Exploring regret

Yesterday I was going out for dinner with a group of good friends and afterwards everyone wanted to go to karaoke. I wasn’t in the mood for it, and I guessed from past karaoke experiences that I wouldn’t enjoy it anyway. Pressure was high, so I caved in to say Yes, but at last I didn’t go. Instead, I went back, had a good chat with a friend, slept early and woke up fresh.

I made the right decision; I wouldn’t want to trade my sleep for something I didn’t quite enjoy. Yet surprisingly, a part of me still thought of not going for that karaoke. Was that regret? If so, why should I regret something I didn’t want to do and feel like doing?

“Don’t sweat the small stuff”, you say. There’s no point to regret, right? What happened already happened.

There is a point to regret actually. It is a thing I can explore. You know, every person is a curious thing – including myself. In the past, I would dig into myself with these kinds of introspective questions. Now I’ve got a better tool to dig – meditating directly on my sensations – and I wanted to play with what I found. Plus, given that in the future I will make a lot more important decisions I may as well get used to that feeling of “Darn, what a dumb move”.
Regret is like my uncle who doesn’t visit me often, so I want to hang out with him more when he comes. What is regret really like?

In reality, I don’t think my friends cared that much about me not going – they are good friends after all. Bear with me though for the sake of this exploration.

As I closed my eyes, sometimes regretful thoughts would pop up. My face would cringe; my lips would tighten. I must have looked from outside like I was in pain. Interestingly, this state was very similar to the state of intense focus. I did not have too many self-loathing thoughts like “Omg you stupid freaking anti-social hermit” but rather critical questions: What would have happened if I were there? What did I miss? Who were upset by me?

I was mostly calm throughout. However, specific thoughts triggered these intense sensations. These thoughts went like this: “I wasted a chance to be with the group of people I enjoyed being with but would rarely have the chance to see them again. I also wasted a chance to see myself and other people shining (or being silly, at least for me) in singing. More importantly, it was an opportunity to practice finding something fun in what I don’t usually enjoy, for the greater sake of being with people I want to be with. Basically, I was being stupid. I might have hurt my own image in my friends’ eyes. Worse, I might have hurt my friendships.”

I had no valid excuses not to go; I had all the time in the world. Even my friends who would have exams and work the next day decided to go, what excuses did I have? None. Because it is the nature of excuse; it is something we used to mask the only reason – the real reason – we do anything. I did not go because I didn’t feel like going. I knew I should have gone, but I couldn’t help it. Would it have been fun? Most likely. Then why the hell did I not go? Because I didn’t feel like it.

I learned quite a few things from this short meditation. I realized my deeper fear is no longer the fear of regret but rather is the fear of being stupid, of not doing what the situation is best for, and lastly of upsetting other people. Another interesting observation is how hard it was to hate myself. I did tell myself “You were dumb, Khuyen” but not as a fuming boss but rather a half-joking friend. I also faced the fear of upsetting other people, something many of us shared. This experience is a good preparation for the future where I will have to make difficult decisions that affect even more people. I will have to say No to a lot of temptations and less important stuff. I will have to stick to my guns. Every decision divides, and I have to accept it.

I used to hate my over-musing tendency. I hated the inner chattering in my head – why couldn’t he shut up? Now I accepted that he would always be there anyway, so I’d rather understand and be a better friend with that guy. Some times he can do a lot of good thing.


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