One way to deal with life’s biggest regrets and mistakes

On the plane going from Austria, where I grew up, back to San Francisco, where I currently live, I was lucky to see a documentary about Ghandi, from 1982, that I completely immersed myself in. There was one scene that made a particular impact on me. A man, his name is Nahari, had killed a kid and couldn’t live with himself anymore. Here is how Ghandi helped him:

Nahari: I’m going to Hell! I killed a child! I smashed his head against a wall.

Gandhi: Why?

Nahari: Because they killed my son! The Muslims killed my son!

[indicates boy’s height]

Gandhi: I know a way out of Hell. Find a child, a child whose mother and father have been killed and raise him as your own.

[indicates same height]

Gandhi: Only be sure that he is a Muslim and that you raise him as one.

I thought to myself “wow, what an incredible way to make peace with oneself. I was immediately reminded of another story from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “No Death, No Fear” (If you’d like to read this book, I’d love to send it to you for free, please email me [email protected]), which offered a very similar perspective:

“There was an American Vietnam veteran I knew. The guerrillas had killed his comrades, and he was determined to take revenge on the people of the village where his comrades had died. He made sandwiches of bread with explosives in the filling and left them at the entrance of the village. Some children came and found the sandwiches and began to eat them. Soon they were writhing and howling in pain. Their parents ran to the scene, but it was too late. The area was remote, without ambulances and medical equipment, and the children could not be brought to the hospital quickly enough. All five of them died.

After he returned to the United States, the soldier could not overcome his guilt. His mother tried to comfort him. She said, “My son, those things happen in war. There is nothing to feel bad about .” But still, he suffered so much. Whenever he found himself in a room with children, he could not bear it. He had to run out.

During one of my tours in the United States, a retreat was organized for war veterans. I taught them how to walk and breathe in order to transform their fear, guilt and suffering. I said to this veteran, “You have killed five children; that is true. But you can save the lives of hundreds of children. Do you know that every day, tens of thousands of children die for want of food and medicine? You can bring food and medicine to some of them.” He practiced as I advised, and that person who, twenty years ago, had killed five children was immediately reborn in the past as someone who saved the lives of twenty children.”

Then, more recently again, I saw another movie, called “American Sniper”. It showcases the story of an American sniper, who, after 10 years of service, returns home. His biggest regret, is that he couldn’t help save more of his fellow soldiers in Iraq, so he was haunted every day by this feeling of regret.

One day, he met with a therapist who told him: “There are many soldiers, right here in the United States, that need your help.”. And from then on, he made it his mission to help war veterans suffering from PTSD and helping them reintegrate into society and through that he was able to reintegrate himself into society.

How I used this technique in the past

  • A relative of mine, who was already late in her 80s recently passed away. I always loved spending time with her, but in recent years, with the work on Buffer, I wasn’t able to make the time to go and see her, although I wanted to. When she passed away, I was quite sad, but i remembered the story from Thich. I remembered, that I had another great-aunt who I also hadn’t seen in a long time and who I equally greatly enjoyed spending time with. As she lived in the UK and her husband had already passed away, I arranged for her to come to Austria and spend time with myself and my family. It was one of the most joyous Christmas’ I’ve had in a long time and this helped me so much. I plan on inviting her again next year.
  • I was very glad that my parents taught me to take care of my teeth and I was always very happy with them. When I started to focus fully on Buffer, I neglected my teeth and I didn’t go to the dentist for I think about 2 or 3 years. At first, I was a bit angry with myself, but then, I thought that I could do my best to take care of my teeth going forward. So I arranged several appointments and managed to give my teeth the attention they deserved and they are in a much better state now. I’ve also made flossing a habit as well as regular cleanings. It has been much easier to adopt these new habits with my intention to simply take care of my teeth going forward.

We often find ourselves in a situation where we have made a mistake or have a huge regret about something we did or didn’t do in the past and sometimes we see no way out. If we learn from Ghandi and Thich Nhat Hanh’s example, we can use those past experiences as inspiration for where we want to do good in the future and we can transform ourselves to live a happier live again.

Leave a Comment