“The only way of catching a train I have ever discovered is to miss the train before.” (G.K. Chesterton)
Most of us have missed enough opportunities in the past.
And many of us often think about them. Too often. And emotionally, too.
It is logically clear that an excessive emotional fixation on opportunities missed in the past prevents us from living. Because it prevents us from taking advantage of opportunities in the present.
“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” ( Alexander Graham Bell)
But alas, logic helps little in such matters.
In America, there have been several studies devoted to regrets about missed opportunities. For example:
In the studies that I’ve seen, all of the respondents were much sorrier about what they did not do, than about what they had done. And there seems to be a dependence on the amount of time that has passed as well – the farther we look into the past, the more we regret that which was not done. These studies coincide with numerous citations from both classic and contemporary authors:
“Regret of neglected opportunity is the worst hell that a living soul can inhabit.” (Rafael Sabatini)
“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” (Harriet Beecher Stowe)
“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’” (John Greenleaf Whittier)
Also, the studies have found (and it’s not surprising) that older people suffer over missed opportunities much harder than those who are under 30. As one of the respondents (60+ years old) wrote – “at this age, it only remains to stoically endure.”
What can be done?
Let’s start with a simple one. The fact that we see the missed opportunities from a different time means that we have become different. We are not the same as we were. We have changed. We have grown. This is good.
There’s more. What we are emotionally experiencing shows that the past is not the past for us. It is the present. It lives now, lives inside of us.
We have not accepted the past and have not reconciled with it. Somewhere deep inside we still hope to change it. But at the same time reason tells us that this is impossible, and this contradiction weighs us down. This is not good.
Since we have not accepted the past, we have not accepted the present. Because this present has in fact come forth from the past. This is not good at all.
And, more importantly, it shows that we have not accepted ourselves. We consider ourselves to be bad, unworthy, – someone who has not been able to take the right step, make the right decision. This is really bad.
So what do we do?
There is only one way to reconcile with one’s past – no matter what steps one has taken or not, it’s to show oneself that any losses were not in vain.
Our wrong actions, whether taken or not, are simply mistakes. But a simple understanding of this fact gives us very little. Especially if the opportunities are gone forever.
The key is to not just see these mistakes, but also to change oneself enough to become a completely different person, – someone who will not allow these mistakes to happen again.
If I am not mistaken, this instruction belongs to Bennett, a follower of Gurdjieff. And here is a quote from Gurdjieff himself:
“Change depends on you, and it will not come about through study. You can know everything and yet remain where you are. It is like a man who knows all about money and the laws of banking, but has no money of his own in the bank. What does all his knowledge do for him?”
The opportunities might have gone forever, but our inclinations, which had given rise to erroneous actions or lack thereof, have remained with us – as a learned response. Even so, the opportunity to prove oneself by choosing not the old, but new responses in similar external circumstances, has also remained. Such is the way of the world that the same lessons are given to us again and again, and similar situations arise again and again.
And when in a similar situation we will confidently choose the new and not the old patterns of behavior, this will be the answer! To do this, we must raise our level of energy vibrations, go up the energy scale.
The more we do for our development, looking back on the lessons we have learned from our missed opportunities, the more it would be that those lessons were not in vain.
However, one can say – well, I have learned the new responses, but what should I do with them at my age? Many opportunities are gone forever and will not be back.
If we believe that we have only got one life and that after it there is nothing, then I do not know the answer to this question.
But, if we at least admit that there is life after death, and that we will take all the knowledge and skills of this life with us into eternity, then even what we would – or would not – do a few days before our death will mean a lot. The opportunity to make an effort and change, the opportunity to apply our new knowledge in practice remains to the very last minute, remains while we are still alive.
This understanding gives life purpose at any moment and at any age – and allows us to look forward, not back.