One of the hard parts of psychotherapy - and the unavoidable realities - is remorse. Inevitably, once you become more aware of who you are, and how you’re living your life…you wish you’d done so sooner.
Patients are always telling me they’re kicking themselves for not getting to my office (or at least someone’s office) years before.
One patient this week wept as he reviewed all the relationships he’d wrecked over the years by behaving exactly like his father, suspicious and controlling, exhausting the women he dated until they finally left in frustration.
“All those wasted years,” he sighed. ”All those wasted opportunities for happiness.”
There isn’t much I can say to that, except that’s how awareness works – when it arrives, you always wish it made the trip a little quicker.
Then I remember what Gerald Lucas, a psychotherapist and institute director, used to say at times like that:
“What a fool I was at 80, said the 90 year old man.”
There’s no such thing as perfect wisdom. Lena Fugeri, another psychotherapist I used to work with, used to say you never finish with psychotherapy because as soon as awareness arrives, life throws you new challenges.
Lena was right. My patients in their teens are struggling with their first relationships and finding meaningful careers. My patients in their 40′s and 50′s might be dealing with raising children, navigating a marriage with a partner, learning to manage others on the job, or the death of their parents. And my patients in their 60′s and 70′s and 80′s and 90′s are handling growing older and the entirely new set of issues triggered by that process.
You are like a lotus flower – the more you peel the petals away, the more petals you find within. There is no center – only more layers to peel away, new hidden wonders.
Instead of beating yourself up for not achieving awareness sooner, it makes sense to emulate one of my favorite figures from Buddhism – the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
The Bodhisattvas, in Buddhism, are followers of the Buddha who achieve sufficient wisdom to attain enlightenment, the state of nirvana.
The Bodhisattva of Compassion, alone, chooses to remain behind in the world, to assist mankind on its journey to awareness.
In one famous story, three monks wander the parched desert until they reach a walled garden. They hear the tantalizing splash of water within.
The first monk climbs on the shoulders of the others, and leaps into the garden, disappearing.
The second monk laboriously scales the wall and is also soon hidden amid the plants and trees.
The third monk clambers up all alone and perches himself atop the wall, studying the lush garden and cool, clear spring.
Then he slides back down, and returns to wander the arid waste.
This monk’s job is to search for other lost souls. He shows them how to locate the garden.
This is the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
You might be wiser now than you used to be. I hope psychotherapy helped you acquire some of that insight.
But please don’t forget – part of wisdom is passing on what you’ve learned to others.
Don’t sit in a walled garden, thinking you’ve got it all figured out. You don’t.
Share what you’ve learned.
You’ll acquire more wisdom showing others the path to enlightenment than sitting in a garden surrounded by walls.