Kathryn Schultz gave a TED talk recently called “Don’t regret regret” (embedded here). She discusses the characteristics of regret, and how regret leads to growth, set against a culture that encourages us to avoid regret and to live without regrets.
When I think about regret, I think about a Zen koan that Wikpedia calls the “Wild fox koan.” Briefly, my limited understanding of this koan is that the head of a monastery answered a student’s question in such a way that he was reborn as a wild fox for 500 lifetimes. (Presumably, the answer he gave was not sufficient.) After the 500 lifetimes he asked the current head of the monastery the question he’d been stumped on, and presumably receives a sufficient answer because he is done being reincarnated.
After the koan, there is a commentary on the koan that says the former head of the monastery enjoyed 500 happy blessed lives as a fox. The commentary is followed by a poem:
Not falling, not ignoring:
Odd and even are on one die.
Not ignoring, not falling:
Hundreds and thousands of regrets!
The “hundreds and thousands of regrets!” line has been jarring to me, because everything up until that point seems like it’s worked out for the best. But, listening to Kathryn Schultz, I think that may be part of the point of the koan: everything did work out for the best.
Update 12/12/11: restructured post, added a little context to the koan.