In my previous post Lightening Your Load I wrote about the forgiving process. Forgiving is not easy, it takes a long time to let go. It is especially difficult to forgive those things we told ourselves we will never forgive. They have become deeply rooted in our hardened mistrust. We tell ourselves that we did not do anything wrong, so why should we forgive? I am suggesting that we can touch the heart of forgiveness by starting off with the small stuff. If we are able to feel the freedom that forgiving brings to ourselves, perhaps we might venture into looking at the bigger issues, the ones that cause us the most pain.
The more we push these more troublesome issues away, the more they follow us. It is the grudges that we resist letting go of, that binds us in their grip, in fear, grief, and trauma. We need to accept our resistance and to feel the pain that keeps our hearts closed, that holds us in fear of ever letting ourselves be hurt again. It is this ability to accept what is, that allows us to practice mindfulness, the first step to freedom from suffering. To acknowledge that it is just the way it is, and to wait until we feel ready to let go, has a natural healing quality to it, a softening, a reprieve.
It is the work we do in the forgiveness process, the giving time to contemplate our anger, distrust and hurt, that begins to slowly open the door. There will come a time when replaying the stories, the holding on to the losses, and the hurt feelings, will begin to feel tiresome. The heart will know when it is time to stop resisting, to lighten up the unkindness of the mind, and open up to let love in again. Although we may be opening our hearts to another, it is we who are being healed. It is this tending to “unfinished business” that will lead to freedom and wholeness for ourselves.
The Buddhist tradition has a three part forgiveness meditation for giving love back to ourselves. We first start by forgiving ourselves for something. In the second part we choose a situation to ask forgiveness of another person. In the third part we choose to forgive someone. So starting out with the small stuff, this is what my meditation would look like:
I was 5 years old, when, on the way home from school, I was taking a short-cut through a meadow, where I stepped into a mud hole. I walked all the way home with my left leg caked in mud up to my knee. I felt so humiliated and ashamed when my friends laughed at my misfortune. I was angry and blamed my older sister for not warning me to be careful. Although this was so long ago, I could bring up the feeling of being laughed at quite vividly, and feel the anguish and resentment. This is definitely a small matter, although at the time it was the end of the world! 😀
This story fits into the three part meditation, so I will use this one incident for the whole process.
Sitting in a comfortable, relaxed posture with my eyes closed, I focus on my breathing. I become centered and calm. I begin with forgiving myself:
- Bringing an image of myself at 5 years old, feeling my shame, I say, “I forgive you. I forgive you.”
- Opening to the spaciousness of letting myself off the hook for doing a dumb thing, I notice the softening in my body, in my belly, in my throat.
- I sit in the stillness, in the warmth, in the patience of allowing myself to just be okay as I am. I feel the mercy of compassion for me then and now, letting these feelings fill my whole body.
- I allow the image of myself to dissolve.
Then I bring an image of my sister forward, and ask her to forgive me:
- I sense her resentment for my blaming her for something she had no control over.
- I say, “Forgive me for blaming you for not taking care of me.”
- I let any hard feelings she has, float in the tenderness of her forgiveness.
- I ask her to let me back into her heart, to forgive me for however I caused her pain in the past; in anger, in confusion, in guilt, intentionally or unintentionally through my words, thoughts or actions.
- I feel her forgiveness and allow it to enter into my heart.
- I bask in the softening in my body, the relief, the letting go of guilt.
- I thank her and see her walking away.
Then I bring forward the image of the children who laughed at me. I will work at sending forgiveness to them.
- I feel myself 5 years old, with the walls of resentment around my heart.
- I look at the children and say, “I forgive you and release the shame you caused me, intentionally or unintentionally.”
- I let my forgiveness touch them, at least for this moment, and feel the softening in my belly and in my throat.
- I notice my holding back, the unkindness, the judgment and allow these feelings to float in the mercy of compassion.
- I allow the image of the children to take in the warmth and stillness of the patience of my forgiveness.
- I thank them for giving me this opportunity to learn from.
- I watch them walk away, noticing how my body and mind feel lighter and clearer.
- I bask in the feelings of spaciousness, of softening and allow any remaining difficult feelings to float in the mercy of compassion for myself.
- I think, just as I suffer from not forgiving myself, so do others, when I do not forgive them.
- I extend this blessing: May all beings be freed from suffering caused by anger, fear and confusion. May all beings know the joy of their true nature. May all beings know Peace!
This practice may have to be done many, many times, as images and feelings keep coming back. As we continue to practice, the mind will gradually trust and open to this process of letting go. Eventually our hearts will open to let love in again, and we will become free of suffering.