not do anything different from what we did then, because we would not have the learning. Either way nothing would change!

Perhaps we should honour and respect the past, because it is a record of what we did and a record of us doing the best we could. Of course, with the learning we have now we might do better than we did then. But without making the choices we made, we would not have that learning to make a change! However, we can use that learning now to make our present life better in some way.

Now and in our present life is the only place in time and space where we can do things differently and express our freedom of choice. We would do the best we can, however bad it might seem to others or to our future selves. We can never do more than that, and no one, not even ourselves could expect more.

We live in the present and we will create our future. And the only hope we have is to use the learning we have acquired from our past.

The agonies of 'What might have been' are therefore mere illusions. Nothing else could have happened than what did happen. We have that learning now, whatever it is, and we can use it to create our futures.

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Most Recent Revision: 20-Mar-99.
Copyright 1998, 1999 Ken Ward,
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