The Guilt Spiral. You’ve Been There, But You Don’t Have to Stay There.

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Buddhism is about seeing our value on the deepest level. But with the messiness of life, our value can be hard to remember. So, here are some tips from us.

Ever felt like you wanted to support your friend but the gap between what you could do and their reality was too overwhelming? Or that society is facing so many challenges but you’re just one person so what can you really do?

Guilt often comes from being fixated on some past event. We think our actions or inaction negatively affected ourselves or others. The list of things to feel guilty about can go on forever. So, let’s get into how, even if we do feel guilt, we don’t have to be controlled by it.

There’s nothing extra that needs to be added, you’re amazing just as you are.

Buddhism exists so we can recognize each day that our lives have incredible value.

Buddhism teaches that we already have limitless resources of inner hope, courage, wisdom, and it’s just about choosing to believe in it. There isn’t something wrong with us, and we don’t need to fix ourselves, rather by remembering that we possess Buddhability just as we are, we never have to live a guilt-ridden life.

Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda explains that by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the name of our Buddhahood, we can experience our limitless potential:

Buddhahood is an inexhaustible wellspring of infinite potential. You can draw from it and draw from it, and it will never run dry.

Discussions on Youth, p. 441

This means we can change anything, regardless of what happened in the past. Instead of focusing on yesterday, we focus on today and how our actions now can create a bright future.

Ikeda continued on, “If you pray, ‘This is how I want to be,’ and continue to work toward your dream, you will gradually realize the future you have envisaged (Discussions on Youth, p. 441). You can chant specifically about whatever guilt you may be feeling and continue becoming the person you’ve always wanted to be.

How to break through the “guilt spiral.”

Guilt can also be tied to a specific event or thinking that we didn’t live up to our standards. If we’ve messed up, it’s important to recognize that and determine not repeat it. But this doesn’t mean we need to stay in that space and use guilt to beat ourselves up. Buddhism transforms guilt at the heart by explaining that mistakes are the necessary fuel to grow and develop, but we should keep our eyes focused on the future.

You can chant specifically about whatever guilt you may be feeling and continue becoming the person you’ve always wanted to be.

In the process, we build an inner strength that can remain undefeated by life’s constant ups and downs. Sherry Cormier, a psychologist and bereavement trauma specialist, explained that it’s important to take concrete action to break through the “guilt spiral.”

Consider these concrete actions to break through the “guilt spiral”:

1. When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo each day, we are facing and transforming the voice in our heads that says we’re not good enough or should just give up. Chanting is a direct action toward remembering just how precious our lives are.

2. Give hope to someone around you. If you feel guilty because you see people around you struggling and don’t know what to do, take a moment today to reach out. These suggested texts might help if you need some inspiration.

3. Also, if you did something you regret, it’s not all bad news. Take this advice from Ikeda on how setbacks are an important part of life, especially when young:

The failures you experience at times in your youth can be incredibly valuable in building the foundation for your future. Young people should be aware of the fact that they are not perfect and should try to live each day with courage, true to themselves. … Allowing one or two setbacks to discourage us is foolish. Life is a long, long journey. … Please advance courageously with the conviction that the more mistakes you make in your youth, the more you can build the foundation for a new chapter in your life and for your lifelong happiness.

The Wisdom for Creating and Happiness and Peace, part 2, p. 274

There is no guilt in Buddhism. Thinking that our lives are defined by an event in our past is tragic. Instead, we can decide that what we do today will create the future we want.

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