When Revisiting the Boneyard of Regret…
In Sufjan Stevens 2005 song Chicago, there is a refrain that repeats over and over, “I made a lot of mistakes; I made a lot of mistakes.” For a song that might be cloaked in ambiguity lyrically, it resonates emotionally. Who can’t repeat the refrain and mean it? There are few feelings like the angst of aching regret giving way to the humble relief of confession. The nature of regret is torment, suffering, and persistent psychological self-harm. The nature of confession however, is freeing. Confession frees to leave the boneyard of regret, frees to learn from failure, frees to remember without suffering.
Sooner or later, everyone pays a visit to the boneyard of regret. Strewn with the carcasses of hurt feelings, corpses of stupid mistakes, and skeletal bones of all manner of failures, the boneyard of regret is a place where parts of people go to die. Embarrassment, shame, and humiliation haunt this boneyard where it is always midnight, always foggy, and always looks like there is no way out.
For some people, it is tempting to do anything possible never to visit the boneyard. Avoid, deflect, rush to pleasure - there are many ways to run from regret. For other people, it is tempting to pitch a tent in the boneyard, endlessly trying to solve the unsolvable equation – time travel. They torture themselves with “If only I had…” as though they can unfail. Whether avoiding the boneyard or taking up residence in it, each results in the construction of a realm of suffering that is unnecessary.
Visiting the boneyard of regret is an unfortunate requirement of being human. It cannot be avoided. So, when in the boneyard, here are a few things to consider.
Confess and be free.
There is truth in the boneyard. It is a hard truth, a very hard truth. The bones found rummaging around in the boneyard are the historical facts. All of the facts are true. They are the mistakes, injuries and failures of the past. Just looking at them can be overwhelming. No matter how hard it is to look at them, owning those mistakes, injuries, and failures is required. This boneyard is a place of responsibility and honesty – courageous responsibility; hard honesty. However, the facts must be confessed as just the facts, and nothing more. Just confess and be free. It is the road to self-acceptance.
Learn everything you can.
There is pain in the boneyard. Extreme pain. Sometimes the pain is extraordinary and can be unbearable at times. No one in their right mind wants suffering and pain. However, there is more than suffering in pain. There can be learning along with the pain. All pain and suffering can be instructive. Of all the teachers, guides, and mentors, pain is among the most profound and prolific, if the teaching methods can be tolerated. There is no end to the learning that can be acquired in the boneyard. It can make people better people. Wise people will get all the learning they can.
Give it your grief.
There is grief in the boneyard, but not until it is placed there. Every bone in that bone yard will not be satisfied until it is grieved. Something was lost and that is how the bones got there. There are things there that cannot be undone. There are losses that cannot be regained. There are mistakes that cannot be perfected. One mistake people make when visiting the boneyard is to invest energy into solving something that should be grieved. Go to the boneyard to grieve and then leave a portion of the grief there once you leave.
Visit, but leave.
There is no home in the boneyard. Everything in the boneyard is dead. It is an inhabitable place where no one can survive staying there too long. It’s the surface of the moon. It’s Mars. Yes, visits are necessary and can do some good – but leave. The boneyard exists so there is a place for those painful moments of the past to reside so that people can move forward with their lives. It exists so that people can have it if they need a visit every once in a while as they go about their lives trying to make sense of it without having to carry it all with them all the time.
Leave the bones in the yard.
There are regrets in the boneyard - and that is where they belong. There is no need to carry that past around all the time to every place. The boneyard is a great mercy in that there is a place to put all that pain and then be separate form it for a while. Learning to leave the boneyard is one of the most important spiritual disciplines a person can humbly enter into. Learning to leave the boneyard is the learning how to have a mature relationship with pain and suffering, paying visits, but only for so long. Learning to leave the boneyard is about how to have a mature relationship with grief and loss, when to carry it in and how much to leave there. Rather than avoiding the boneyard or being buried in it, the point is to develop a relationship with it that has good boundaries. And good boundaries means leaving the bones in the boneyard. Exhuming the bones for living room decorations is not hospitable for anyone.
Seriously, Leave The Bones There.
It can be overwhelming looking at all those bones. Owning the bones is hard, but when making claims to the bones, do not go beyond making the claim. It can be tempting to generalize past the facts. It is one thing to confess, “I made this mistake,” but it is quite another thing to assign additional meaning, “I made this mistake and therefore I am a terrible person / disqualified / worthless” and on and on. See the difference. It is responsible to own the bone, but it is irresponsible to assign a psychologically self-harming meaning to the bone. Own the bone and then drop it in the boneyard. People are not worthless. People have infinite worth; it is how people are created.
The boneyard of regret serves a very important purpose in people’s lives. It is a mercy filled with wisdom that demands growth, learning, and maturity in order to access. It is a hard mercy, like a cemetery. It is an unyielding mercy that cannot be avoided. It is an hard, but benevolent mercy that, given the circumstances and when accessed with wisdom, provides the best chance at living for the length of one’s life – thus being the best option overall.