Guilt. It’s basically just something to occupy our time. There so we don’t get bored or have to look at things or do our homework. How much simpler to feel guilty over the things we are failing to do than to do them. But I have discovered an even better thing! Don’t do the thing and don’t feel guilty about it! You will find that the things that you do in place of the things you think you ought to do, or feel guilty about not doing, will be different. Different things. Different sorts of flavors of thoughts.
If you are like me, you are used to a constant, low-grade, arbitrary hum of guilt running on autopilot in the basement of your brain. Like a chest freezer full of food no one will ever want to eat. If you unplug said freezer and its hum is silenced, all the weird little animals who live in the walls of the house of your mind will come creeping out. There is stillness and quiet, so that butterfly thoughts don’t get blown out or overwhelmed. There’s more room for variety, because your default isn’t pulling everything so strongly into itself and making other thoughts guilt-colored. (Please, if it is your preference, replace every instance of the word “guilt” in this with “worry” or “anxiety” or “frothing scummy hatred.” I’ve never had a positive emotion long enough for it to become a default state, so I don’t know if your inner landscape gets sticky in the same way if you feel pleasant all the time. If you have had this happen, you should tell me about that, because I am curious.)
We get in thought habits, which are also feeling habits. Feelings can be harder to pinpoint than thoughts because there isn’t necessarily a verbal rope to climb down into the morass. For example, if you hear yourself think, “I’m right c**t, I am,” you might say, “Gosh! That wasn’t very nice, (insert name here). I wonder if perhaps I am stuck in a loop of profitless abusive thought? I shall ask a friend!” But if there are no words and you just feel like liquid shit stuffed into a skin bag with a name tag stapled to its leaky forehead that can be harder to be aware of and thus prevent. It’s like color. If everything is blue, nothing is blue. You can’t tell what your default state is because it’s default. This is where friends and relations come in handy, especially if they are the good bespoke kind, because they will yell at you and give you cake and make you feel bad for feeling bad about yourself, but in a good way. An eye-watery, stuffed-animal, listening-to-a-boys-choir kind of way. They will tell you, you are lovely and list your good qualities for you.
Once you are past the other-people-affirming-you part, you can gently investigate the ways in which you are not Jesus, the Buddha, or some other special, now deceased person. You don’t have to identify with it. That’s the guilt part and we’re still not doing that. Don’t identify with it, just admire it. I am terrible because I am lazy. I generally follow the laziness with guilt, but it corrupts the laziness and makes it not fun. Guilt clouds sensation. If you can really be there in your laziness, you need much less. It’s like a stronger strain of your preferred drug. Guilt is like water that dilutes the pleasant syrup of your foibles and stops you looking at them properly. I suppose the eventual goal is to be foible-less. Foible free. But in the meantime, guilt is not helping and it’s making things a lot more tiresome. Dispense with it. Right now, I feel guilty about using the word “c**t” earlier in this broadcast. But you see, feeling guilty has caused me to use the word again, possibly upsetting the people I think it might upset even more. You see how profitless and indeed self-defeating the whole business is.
Remove guilt and you will feel fear slither down the drain with it, like the clump of hair that goes out with the bathwater. And once fear and guilt have left a pleasant emptiness in the apartment of your soul, you will be able to tell what it is you really want to do.
Elizabeth Bushnell is a semi-itinerant musician and gadfly. She has one cat, who showed up at the door one day and started demanding bacon, one husband, ditto, and too many instruments. She makes dumplings when she’s sad. She’s not sad enough for how often she wants dumplings. Her blog is eatpienotwar.wordpress.com