Practice: Forgiveness

I think it is human nature that we are constantly disappointed with ourselves and others. One fundamental driver for this is our struggle between altruism and selfishness. We are programmed to be supportive and helpful to those around us but we are also programmed to look out for our own interests. Which ones of these directions we follow is a constant source of uncertainty for us and, if we inevitably choose the path of selfishness occasionally, we are bound to be disappointed with ourselves. Likewise, we are disappointed with others if we observe them doing the same.

Given this constant struggle and disappointment, I believe it is critical for us to embrace forgiveness in order to keep a balanced and happy mind. Thus I have developed the following very simple practice that may aid us in being more forgiving.

  1. Breathe in slowly and deeply until your lungs are filled with air. Hold your breath for three seconds and then slowly exhale. Repeat for three times.
  2. Forgive yourself for all the things you have done wrong, said wrong or thought wrong today or in the past. Remember that you are worthy of love, even if you make mistakes or are misguided.
  3. Forgive others who you feel have wronged you. Like you, they are worthy of love, even if they make mistakes or are misguided.
  4. Forgive existence for providing us with little guidance as to what our purpose is. You have been given this life; treasure what has been given to you.

Forgiveness for me is powerful since it is not only something we do through our thoughts but experience as a deep and revealing emotion. If I was angry with myself or others and I allow myself to forgive, I feel the relieving emotion of forgiveness washing over me. Maybe you do not experience this in the same way but I believe that we are all able to feel forgiveness as something special. For instance, think about how fundamental forgiveness is to Christianity: Yes, we may have sinned but God and Jesus will forgive us (the latter possibly more so than the former). If we truly believe this, this is bound to be a powerful emotion.

The practice above however does not assume that we will be granted forgiveness by a higher power. We ourselves forgive. And this matters. To be full of forgiveness is critical for journeying on the path of enlightenment, and we must not only forgive others but also ourselves. We are bound to be disappointed again and again, but the more disappointed we get, the more we need to forgive.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matt. 18:15–22)

Image credit: Wikimedia

A Discussion of Forgiveness

I’ve already mentioned that I believe that gratitude and forgiveness are emotions which I believe we should foster within ourselves. Today I want to explore in a little bit further detail what makes up forgiveness and why it is such a powerful force to bring good to ourselves and the world.

What is Forgiveness

Forgiveness cannot exist by itself. It must always be preceded by anger or disappointment. If there was no anger or disappointment, there would be no need for forgiveness. There is, however, plenty of need for forgiveness and that is because most of us are prone to develop feelings of anger or disappointment easily.

Once anger or disappointment have risen within us, be it directed at ourselves, others or the world in general, forgiveness offers a good and wholesome resolution to these emerging emotions. Alternatively, understanding may also serve as a possible resolution; but generally it is not as emotionally powerful as forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a conscious process which consists of three phases. First, we acknowledge that there is something which is lacking; the something which caused our anger and disappointment in the first place. Second, we decide that, although the something is lacking, we accept it as it is. Third, we find within us love for the something.

This brings us to the crucial insight that without love, forgiveness is impossible. Likewise, without forgiveness, love is very difficult since love is tender and especially so if it is strong. Love can easily be bruised by imperfections in its object; forgiveness cures these and keeps love strong and eternal.

The Path to Forgiveness

But how can you love what you hate? How can you love what angers and disappoints you? You can if you find strong and pure love within you. Unfortunately, there is no path to love, if you do not find the ability to love two things: beauty and goodness.

Beauty is a lyrical quality which you can only perceive as the echoes of your own deep feelings. If you see or experience something which is beautiful, you can feel it in your heart, you can feel with your whole body. You cannot decide to find something beautiful or not; the emergence of beauty is automatic and natural.

Goodness is closely related to beauty since we usually find good what we find beautiful and vice averse. Goodness, however, can cast a wider net and help us shift the focus away from the physical aspects of beauty. As with beauty, we can feel if something is good and right or not. We feel if an action we do is good or evil. We are quick to judge if the actions of others are good or evil. We can easily determine if a situation or arrangement in the world fosters good or evil.  

If we can learn to love the abstract concepts of beauty and goodness, we can proceed to direct this love to three particular things which will aid us in fostering goodness.

First, you need to find love for yourself. Maybe you think that you are a horrible person and not worthy of anybodies love. Maybe you have had mean thoughts or have done evil things. But no matter what you have become or what you have done, you have a pure and wholesome core. There is beauty and goodness within you – that is how you were born -, and when it is currently not expressed, you have the potential for beauty and goodness and are deserving to be loved by yourself and other. As for your shortcomings, that is what forgiveness is for.

The second thing you need to find love for is other sentient beings. If you look at another human being or an animal, you can see within them the same basic emotions and desires you have within you. Just like you, they carry the potential for beauty and goodness and are worthy of your love.

The last thing you need to find love for is the world: creation as a whole, the wheels of fate which shape your life. Looking at the world how it is with open eyes shows it to be cruel and pointless. Why is there so much suffering? Why is our life so short and impermanent – with no indication there will be anything left of us but dust once our heart stops beating? However, the world has created you, and you carry beauty and goodness. The world has created other sentient beings, and they carry beauty and goodness. And the world itself is beautiful if you open your senses.

Forgiveness and love are like two sides of an arch. They each enable each other, since without forgiveness it is so difficult to love, and without love, it is impossible to forgive. Embrace love and embrace forgiveness. There is nothing to lose and your life can only be all the richer for it.

Featured Image: WikiMedia