One particular difficulty, which is one of the most effective catalysts to awakening the heart, is experiencing the pain of remorse. Sometimes we get a glimpse of the fact that we’re living from vanity or unkindness or pettiness, and we feel a cringe of conscience. This is the experience of remorse, which arises when we become acutely aware that we are going against our true nature—against the heart that seeks to awaken. We can feel the pain we cause others, as well as ourselves; and this experience is almost always sobering. In fact, perhaps as much as anything, the pain of remorse can motivate a profound desire within us to live more awake and more genuinely. From the pain of deep humiliation—from seeing how we go against our true nature—real humility can
awaken. . . .
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An interesting and sometimes very fruitful exercise in consciously experiencing remorse is to imagine what might be written on your tombstone. Just like the wake-up that Alfred Nobel experienced when he realized he might be remembered as the inventor of dynamite, we can be equally sobered when we see what we might be remembered for. Would we want our tombstone to say, “He was angry and he died.” Or, “She held on to her resentments until her dying day.” Or, “He died never having given back.” These may be exaggerations, but we all have big lapses in which we forget what is most important. The point is that we don’t have to wait until our death to remember. We can use our “little deaths”—those moments when we see that we’re being petty, unkind, or unforgiving—to remind us that the most important thing is to live from the gratitude and kindness of the awakening heart. For example, if we’re caught in holding on to resentment, we can bring to mind Black Elk’s words: “It is in the darkness in our own eyes that men lose their way.” With the pain of remorse, this realization can help us to move out of our self-centeredness and into a more open and genuine way of living.
From The Authentic Life: Zen Wisdom for Living Free from Complacency and Fear, by Ezra Bayda © 2014 Shambhala Publications. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. www.shambhala.com.