Wow, this is an incredible write-up, @agmoore. I'm so glad it was inspired by The Ink Well prompt. As one of your co-admins, I know how these ideas sometimes churn us up or get us thinking. They can brew in our minds. I sometimes think of four or five different approaches to any given prompt, and sometimes weeks after we publish it. The mind is a funny thing.
As for guilt, I also grew up Catholic. I won't blame Catholicism 100% for my feelings of guilt. I simply have a very strong sense of commitment to others. And I've felt a lifelong deficit in myself in that regard — as in, feeling that no matter what I do I am bound to cause harm. And have, in fact, done so. It is without intent but not without remorse.
I like the Tony Robbins suggestions for ridding ourselves of guilt. It's not a very useful emotion. I liked your weight analogies. Guilt is an emotional burden. The weight of guilt sits on our proverbial shoulders. Like Atlas, we soldier on beneath it.
One thing I sort of thought you alluded to in this article was the notion that guilt makes us human. It shows that we have heart and soul. I believe that. If you read my letters article, you'll meet Bill, a social predator and sociopath who would steal people's time. He would pull them into his weird conversational trap — attempt to assimilate their manners in some demented effort to relate to them, and not let them go, regardless of how much they tried to peel away. And he had no sense of the torment he caused them, and no guilt.
Shame is an even more useless than guilt, and is downright unhealthy. But one can almost see the utility of guilt in a world where we absolutely need to have compassion for one another and be able to walk in one another's shoes. The trick is to find a balance, I think, where guilt triggers actions — to make amends, to forgive and love ourselves, and to be more kind and thoughtful going forward.