I have read that there comes a stage in one's practice of the Path where this happens. You are not alone in having these feelings of remorse for previous wrongdoings (of course I don't know the particulars (nor do I need to) of what you did, but I mean the feelings
of guilt / pain are similar in any case). I too am at that stage. I've been told that it is actually a sign of progress. It is the aching recognition (for me) of my previous heedlessness.
I look back and see all kinds of either mean or just plain stupid actions that I would NEVER act out today. And while it is easy to forgive myself and move on from foolish and unskilful acts I did to myself
(eg intoxication), it is much harder when the unskilful action involved harming or hurting another living being.
The argument goes in my mind that 'it's not for me to forgive myself, it's for them
to forgive me
', and there is the wish to apologize to all of those beings (some of whom are now dead!). So I really understand what you are going through. I have had some crying / sobbing spells that rival those I had while grieving the loss of my dear father, crying about what I have said or done to other beings in the past. It hurts, and I'm not going to pretend it doesn't!
I see it as a stage. We need to actually feel
this so that it sinks in. We don't want the arising of 'moral shame' and 'fear of the ill-consequences of wrongdoing' to be just a head-trip. No, I have allowed the tears to fall, allowed my heart to ache, and felt the pain of those other beings with sorrow, and I have virtually sworn that I am never going to do any of those things again!
Certainly not in this lifetime!
And now, I wish to warn you of a danger - the danger of too much lamentation.
You will need to know for yourself when you reach a stage where you have made the recognition, felt the sorrow fully, but are now (this will sound strange) actually attaching
to the pain! Attaching
to the guilt, to the remorse! That is the time when you need to have some words with yourself, in my opinion. "Enough of this now...it is time to let go, and move on".
How to do this? I have been contemplating the following:
1. We beings have all wandered through Samsara for countless aeons, in countless lives, and, since eternity is a very long time, have probably done pretty much everything there is to do, whether skilful or unskilful. We've rejoiced in heavens, howled in hells, (and thus performed the actions that lead there
) and lived various lives as a human. So anything you feel bad about right now would pale
in comparison to things you probably did in previous births. But then again, that's everyone!
What are we going to do? If we lamented every little harmful thing we had ever done, we would have to keep lamenting virtually forever, and then we would not have any time or evergy left for the process of awakening
2. It is, ultimately, all Kamma working itself out. Take a wider view, and see how while in a heedless state of mind, you were the 'delivery agent' for the kamma-fruitions due to those other beings, just as when things have happened to you, it has been your own previous kamma ripening also. You are now gradually extricating yourself from that whole process, by walking the Path towards greater wholesomeness, towards freedom. You are moving in the right direction.
3. Cultivate unconditional loving-kindness. (This is a long-term project for me). Starting, of course, with yourself. There are heaps of instructions available online, find what works for you. What better apology can we send to all those beings is there, than to radiate unconditional love to them all?
I hope something here was of assistance. I don't pretend to have all the answers, and since I am also going through a guilt / remorse stage (it's fading now, but only with conscious letting go) I look forward to getting some more tips from others also.
Metta, from m.