I think there are two principles that govern the course of our lives.
The first principle, and for most of us the default one, is one where we continuously recreate our past. We recreate the past in the present by recalling it.... and the consequence of this is that our future becomes a reflection of our past. When we harbour regrets we are simply reinforcing those aspects of our lives that we don't like.
Everything that gets created gets created in the present moment.... the past and the future are just mental constructs - our memory and our imagination. But when we allow our present to be clouded by past memories this is the juice that is fueling our life. When we allow ourselves to become hostage to our past thought patterns we might think we are OK and having fun, but we are about as free as lab. rats spinning in their wheels.
The second principle is transcendence – we can transcend the consequences we have put into motion. Cause and effect are suspended. Past actions do not become manifested in future outcomes. The past, no matter what it has been, is no longer a dynamic that must play itself out. Not only do we recognize the past is over, it is no longer at issue. We are able to re-create our lives anew.
In spiritual traditions these two principles are often called "Karma" and "Grace." Karma, a Sanskrit word that translates to action, is the notion that until the past is complete, resolved, made right, we will repeat past patterns. Karma is something we must "work out." We are burdened by our faulty past actions and cannot move ahead unless we resolve the past. Creating "good karma" is like putting something in the karmic bank that might be redeemable in the future. Psychotherapists and self-help gurus have a field day with this one - there's always rich pickings for ego archaeologists in revisiting the scenes of past crimes.
Transcendence is something entirely different. Transcendence (Grace) supersedes the past. Past actions no longer need to be accounted for. We are freed from the influence of the past. It's not as if the past never happened; we simply do not need to do anything about it. The dynamic that compels us to want to resolve open issues, unsettled experiences, unanswered questions, is gone. The train has switched to another track. The future is no longer connected to the past.
Dickens' A Christmas Carol and the biblical story of The Prodigal Son are two stories that illustrate the difference between these two principles of 'recreating the past' and transcendence.
In 'A Christmas Carol', Scrooge sees his past, his current life, and his probable future, and yet he is given a second chance. His past actions were leading unavoidably to negative consequences. When he awakes on Christmas morning the past is no longer in play. He was given the chance to turnover a new leaf. He could start afresh. This is one of the most profound experiences a person can have, that of being given a second chance.
The 'Prodigal Son' story involves three main characters: the prodigal or wayward son; the 'good' son; and the father. Each character represents an aspect of the human mind. The father can be understood to represent the source of our life. The prodigal son is that part of ourselves that has not been true to our source. The good son represents the times we have been true to source, our authentic Self.
Since the prodigal has made mistakes, gotten into trouble, has failed to live up to his promise, the logical consequences of his past actions would be to suffer the consequences he had set in motion. Yet he remembers he has a home, and he sets out to return to it. He does so without expectation and with true humility. He seeks nothing by his return. To gain insight into the principle of transcendence we need to understand this motivation. He is not attempting to resolve the past. He isn't trying to make it right or "work it out." He simply wants to return home.
When the father hears of the prodigal's return, he is overjoyed. You can see the great longing of the father to reunite with the prodigal. There is something in us that wants to reunite with what is deepest in us, the source of our life, so to speak. For some this is God or our true Self, for others it is a personal drive to create, for others, it is the recognition and merging with universe consciousness, etc., etc. We do not need to have a common understanding of what "the source" is to understand the deeper principles in this story. However, we do need to understand that the father's motivation is a longing to reconnect, overwhelming love, and total acceptance. The father decides to hold a feast for the prodigal's return.
The "good" son is angry when he hears of this celebration. After all, he has worked the fields, done his father's bidding, and lived a life above reproach. This is an interesting reversal in the story. Can we imagine what it was like for the father to learn of the prodigal's return? If we truly cared about the father, we wouldn't complain that we weren't getting our due. Instead, we would feel joy about the father's joy. But the "good" son isn't thinking about others. His orientation is of payback. The good deeds he has accomplished suddenly seem as if he had mixed motives. They were not done for their own sake or for the sake of the father, but for some type of return on investment. He would deny the prodigal's return to the father. It's not too difficult to see this motivation at play in many of our religions today.
The longing of the source and the desire of the prodigal to reunite is a very powerful force in play. Yet, ironically, the "good" son/daughter parts of ourselves reject the reunion. The transcendent principle in this story is this: We want to come home to ourselves, the deepest aspects of ourselves wants this too, and yet there is a part of us. the "good" son/daughter part, that seeks "to remain in the principle of Karma," to resolve the past. With transcendence, the past no longer needs resolution, even while it remains unresolved.
One cannot "earn" transcendence. Robert Frost called it "Something you somehow haven't to deserve." No matter what the past has been, no matter what consequences we have set in motion, we can start again, as if life is saying to us, "Okay, take two. Let's try that again." This is a hard notion to groc, in a similar way it is hard for some people to easily accept a gift they feel they don't deserve. So, the irony is that, while there is nothing we can do to evoke transcendence, we do have to learn how to accept it as a gift.
Neither Scrooge nor the Prodigal Son needed to resolve their past, and had they tried to do so, they wouldn't have succeeded. Both were given a new chance in which the consequences they had set in motion in the past no longer needed to be played out.
We learn in A Christmas Carol that "Scrooge was as good as his words." Transcendence led to a new chain of cause and effect. After transcendence, we enter into a new state of consequences. In other words, the cause has changed, and of course, the effects - the life we create and our future, reflect this. What we create is no longer based on past thoughts but on Presence ... our source and connection to all of life.
Follow up post: No Regrets - Part 2
 In the second part of this post (No Regrets - Part 2) I'll look at what we can do to help ourselves accept the gift of transcendence.
 This inspiration for this post came from reading a very candid expose of Dave Pollard's own regrets in a post entitled What I regret most. There was not enough room in his comments section to say what I wanted to say, hense this and the follow up post.
 The picture is of a painting called 'Regret' by Aaron Smith (aaronsmithart.com).