The Reward of Regret: Using Unmindful Emotions for Good (with a little help from John Muir)
"Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain-passes. They will save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action. Even the sick should try these so-called dangerous passes, because for every unfortunate they kill, they cure a thousand." ~John Muir
Regret is a no-no in the language of mindfulness. So is worrying about the future. But I actually found a constructive use for both of them, turning a negative into a positive, fear into courage.
Hear me out, guys. It’s a quick story.
I was recently on a Journeyman trip to Kings Canyon National Park. It was sweltering, in the upper-90's, but I knew that after all the day's activities I had an exceptional place to cool down: Muir Rock.
Muir Rock is an big boulder jutting out over the Kings River deep into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. For John Muir, it was what you might call his “thinking chair,” or at least one of his numerous mountain thinking chairs. For kids now-a-days, it has a simpler use: it's a natural diving board for jumping into the chilly water below.
John Muir is a hero of mine. His exploration and exposition of nature has inspired umpteen people to go outside, feel the power of nature, and find themselves in it. He created generations of outdoor enthusiasts, environmental advocates, and people like me who use time in nature to spur mindfulness. This blog is a product of that inspiration.
Now to be clear, I was planning to use the rock in its traditional John-Muir-thinking-chair form, rather than its more modern swimming-hole-dive-platform incarnation. I knew the water would be refreshing, and I had my swim suit and river shoes ready to take a dip, but I'm also pretty well afraid of heights, especially leaps from heights that land you in an icy river with a semi-swift current.
I waded into the water in full thinking chair mode. It was time to cool off from the day’s hike, to relax, to get inspired.
And inspired I got. The always moving, shifting, changing river waters metaphored me into mindfulness. I imagined John Muir sitting there on that rock, writing brilliant prose. I could almost hear his agelessly powerful voice resonate through the canyon.
Back on the modern diving board rock, I watched as kids and adults alike came face-to-face with fear, stare it down, jump, and conquer. It looked fun.
I also watched as kids and adults alike climbed up the rock, waited, debated, and turned away. Fear and worry are powerful forces, and for good reason---we developed them as a protective mechanism. Jumping off a rock into a river carries with it an inherent danger. Signs posted throughout the area warn you of such, luring you into a state of concern. I looked on worried. Parents worried aloud for their kids. I could almost hear my own mother worrying from afar.
Then as I watched an even stronger current of worry washed over me---the worry of regret. I became worried that I'd tell friends about this rock and quietly feel ashamed I hadn't jumped. Worried I'd be tempted to lie about it. Worried eventually all of this would lead to a regret over not jumping off that rock back when I had the chance.
I was very unmindfully predicting future troubles related to a current decision. In the past, I would have talked myself out of such emotions, ceding my control to the unknown future, turning back to the present instead, like a good mindfulness guru.
But this time I had a new thought---what if I used that unmindful emotion for good? Take it back and own it. Instead of worrying about regret, use that worry to inspire courage.
Was I really going to waste this otherwise zen occasion consumed with (possible) future regret, or was I going to just make a decision and be confident with it? Was I really going to go that deep into this wondrously wild national park and not take a leap off my hero’s rock, or was I going to get out of my comfort zone and have some unrestrained fun for a split second?
I already knew the answer to my questions, so I climbed that rock, waited a beat to soak in the moment, and took the plunge.
It was exhilarating, not at all difficult, and not really all that dangerous either (I swear, mom).
Looking back, the whole experience might seem about as basic as a life lesson gleaned from a Disney Channel sitcom, but sometimes it's those simple episodes that prove most potent.
It turns out we can stop over-complicating our lives with unmindful emotions like worry and regret in more than one way. For useless worry and regret over the unknown, we can choose to mindfully set them aside in favor of the present. And for valid yet resolvable worry over possible regret, we can choose to flip those emotions into a force for good.
It's the simple act of turning a negative into a positive. Turning unmindful roadblocks into courageous mindful mercenaries. Every day, every time an unmindful emotions wells up, simply flip it.
Each simple act adds up, until it becomes your norm. That norm becomes power. That power becomes possibility.
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My name is Jason Wise. Life's all about the journey, man. Find me on Instagram and Facebook.