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The Sensation of Guilt

My teeth clench. My muscles grow rigid. I brace myself as if for an oncoming attack.

I have come to associate these sensations with guilt, perhaps because guilt has become so familiar. I usually associate it with the personal “drunkalogue” that led me into recovery, after taking its damned time in perforating my defenses and habits.

I have spent a lot of time developing this tale, like a regret-laden JRR Tolkein constructing a sad, stumblebum Middle Earth down to the last slurred and irrelevant detail. All the foul twists of this story could be 100% accurate, for all I remember. (If they are, I might consider donating some cash to the University of Georgia's school of journalism.) Much of the story could be wrong.

The feeling is quite real. I could latch onto any number of stories in an attempt to explain it. Most of us are quite adept at this sort of thing. I could be tense about money. I could be panicking about a writing assignment I'm afraid won't be a masterpiece. I could simply be suffering through another brutal winter, flexing my muscles to keep warm. The feeling doesn't care. The feeling simply wants to be free of the story long enough to work itself out.

That's what the practice is for. The practice is not complicated. My mind has become complicated.

The guilt wants to serve a noble purpose. It is a symptom of basic sanity, a reminder to improve myself. It has a tendency to overdo it. In silent rumination, it grows absurd and exaggerated, like the paradoxical neurosis of a person doubled over in fear that she might, in fact, be a sociopath.

I can't expect myself to permanently drop a story in which I've invested so much effort. So I drop it for ten minutes. I focus on my breath and the seemingly complicated sensations of guilt start to seem more simple. I greet my body with warm curiosity and realize that it craves momentary release. So I take a deep breath out.

In this moment, I loosen up and get a sense of the space around my situation. This space is the realm of humor. It provides room to giggle at the situation in all its myriad Rashomon readings. In a moment of calm, begin to notice everything else that's going on.

Then I stand up and get a warm beverage. It is quite cold today.

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