The idea for this post came from a reader who shared her story of healing from trauma. She made me realize that something was missing from our discussion on practicing non attachment to our wounds in our chat Living Beyond Limits Forgiveness first to ourselves and then towards those who have harmed us is crucial in the process of detaching from identifying with that which has hurt us. It also is the piece of the puzzle that is missing when we find ourselves constantly in the same place over and over. When can carry our wounds as a part of our identity we often act from a wounded place inviting more damage in. This often occurs because we haven’t been able to fully forgive those that have done us harm. Our eyes go where our car goes. When we identify ourselves as being in pain, we project pain outward. In sitting with this topic for several days I have come across podcasts, articles and meditations on the subject. Yesterday I was given the opportunity to take my research into a once in a lifetime realm during a sitting meditation given by Thich Nhat Han in Boston. During the hour he spent with hundreds of people in the center of our busy city, he invited us to connect with our own “Buddha nature.” We were lead in meditation to invite in compassion for all beings including our mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and to see the connection between them, us, and the energy of the Buddha. In essence Buddha nature is about seeing the essence of love in every being. It was incredibly moving for me on many levels. When we apply this message of loving kindness to forgiveness it would suggest that there is no difference between us and the people who have harmed us. This would mean that it is possible that we are the person who has harmed as well as the person who has been harmed The harm you have inflicted may have been towards yourself or it may have been towards others. Most likely it has been both; at least that is what I realized.. Our ego often tells us that somehow we are different than those who have done us wrong. But when we sit with our pain openly and honestly it typically will tell a different story.
One of the meditation teachers that I have been influenced by is Noah Levine. He is in recovery from addiction and trauma and teaches the dharma in a refreshingly open and honest way. In this podcast he speaks about forgiveness http://media30.podbean.com/pb/6ade4c8381d39dd06e335511077c1220/52371acc/blogs30/155701/uploads/ForgivenesswithNoah061510.mp3. He shares that our refusal to forgive someone until they do something to be forgiven is making your happiness contingent upon their actions. See forgiveness is actually a huge piece of the happiness puzzle we have been discussing lately. If you choose to carry around resentments towards others you are also choosing to not be free and ultimately happy. The program of AA often talks about resentments as being the poison you drink expecting that someone else will die from. People who carry around a connection to being victimized whether by someone or something are often carrying around a great deal of pain and suffering. What they often do not realize is that this is of their choosing. Forgiveness is not something you do to let people off the hook. Those that have harmed you will still need to deal with their own suffering and negative karma that has been created by the event. There are consequences to our actions; both positive and negative. You will often never know how those that have harmed you are suffering in their own jail cell. Forgiveness is about seeing the difference between the person and the action. We are ALL a mixed bag. There is no one that goes through this lifetime never creating any harm. When we choose forgiveness it is a gift we give ourselves. It is a gift of humility. As I see the pain in me, I see the pain in you. It’s the old saying “it takes two to tango.” The harm that was done to you when you were young was not of your choosing but what you have done to yourself because of that harm is your responsibility. We are the ones who are choosing to carry the baggage of resentments. If you believe in karma and past lives you believe that we came into this incarnation to work through what was left over from the previous lifetime. Even if this is not an understanding that you adopt, we all can probably appreciate that when we take personal responsibility for our part it gives us an opportunity to change. This will then shift the possibility that this will occur in the future. We can’t change people or circumstances but we can change ourselves and the way we perceive these people or circumstances in life. And believe me, this change in perception makes all the difference between being in pain and liberation from pain.
My process of forgiveness has been a long and winding road. It is interesting that this topic was brought to my attention now as I feel like I am being shown a new level of freedom in this area. Healing is a process that doesn’t come without it’s own bumps and bruises. It was the teachings of metta that actually began to shift things for me. Loving kindness meditation has allowed me to see that forgiveness has to begin with me first. We can not forgive anyone else until we forgive ourselves. The simple statements and intentions of metta meditation allowed the process of forgiveness to begin to open like a rose petal. Sitting in stillness offering up the kind words of the Buddha made me realize that if I were to heal certain relationships in my life, I would first need to heal the relationship I had with myself. The dharma teaches us that anger is an afflicted emotion. It has no positive use in our mind/body. I remember when I first heard this I was like “that is a load of BS” (gives you an idea of where I was at the time:) I now realize that this is true. All those years I held on to anger about this and that I was very unhappy; not just emotionally but physically. The acknowledging of my anger and willingness to release it was what made all the difference for me. Life is different now. Some would say it’s age that did the trick. It’s hard to not pay most of the homage to the practice. Instant gratifications are fun and fleeting. There is no gift that you give to yourself that will feel more significant than the gift of forgiveness. We are all doing the best we can with the skills we have in this moment. When bad things happen to good people it is hard to find our way to understanding why. I would offer up that we are all good people. While it is true that those that have harmed have been harmed, it is also true that we are choosing to continue this harm. We can choose differently We are all spiritual beings living a human life. We just get lost along our way at times and need to be redirected back to our hearts. Forgiveness is the path that will lead you back there.
Today what act of forgiveness can you do for yourself? I will leave you with the loving and kind words of metta….May we be safe, May we be happy, May we be healthy, May we live with ease.