One of the best known of all philosophical disciplines is the Pythagorean exercise of retrospection. It is recorded that the members of the famous school of Crotona practiced a daily retrospection according to a formula laid down by the great master
Retrospection is the mental process of relieving in reverse order the incidents of the day. The purpose of retrospection is to discover the moral weight of action.
The average person passing through the experiences of daily living is only partly aware of the significance of passing events. Some of the most valuable lessons go unnoticed. Failure to heed and observe, failure to discriminate and place right emphasis, and most of all, failure to be thoughtful all these shortcomings deprive the consciousness of the experience of action. The result is that much valuable time is wasted.
By means of retrospection we may live again the incidents which have occurred; we may view them impartially; we may read our own actions as from a book. It is possible to see in greater perspective the intimate relationship between cause and effect. Theoretically, at least, retrospection enriches life, resulting in a greater thoroughness in thinking and feeling.
More recently the discipline of retrospection has been interpreted as a form of vicarious atonement. The person performing the retrospection sets himself up as a sort of judge and jury over his own actions. Reviewing the incidents of the day, he attempts to rationalize each of them. Subjecting his thoughts and emotions to a series of mental rewards and punishments, he sincerely regrets the mistakes he has made, and with equal sincerity acknowledges and applauds his more commendable accomplishments. This technique is regarded as highly beneficial in neutralizing karma. Unfortunately, it does not appear that this form of retrospection was practiced by the Pythagoreans. So we have no rule of conduct laid down by the
master in this particular.
The practice of retrospection offers certain advantages if properly understood. But like most esoteric exercises it has been gravely misunderstood by most of those who have attempted to use it.
It is the natural purpose of the universe to keep the attention of man focused directly upon the hypothetical division of time which we call now. It is written in the Scriptures, "Now is the accepted time." Present action is the focussing of all the accomplishments and propensities of consciousness upon the problem of the moment. The now eternally is drawing out of man his resourcefulness, his courage, his integrity, and his understanding.
What we call time is so illusional that many philosophers have come to the conclusion that all the dimensions of time, only the now is real. Any exercises which lure the point of consciousness away from the now are dangerous to those who are not well-grounded in the disciplines of realization. He who lives in the future abides in a
vagary of hope. He who lives in the past lives in the vagary of regret. Both hope and regret are inferior attitudes as compared to the active certainties of the now. A man working with a present problem is gaining much more of soul growth than can be achieved by dreaming of unborn tomorrows, or moping over dead yesterdays. When we
become very wise so that we are untroubled by memories and are unmoved by repining, we then may find profit in the contemplation of our own misdeeds. Until such time as we have gained this philosophical equilibrium, too much retrospection is likely to prove harmful.
There is a certain fatalism about the past, and so little can be done to unmake or remake that which already has occurred. As we have done, we have done. We may desire heartily and sincerely to take back the hasty words we have spoken, but we have spoken them to the air and the winds have carried them far beyond our reach. We never can bring them back. The kindly deed we might have performed is useless now. The occasion came and went. Performed tomorrow, it will be useless. The opportunity for experience which has offered and which we overlooked has passed on to others. We cannot lure it back. All we can do is settle back in the midst of our realization of failure and disappointment, discouraged by the helplessness and hopelessness of our miserable state. This negative attitude robs us in a very subtle
way of a certain vitality.
Realization is not a discipline of repentance. It is a positive statement of conviction. It flows along the impulse to do and to be, and it has little in common with vain regret. It is better for man to search for Truth than it is for him to wrestle with his errors.
Retrospection arises in all instances where the element of forgiveness of sin is present in a religious system; where there is some compromise of basic integrity. If the human being believes that there is any escape from the consequence of action, the standard of living will be compromised. Thoughtfulness must come first, not afterwards. A little wisdom is more precious than an ocean of repentance. To do what is right first, is to be wise. And so it is the first duty of the Truth seeker to search for the right. Having performed an action according to the noblest standard of consciousness, there is no cause for regret. It a mistake has been made, universal law will reveal it through karma. There should be thoughtfulness but not over-emphasis upon the daily process of living.
Often there is conflict between the larger vision and the smaller vision. I know individuals who have been possessed by regret and remorse for the greater part of a lifetime. Such persons sing their vices, but never have found their virtues. All too often their self-condemnation is based upon hopelessly inadequate standards of integrity; they are blaming themselves for faults which either do not exist or which have been highly magnified by popular ignorance.
Disciplines of Realization
By Manly Palmer Hall,The Philosophical Research Society
(p116-P119) & (p120)