I left work early on Monday because I was experiencing some physical pain. As I walked home I felt overcome with guilt, even though my pain was legitimate. I felt guilty because I’ve been putting myself above work recently, taking time off to deal with a pinched nerve or an illness or whatever, and I didn’t feel like I “should,” or that was the “right” way to do things.
Last week I wrote about taking care of the self, which I obviously believe in otherwise I wouldn’t have left work early, but the guilt, oh the guilt, that’s another story.
I have an ex-Catholic daddy and a Jewish momma so guilt is practically second nature to me. This is not to say every Jew or Catholic lays on the guilt but it certainly was the case in my household. (By the way, I’m not blaming my parents because everyone is the victim of a victim. It’s how they were raised and what they know and I don’t fault them in the least. But I can choose to not make guilt a part of my life.)
Guilt is a kind of coercion into certain behavior because if you feel bad you’ll act a certain way, the thinking goes. For instance, if I feel guilty about leaving work early, I won’t do it again. Except that’s not really true. I felt guilty but did it anyway, so in essence guilt is useless. Guilt only makes me feel bad.
Underpinning guilt I think are “shoulds” and “should nots.” As I walked home from work on Monday a litany of “shoulds” filled my head: “I should have stayed at work. I should have pushed through the pain. I shouldn’t have left. I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t take so much time off,” etc. I felt guilty because I wasn’t following my shoulds.
Louise Hay says in “You Can Heal Your Life:”
“I believe should is one of the most damaging words in our language. Every time we use should, we are, in effect, saying “wrong.” Either we are wrong or we were wrong or we are going to be wrong. I don’t think we need more wrongs in our life. We need to have more freedom of choice. I would like to take the word should and remove it from the vocabulary forever. I’d replace it with the word could. Could gives us choice, and we are never wrong.”
I quite agree. What I’m realizing is there are no “mistakes,” only choices. There is no right or wrong, there is no perfect, there is no one way to be. Only choice. Only possibility. In essence guilt gives me the opposite message. Guilt tells me there is a right way and a wrong way and if I choose wrong, look out because the world is going to end and no one will love me and I’ll die alone in a shack in the middle of the woods and God will hate me forever and ever.
I’ve felt guilty about many, many things, and as of yet the world hasn’t stopped spinning. I think it’s safe to say my acts of “wrongdoing” will not result in a catastrophic end to all humankind. So you know I don’t have to feel guilty anymore. In fact, I choose to not feel guilty anymore because instead I recognize my life is open and uninhibited. I recognize there are consequences for every action but fundamentally everything is a choice. Some choices I may like better than others but everything is a choice nonetheless. Thus “guilt” and “should” can vanish like vapor — I’d rather live in peace and harmony if you don’t mind.
I dream of a world where people recognize all the freedom to their lives. A world where people understand life is a series of choices and there are many ways of doing things and seeing things. A world where people give themselves a break and follow their intuition no matter what others say. A world where people take care of themselves and each other. A world where we live together in peace and harmony.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.