Do you regret choices you’ve made, opportunities you think you’ve lost, time you see as wasted? If you’re vigorously shaking your head up and down, please stop and listen a moment.
You’re succumbing to self-condemnation. When we do, we cultivate a downward-spiraling sense of self-worth. Our energies dissipate, our health deteriorates, and we subliminally tell ourselves we’ve given up on the rest of our lives.
We can free ourselves from those habitual regrets and judgments about our past and their consequences. We can recognize and acknowledge a universal principle that’s always at work: Divine Order.
What’s Divine Order?
Divine Order means that our lives are not the perverse exception to harmony or good outcomes, as we so often lament. Rather, like the steadfast movements of the planets, the annual renewal of leaves on the commonest trees, and the casually assumed daily workings of our bodies, all of our experiences are part of the Whole.
We can choose to see our lives in this Divine Order. How? Accept that at every stage each of our experiences is exactly what we've needed. This principle is clearly expressed by Martha Smock in a poem aptly titled "No Other Way" (Fear Not!, Unity Books, p. 39):
Could we but see the pattern of our days,
We should discern how devious were the ways
By which we came to this, the present time,
This place in life; and we should see the climb
Our soul has made up through the years.
We should forget the hurts, the wanderings, the fears,
The wastelands of our life, and know
That we could come no other way or grow
Into our good without these steps our feet
Found hard to take, our faith found hard to meet.
The road of life winds on, and we like travelers go
From turn to turn until we come to know
The truth that life is endless and that we
Forever are inhabitants of all eternity.
This poem is telling us several things.
First, divine order is actual. Our habitual narrow mental vision prevents us from stepping back and seeing the "pattern" of our days and lives.
Second, let us accept all the roads we've taken. Too often, we cling to our head-shaking guilt and aching regret, repeatedly labeling our choices as catastrophes.
Third, without these “wasteland” experiences, we couldn't be where we are now. Our experiences have come precisely because we've needed them. Of course this recognition is difficult and embarrassing. But we'll live with ourselves much more easily when we realize that we've chosen each event, consciously or not, for growth.
As we admit our choices, we become more open to the lessons we needed to learn. Then we’re ready to allow the next good that's before us.
Hard to Swallow?
If these ideas are hard to take, look more closely at people's evolvements. An industrialist's life-threatening illness, the result of excesses of diet, work, and pressure, impels him to seek alternative cures. With these and medical treatment, his body is healed. Deep gratitude leads him to found a cancer center at a major hospital that combines traditional and alternative therapies, giving hope and life to thousands of others.
A woman dreams of a career in business but is detoured by marriage and raising a large family. To keep her kids busy and learning, she develops innovative games, techniques, and activities. After her children are grown, she returns to school and obtains a master's degree. On graduation, she launches her own company, drawing on those child-centered years, to create and sell educational toys and resources. Her company grew rapidly, and two of her grown children became indispensable aides.
Many other examples come to mind, from Famous Amos to unfamous but highly successful people of all kinds. They have one thing in common: their mistakes, delays, and wrong turns turned out to be exactly the right preparation for what they later needed and wanted to do.
The legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis said, "Do not fear mistakes. There are none." (quoted in I Believe in You, Dan Zadra, Compendium, p. 60). We rarely, if ever, see where the path is leading. That's why we fear, shudder, and rage at its turns. And often, what we so fervently crave now we may be nowhere near ready for.
If you're protesting that it's too late for you, do I really need to remind you otherwise? Today more than ever, the horizons of longevity, health, and vibrant activity increase daily, even among the medically orthodox.
Examples abound. The late actress Janet Leigh published her first novel at age 68. Political activist Maggie Kuhn was forced to retire from her job at 65. Within a few years, she founded one of the first organizations to ignore chronological limits, the Gray Panthers. The consummate comedian Jerry Lewis reached stardom in his 20s and only reached his lifelong goal of appearing on Broadway at 70. Michelangelo was 74 when he began painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. At 81, Benjamin Franklin created the compromise that led to adoption of the U.S. Constitution. Writer Phyllis A. Whitney published her last book at 93.
One of my favorite books is called Late Bloomers by Brendan Gill (Artisan). You would be surprised at the many now-famous people who achieved their accomplishments and fame late in life, often with many earlier “failures.” And you may be heartened.
What Are Our Lessons?
- Let go of your lamentations and labels.
- Forgive yourself for your perceived past errors in decisions and actions.
- Think about the ways in which those “bad” experiences or “terrible” choices helped you later.
- Affirm continually that Divine Order is ever active in your life.
- Through meditation, develop a sense inner listening for guidance in right directions, decisions, and actions.
- Above all, keep listening and keep going.
Truly, there are no limits. We do not have to succumb to stereotypes and assumptions of certain activities at certain ages. Only our acceptance of the notions of inappropriateness or deterioration and our self-judging keep us depressed, fatigued, and collecting illnesses. Once we scrape away the guilt and self-blame, we're free to shake out our dusty dreams. Only then can we express that shimmering, childlike excitement that recognizes the Divine Order of our lives and propels us to our lifelong vision.
However you've denounced yourself for your past, know that there was truly no other way. Your experiences have been far from wrong — they've been perfect. Instead of rejecting your past, embrace it, thank it, and forgive yourself.
Trust your intuition and inner guidance, your drive and desire. Whatever you haven't done, wished you'd done, and want more than ever to do toward a life dream, take one simple step. Make a call, get a university catalog, sign up for piano lessons, buy a computer, shovel out the spare room, unearth your water colors, write for ten minutes.
As you let go of past guilt and release the energy to act, you’ll probably be surprised, even shocked, at what you’re remembering, using, and building on from all the experiences you had considered wasted.
Your life is in Divine Order.
©2015 by Noelle Sterne, Ph.D.
Adapted and revised from Noelle Sterne,
Trust Your Life (Unity Books, 2011).
Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams
by Noelle Sterne.
About the Author
Noelle Sterne is an author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor. She publishes writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, and fiction in print, online periodicals, and blog sites. Her book Trust Your Life contains examples from her academic editorial practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Her book for doctoral candidates has a forthright spiritual component and deals with often overlooked or ignored but crucial aspects that can seriously prolong their agony: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (September 2015). Excerpts from this book continue to be published in academic magazines and blogs. Visit Noelle's website: www.trustyourlifenow.com