The Teachings of If Only

Posted: November 27, 2014 in Inner Journey, Thoughts on Life
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Epstein QuoteI try not to regret the things I have done, because at some point it must have been what I wanted. Even if it simply seemed like a good idea at the time, but in hindsight was a terrible idea, harmful and hurtful in its teachings. I do often regret the things I didn’t do, the opportunities I missed, the times I said no even when a part of me was screaming ‘Fuck, yes!’ The times I said no from fear or a sense of not being capable, or not worthy or not good enough. I look back on those missed opportunities and wonder where I would be today, or who I would be today, or how much richer and wiser in experience I would be had I followed through on those chances.

Every experience has made me the woman I am today, for good or ill. Each yes and each no has shaped me in some way. If only I had been brave enough, smart enough, creative enough, more confident, more willing, more daring. If only I had said yes instead of no, or no instead of yes. If only I valued myself more. If only I had chosen a different path.

Long ago I left behind the if onlys that were outside of my control. If only my mother had not left me, if only my father had been more loving and less terrifying, if only my stepmother had been kinder, if only I had been more supported, if only I had been born into a different life. These if onlys serve no purpose for me. They are not things I could ever change, and they were never in my power to control. Considering these if onlys is to hide in a fantasy, in a pleasant daydream, and to avoid the realities of who I am.

The if onlys that were in my control serve to show how and when I did have the power to change my path, to change my life. Listening to those regrets gives me a brief insight into all the things I have longed for, or denied myself. It tells me where my fears are, where I impose boundaries upon myself. The real challenge is to not get caught within the web of if onlys. To be able to see the patterns, the intricacies, the fine details, without tangling oneself up in the almost invisible net of wishful thinking. The if onlys serve a brief and enlightening purpose, but they are not meant to last beyond the darkest nights. They should sparkle and fade in the dawn of realisation.

There are many things I could have done in my life, with my life. I could have made better choices, I could have learned from my first mistakes instead of repeating them. I could have stuck it out and completed my degree – maybe I should have, but I didn’t. I could have stood up sooner to the bullies in my life, but I didn’t. Every could have has a reason and a choice behind it. At that point, for whatever reason, I chose not to. I could have, but I didn’t.

ForgiveThe should haves are a different matter. They are externally imposed could haves. They come with a sense of obligation or duty, a sense of moral superiority. A perfect 20/20 hindsight vision. I should have done this, but I didn’t. Should haves come with more guilt, an emotion that grows like cancer, multiplying and consuming your mind with shoulds. It comes from the invisible and ever present ‘Them’. They say this, they say that. Why don’t you know these things? They say so, everyone knows you should have done differently. Should haves do not just imply that we could have chosen a different path, they pass judgement upon us for our choices – branding us as failures, as foolish, as naïve. The biggest should have – you should have known better.

No ifs and no buts. That phrase in our house meant ‘no excuses’. It did not matter whether your if was a valid reason to you, it was considered an excuse, a way of trying to get out of doing something, a way of avoiding, of refusing, of not facing the important things. The problem with this interpretation is that I learned even valid concerns come loaded with guilt. Even when I genuinely feel that I cannot achieve something, a small part of me hears that phrase – No ifs. No buts. I would do this if I had the time, the money, the strength, the ability. All excuses. Find a way to make it work. I would do this but I am scared, I am not capable. I would, but I can’t. Excuses, not reasons. Face your fears and do it anyway. No ifs. No buts.

The coulds, the shoulds, the ifs, the buts, the if onlys. They all serve a purpose when we listen to the underlying energy. They can all teach us something about ourselves, about our desires, our denials, our fears, our fantasies. They can highlight our blockages, the self-imposed and externally imposed boundaries, the points where we stand at the edge of our comfort zone. They hold a power for understanding, for transformation. However, the power they wield is often destructive. Like any tool of transformation, like any weapon of power, it is up to each of us to harm or heal.

The coulds, the shoulds, the ifs, the buts, the if onlys.

We can let them consume us, or we can consume them as food for thought, and fuel for growth.

Listen, learn, and let go.

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