Saturday, August 25, 2012

The transformational power of forgiveness, part II: forgiving others

I attend a weekly meditation practice here in Nashville led by Gordon Peerman and Kathy Woods. It enriches my life in so many ways, for which I am immensely grateful.

The format is thirty minutes of guided meditation followed by a thirty minute talk. Yesterday Gordon guided us through meditation which focused on compassion. It began with a time of compassion toward self, then compassion toward a loved one, followed by compassion extended toward someone we find difficult.

As I focused upon my chosen “difficult” person, I could feel resistance in my chest to the prayer I offered on this person’s behalf. “May she be free from suffering…” I could feel, as I offered this, a little interior tug, not wanting to completely embrace this freedom for this person. I was uncomfortable with this, thinking, “really? I want her to suffer?” This led me to think of her, of times she had shared her struggles, including a profound loneliness. As she became a more whole person in my mind, I could feel a movement toward compassion for her in my heart. And I felt freer.

I began this series on forgiveness with self-forgiveness, just as Gordon began our meditation on compassion with compassion for self. To some, this may seem selfish, but it is quite intentional. It is that old paradox that in attending to self first, being self-ish, it provides energy and heart space to attend to others. In this way, learning to forgive self teaches compassion for the self which, in turn, allows for greater compassion toward others.

We have, all of us, experienced some wound caused by others. It may be as small as a hurtful word or as large as a physical attack. None of us are exempt; it may be a betrayal, a lashing out, a lie, a manipulation, or a deeply traumatizing event. We have all been disappointed in another.

We can spend our lives absorbed by these events, swallowed by blame and resentment: he said, she said, he did, she did. But none of the blaming really matters because another person’s hurtful, wounding actions, regardless of the pain it may have caused you, is really about them.

Their wounding action has to do with their weakness, their fear, their greed, their need to feed their own ego. It is about their pain or their need. What it absolutely is not about is you. This truth may do little to lessen the pain it causes in the moment but this realization may aid in you being able, eventually, to let it go.

Forgiving another is a process. It takes time. And it is for your benefit. That is right, it is for your benefit rather than the benefit of the person who you are forgiving.

Forgiving someone doesn’t make what they did okay. It doesn’t justify thoughtless, hurtful, or violent behavior. And, it actually does very little for the person being forgiven.

But it does a great deal, spiritually and emotionally, for the one who forgives.

For me, forgiving the deepest injuries in my life have taken time, prayer and work. But my reward is a much lighter load, both on my mind and in my heart. Forgiving those who have injured me has blessed me. And it can free you, as well.

1 comment:

  1. Forgiveness is a story - a whole story - not just a collection of isolated events, sound-bytes, or bullet points. It is a novel whose author must rely on and trust an omniscience beyond self. If you haven't discovered, helped write, and learned how to tell your own, you are not capable of doing the same for anyone else.