Forgiveness as an elemental aspect of enlightening

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When I started meditation I was hoping to gain more peace, clarity and love in my life, but I couldn’t know if this would happen or in what form it would take. So many of us want more of these things in our lives – and we go to great lengths to have them, yet they can still evade us.

I remember hearing a story of a local farm near us. A woman had been farming there for many years alone, selling medicinal seeds, veggies & grass raised beef for market. A man more than 20 years her junior announced that he would like to live at her place, help her and search for peace. At that time in my life I wondered at his desire for peace above all. Certainly at that time in my life peace was not a goal I had for myself.

Yet, as life goes on, different things look appealing. After an especially tumultuous year we may find a more peaceful existence is exactly what we’re after. When I started to continually think of going and sitting a meditation course, I knew it was time. Time to turn over a new leaf; time to get serious about sculpting my life and asking myself if I was happy and if what I was doing was working towards that end. Turns out, I wasn’t and it turns out that meditation was indeed just the ticket. Thanks again to my stellar intuition, that keen mysterious sense, for leading me in exactly the right direction once again.

What I did not expect was that forgiveness, of self and others, was going to play such a crucial role in my happiness, peace and enlightening.

I’m still not quite sure what people mean when they talk about enlightenment as an achievable state. Speaking as one who has not achieved it nor lives from that state, I can only guess. Yet my use of the word as an action verb fits precisely because I’m using it as a descriptor. I quite literally feel myself getting lighter.

Though this wasn’t a goal, per say, I think it has a lot to do with other feelings of peace, harmony and more joy and love flowing through my being. As energetic blocks lift off or energetic channels start flowing once again, as they naturally do, much of what we held on to or thought of as essential to “who we are” just doesn’t take on that much importance anymore.

This leads me to the assumed topic of this article: forgiveness.

Though I never thought I held grudges, as I started to practice Metta in the evenings during the server course at the Vipassana, I realized the blocks I had to letting go of certain things that I held against people, even groups of people.

One of the practices is to “seek pardon from anyone who I might have hurt or harmed” and another is to “grant pardon to anyone who might have hurt or harmed me, intentionally or unintentionally.” As I began searching myself, the walls and linings of the internal caverns, when evoking these two phrases, I realized I had a lot of blocks toward these exercises. Let the fun begin!

Thich Nhat Hanh, a popular meditation guide and writer, has this to say about anger,

“When someone says or does something that makes us angry, we suffer. We tend to say or do something back to make the other suffer, with the hope that we will suffer less. We think, “I want to punish you, I want to make you suffer because you have made me suffer. And when I see you suffer a lot, I will feel better.”

Many of us are inclined to believe in such a childish practice. The fact is that when you make the other suffer, he will try to find relief by making you suffer more. The result is an escalation of suffering on both sides. Both of you need compassion and help. Neither of you needs punishment.

If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.” (in his book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames)

Though he is pinpointing the experience of anger, it is true that when we perceive someone has wronged us, the go-to action is to get them back. Though the slight might have taken place long ago, we hold on to it. I had done this for years with certain people. I thought that it was my way of “holding them accountable” or even seeking justice. What I sort of knew, but didn’t quite understand was that this act was also holding on to me, weighing me down.

I still don’t fully understand the nature of justice or proper accountability, and I’m not going to get into that complex subject. Also, please don’t take my words as a “should” or “shouldn’t” kind of advice. Human life is a complex thing and what I am practicing I am not saying you should or shouldn’t do as well. I’m simply sharing where I am currently regarding my process of forgiveness or letting go.

And here’s what I’m learning:

All of these years I have been holding on to things inside against certain people and groups of people, carrying them inside with me, weighing me down.

I let a little peep of possibility in toward forgiveness and I started with someone quite close to me, Ini. Ini and I have had our great moments and we’ve also had our moments of struggle, of deep quarrelling, frustration, feuds and anger. We’ve been to the highs and to the lows – it’s one of the blessings of our strong relationship that we go all over the place, leaving no stone unturned in the realm of human experience.

He was one of the people I held a lot of anger against for perceived slights, injustices, and wrongs. He’s also one of the people I love the most in this world and I wanted to work on healing our relationship, into bringing real love, peace and joy into our home and on our homestead. One of the reasons I wanted to work more on myself is because it is our dream and goal to hold space for people at our homestead and I want to be my best self for myself, each other and for the numerous souls we will walk beside throughout the years. I want to walk my talk and really provide a space of true healing, not masking or going through the motions.

Almost immediately after going through the exercises: “seek pardon from anyone who I might have hurt or harmed” and to “grant pardon to anyone who might have hurt or harmed me, intentionally or unintentionally,” I felt a lightening occurring toward him and more love, gratitude and peace alongside it. It actually nearly felt miraculous and in that moment I realized that when holding a grudge against Ini was meant to “hurt him” or uphold some sense of justice, it had been hurting me all along and I was carrying it like a stone.

Soon, after practicing this in different scenarios, I realized this practice is nothing short of miraculous and I would feel a tingling sensation of energy lifting off my body as I practiced in earnest. Alongside meditating, I started to notice big changes happening inside of me, and since I have come home, they have spilled forth into my daily life and relationships.

Of course I had heard it said that a lack of forgiveness hurts you more than the one you intend it toward, but I wrote it off, as is the case with many of those things that are easy to talk about and harder to practice.

In the beginning of doing this practice (and sometimes now, too) a lot of voices will come up reminding me of why this person isn’t worthy or deserving of my forgiveness. Centered on the other person, these voices remind of me unforgiveable instances and debts that have never been sufficiently paid. Surely this person doesn’t deserve my forgiveness, or at least not yet- not until they have paid!

Yet one thing is certain, we cannot control the other person’s willingness to seek help, forgiveness or to change. This cycle can repeat forever! We think that by holding a grudge something is done to the other person, but actually that something sits inside of us, working. And, in these instances, we are the only person whose actions we have control over. It is actually a gift to myself to start the gears of the cycle of pardon.

And how many people have I hurt or harmed as well – either intentionally or unintentionally? The cycle of hurt may never stop and we all will work out our suffering on one another until we learn that that only perpetuates the cycle.

As for me, I’m very grateful to now have this technique to practice. Enlightening, an offshoot I didn’t suspect coming from meditation, is a wonderful process.

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