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We don’t know what we don’t know.
We only have the awareness that we have at this moment.
We can’t force ourselves to know what we don’t know or see what we can’t see or understand what we don’t understand.
This is something that needs to sink into us, that we need to understand deeply—because it can be way too easy for us to think we “should have known” something or that we “should have” done something differently in the past.
If we could have, we would have.
At least, this is what I’ve realized about myself.
If I look back at who I was many years ago, before finding mindfulness and other practices that increased my self-awareness, I was mostly a ball of reactiveness—suppressing emotions and reacting in knee-jerk ways. I didn’t really know why I was doing what I was doing, and I didn’t know that I could choose differently.
It’s actually why I was so drawn to mindfulness.
I remember reading The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and realizing for the first time that I could control how I reacted! I didn’t have to keep snapping at loved ones or doing other things that just left me feeling bad or guilty afterward.
Awareness and understanding can shift everything—including how we feel about the past.
Many of us hold onto guilt and regret about things.
I’ve done this with quite a few things in life.
Honestly, I held onto something for over a decade—until one day, a broader understanding filled me. I traced back to that time and could simply see it differently. I could understand who I was and why I behaved how I behaved. And honestly, it wasn’t that bad! The energy of self-punishment or self-judgment softened as that understanding and awareness filled me.
Once I understood myself—why I had acted how I had—I couldn’t cling to such harsh feelings or judgments anymore. I simply understood.
Bringing in awareness and self-understanding can soften the pain of guilt and regret.
I think this is a key to releasing self-judgment or feelings of guilt or regret: to bring in understanding.
We can lessen these feelings through understanding ourselves—through understanding who we were, what we were going through, what our feelings and thought processes were. Through understanding our age or life situations, our fears or insecurities or struggles.
I can look to certain things in the past and see how things would be so different now if I was in the same situations today—because I can see how my behavior was ruled by insecurities or fears or other things along those lines. I just didn’t fully understand it at the time.
I didn’t have the awareness that I have now. I didn’t have the understanding that I have now. I didn’t know what I know now.
I am different now.
And so I know that things would be different now, too.
How can we hold onto guilt or regret when we didn’t know what we know now? When we weren’t who we are now? When we didn’t have the awareness or self-understanding that we have now?
Once we can understand why we were how we were, why we behaved how we behaved, the inner harshness can soften. We may still wish things would’ve gone differently, but we can also make peace with what happened.
The truth is that we can only ever do our best. I genuinely believe this. In every moment, we can only do our best.
And I know that throughout all of my life, I was doing my best—even if my best wasn’t as “good” in the past as it is now.
This is one reason why I love this Maya Angelou quote so much:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
We can only ever do our best.
We can only operate from the levels of awareness and understanding that we have in the moment.
This is something we need to understand.
We can only ever do our best.
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