When we allow ourselves to lift guilt from the deep inner place where it seems to prefer to dwell, we can experience a hint of the relief that allowing ourselves a fresh relationship with its darkness may permit. We may also sense the stagnation that it seems to enforce.
Mostly we do not wish to admit guilt’s presence. We wish to release ourselves from its heavy bondage, not by letting ourselves be present to it, but instead by pretending it’s not really there (although of course, I speak for myself here). Letting it lurk in the darkness by refusing to acknowledge its presence will not, however, serve us.
Guilt will linger and from its hiding place, exert its negative effects on our behaviour. We are unable to move beyond it and keep getting pulled back by its long threads which only stretch so far and will not allow us to extend beyond a certain perimeter. We are therefore trapped within a smaller circumference of our selves, unable to truly release ourselves from guilt’s shadow into the light we know is also present.
Yet if we turn and look guilt as it were, in its eye, then we must admit something. We must admit that we have made mistakes, wronged ourselves and others, behaved in ways that did not serve our growth or the growth of those around us.
Guilt actually does not require external absolution. We don’t necessarily need to hunt down all those against whom we have transgressed but we can offer them an apology through our willingness to allow guilt to be present to us rather than obscured. We can own guilt, not as a heavy brother to his sister, shame, but allow them to be signals, signs of paths mis-taken, of a goal as yet unreached but visible, of relationships with our selves and with fellow human beings against whom in some misguided faith to a pattern or habit or unconsciousness that is past its use-by date or constrained by a fear we felt we could not face, we have wounded or hurt or failed to help.
Guilt will signal us to observe these mis-takes and await some new behaviour, to find some unfamiliar way of being and try it out.
We probably won’t get it ‘right’ the first time, we may still be constrained by old patterns, but our courageous preparedness to explore something different, to risk a new habit in which we are not yet at home moves us beyond the circumference of guilt and into the realm of light in which we long to feel ourselves at home.
This is an example of my ponderings of inner states inspired by David Whyte’s work ‘Consolations’.