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bag0305I read of a New Jersey artist who capitalized on people's need to let go of the past by selling them "guilt kits." Each kit contained ten disposable brown paper bags and a set of instructions which said, "Place bag securely over your mouth, take a deep breath and blow the guilt out. Dispose of bag immediately." Amazingly, about 2,500 kits sold at $2.50 each. But perhaps not so amazing when you think of the guilt many of us carry around.

Of course, guilt serves its purpose. More than once I made a better decision so that I could look myself in the mirror without blushing. And the kits probably also serve a purpose - if nothing else, to remind us to get rid of those unnecessary and destructive feelings we seem to have so much trouble shaking.

But if blowing in a bag doesn't do it for you, then you might try another man's method. He hired a friend to go into therapy for him. He says he always hires other people to carry his baggage.

And if that doesn't work, here are a few simple steps that that should get at the problem:

First, if you make a mistake, resolve to try never to repeat it. The whole function of guilt is to change behavior.

We underrate our mistakes as effective learning devises. When possible, welcome your mistake, learn from it and decide to do things differently next time.

Second, seek forgiveness from any others who were affected. If possible, make amends.

In Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Capitol of the World," a Spanish father decides to reconcile with his son who has run away. Now remorseful, the father takes out a newspaper ad in El Liberal: "Paco, meet me at Hotel Montana noon Tuesday. All is forgiven." When the father goes to the square he is surprised to find eight hundred young men named Paco waiting for their fathers. We can't underestimate the need for reconciliation and wholeness.

Finally, forgive yourself. No purpose is served in continuing to whip yourself over past events you can do nothing about. And how will you truly learn to love when there is one person in your life you refuse to completely forgive?

If you follow these steps, you can rid yourself of unnecessary guilt. You will find that you are happier and healthier - and you can save all those brown paper bags for lunch.

Steve Goodier