I am reminding myself of my kind promise “to forgive with wild abandon.”

I grew up with an idea that Right and Wrong were absolutes. Doing wrong required begging forgiveness and being wronged required giving forgiveness. As I have aged, I have softened. My ideas of right and wrong have become much more relative. The note I wrote in my journal as I begin planning this blog post was “forgiveness if there is no wrongdoing?” Moments later, I read this:

“It doesn’t help at all to feel guilty about where we find ourselves. When we can shed the light of compassionate attention on our actions, an interesting shift can happen—this regret of ours becomes a seed of compassion for all the other people just like us who are caught in fixed mind, closed mind, hard heart. We let this recognition connect us with others. We let it be the seed of empathy, and we go forward, not wallowing in guilt and shame about what we did.”

Pema Chodron, Taking the Leap

The purpose of this promise, when turned inward, is to avoid wallowing in guilt and shame. Pema Chodron suggests a path through guilty feelings. If we can “shed the light of compassionate attention” on them, they can become a seed of compassion. Compassionate attention is what we practice when we meditate.

Regret means I wish I had done something differently. Guilt means I have done something wrong. It’s a helpful distinction. Our day-to-day language doesn’t help. I say, “I’m sorry” when I have bumped into you in my wheelchair and when your spouse dies. “I’m sorry I did that” is very different from “I’m sorry that happened.” Language leaves us in a muddle.

Pema Chodron seems to be inviting me into a mini practice of tonglen. I can use guilty feelings as fuel for the engines of compassion. When I catch myself feeling guilty, I can take a breath and notice the underlying disappointment. I can offer comfort to that disheartened inner-idealist and beam love to similarly tenderhearted others.