“The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.” ~ John Green
We're always holding onto something.
As we start to observe our mind in meditation we learn very quickly how our brain holds onto experiences and re-lives them over and over again. With a negative experience, especially one where we were harmed by someone we care about, we have a habit of re-living this experience repeatedly in our head. Each time we remember the inconsiderate words or the mean action, it cuts a little bit deeper. Each time we examine the other person's wrongdoing they, somehow, become more to blame and we tell ourselves we were innocent victims.
In this circular thinking two things are happening. First, a single slight, which may have been small at the time, is re-inflicted on us causing new hurt with each replaying. This is as sane as a man who after hitting his thumb with a hammer, realizes it hurts and insists on repeatedly smashing the same thumb each time he remembers it is sore. Second, as we re-play this hurt we distort the reality of the situation. Each time we tell the story, their wrong is greater and our part is more innocent.
We can use the skills we are developing in our meditation practice to be free from this suffering. Forgiveness is the key... but how do we forgive? I would suggest that to forgive is another form of a mindfulness practice.
An exercise in forgiveness:
Bring to mind someone toward whom you bear ill will. This might be best practiced first with someone who has brought difficultly into your life but isn't the worst thing that has ever happened to you.
1. Become aware of the fact that we are holding onto a wrong. Observe what it feels like. Is it heavy? Does it get our blood pressure up? Do we like the surge of power that comes with anger?
2. Visualize the interaction that led to your hurt. Hold the picture of that interaction and then start to "zoom out" from the location. Imagine floating 100 feet away from the scene. Can you see other houses? Cars driving by with people going off to jobs, school and on errands? Imagine floating even farther away. You're 1,000 feet away now, barely able to see the two of you. Between you and this original scene are the full and complete lives of hundreds of people. Floating even farther away you're five miles away, looking down at your city. How does your interaction feel now? Can you see it next to the teeming city full of people being born, people working, people fighting with their spouses and going on first dates? Does your original hurt outshine the activity of a city? Go farther, you're looking down at the entire country... even farther still until the giant blue planet of ours is the size of a marble. Can this fight, this original struggle, be held onto when we see how small it really is?
3. Take a quiet minute to place yourself in the other person's shoes. Imagine their birth, their childhood, their first heartbreak in high school, the loss of a family member, the stress of working life. Can you empathize with this individual? Can you know someone's life story and still hold onto anger?
4. Take a moment to extend our words of lovingkindess to this person. May they be loved, may they be safe from inner and outer danger, may they be healthy in body and mind, may they be happy and at ease.
5. Take a moment to sit quietly. How does this feel? Are we willing to forgive this person? Can we put down the heavy burden that it is hold onto anger?
It is hard to be happy when we are holding onto hurt and anger. Forgiveness isn't necessarily about the other person. Forgiveness can be about how we feel; do we want to be free from this burden? Do we want to be happy?
May your practice go well!
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed.