Today’s topic is guilt.
This subject is one that comes up a lot in the yoga philosophy courses I lead.
It’s a lot even to say it, and you know exactly what I’m talking about; you decide to take a well earned day off and hit the beach.
It’s 85 and sunny. You’re planning the nap you’re going to take, and the book you’re going to read, and the lunch you’re going to have.
You get there, armed and ready to enjoy it, and instead, you start thinking of all the work that’s sitting on your desk, the items that you left at home for your spouse to take care of (like the dry cleaning and the laundry).
Your mind is everywhere BUT on enjoying where you are.
Guilt is like a huge alarm clock going off telling us you’re not in the present moment.
When we feel guilt, it feels very real.
We feel like we’re doing something wrong.
We feel uneasy.
We don’t like the moment that we’re feeling.
We don’t know why we can’t just enjoy the beach, where we are that day, etc.
When you feel guilt, instead of feeling guilty about feeling guilty or punishing yourself for it or trying to figure out why just pause.
Realize it’s happening because your mind is not present.
It’s one of two things:
First, hanging out in the past, thinking of all the things you should have done differently yesterday or this morning that maybe you messed up and now you’re worrying about the consequences of those things.
Or, your mind has jumped to the future.
It doesn’t matter if the future is five minutes from now or if it’s five years down the line, your mind has gone there. It’s hanging out. It’s doing what I call “future surfing”.
It is riding all those waves of possibilities, most of which will not even be in our existence.
Yet, it feels like we’re there.
Meanwhile, we’re on the beach.
Our beautiful drink is getting hot.
Our book is sitting there not getting read.
We’re someplace else.
The first thing you need to do when you feel consumed by guilt is stop and take three deep breaths.
Let that be your inner alarm clock.
Let it remind you that you can make a different choice.
Let it also remind you that your circumstances around you right now are temporary.
If you’re at the beach enjoy it because before you know it, you’re going to snap your fingers. It’s going to be winter.
If you are at work and you’re feeling guilty that you’re not home with your baby, just take a breath, focus on work. You’re going to be home before you know it.
Your circumstances in this moment are temporary. Do your best to be present while you’re there.
This is so important because no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we worry about the past, no matter how much we plan for the future, we cannot be effective in those places.
They’re either done or not even happening yet and may not even happen.
The only place we can be effective is right now.
Pausing and taking those three slow deep breaths is one very simple way that you can ground yourself in the present moment.
You can do it anywhere, in the car at a stop light, at your desk, folding laundry, etc. It doesn’t matter. You can reconnect to the present moment and let go of that guilt at any time.
If you’re feeling a lot of guilt and it’s getting really heavy, bring out the big guns.
Sit on your meditation cushion for at least five minutes, maybe more.
Let yourself sit in the present moment and experience all that comes up and let it come and go.
If that’s not enough, roll your yoga mat out if you haven’t already.
Get on it.
You’ll probably find that when you’re really connected in the present moment, these feelings of guilt are not so pervasive.
I know for myself, feelings of guilt often creep in when I haven’t done my best.
Maybe I woke up in the morning. I didn’t feel that great. I got on my yoga mat and I did my practice, but it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t so energized.
Later on, when I feel better instead of doing what I need to do then, I’m thinking about that practice and how maybe it wasn’t my best and I didn’t give enough or I wasn’t good enough, etc.
We all do this in our own ways.
We can prevent more guilt by simply stopping in the present moment and checking in.
Are we really giving our best with the tools that we have right now?
If the answer is yes, it’s unlikely we will carry over guilt from that experience.
If the answer is no, let’s pull back a little bit and ask ourselves what we need to do.
How can we change it?
You’ll notice in that present moment, there’s no guilt.
There’s just observing, taking action if needed, maybe not needed, and moving on.
That’s how we can work around guilt, prevent it from happening again.
In the second book of Yoga Sutras, we are reminded that future suffering can be avoided.
We can avoid guilt by giving our best in the present moment right now so that we don’t reinvent the wheel and then worry later that we didn’t give enough of what we were doing before.
Guilt is a really hot topic.
It’s one everybody feels from time to time. It’s one that causes much suffering.
It doesn’t have to.
If you want to dive in further, my six-month, ongoing yoga philosophy course, which has one topic and one webinar per month, starts this week and our first topic for this month is the topic of guilt.
We’re really going to dive in, relate it to the Yoga Sutras, relate it to our everyday lives and all support one another in how we can be more accountable in working through guilt.
Remember I’m here to support you on your mat and off. Namaste.