Practicing Forgiveness

by Jill Sockman

We’ve all been wronged. At one, some, or countless times in this life, you’ll be faced with the disappointment of being let down. People will turn on you, lie to you, talk about you behind your back, leave you, be cruel to you… there are so many ways that we (intentionally or not) hurt one another in this life.

So what do you do when that happens? I imagine there have been studies performed, papers drafted and books written about the steps that we, as humans, go through when we experience the pain of someone else’s flawed humanity. Anger, resentment, disappointment, the desire to lash out or get even… it’s an untidy and unpleasant list, but one perhaps you can relate to.

This week I’ve been preparing for the arrival of one of my many teachers, Warren Grossman, coming to blue this December. I’ve had present  in my mind one of his great teachings– the practice of forgiveness. It’s reminded me of a quote…something like, “holding on to anger is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die” or some such thing. The exact wording might not be there, but you get the point. The only one who is damaged when you choose to hold on to that anger/disappointment/hurt is you. (And yes, it’s a choice.) This holding on not only weighs heavy on the heart, but colors how you see everyone and everything around you.  The way out? Forgiveness. Compassion. Lovingkindness.

I’ve found myself naturally returning to a practice I learned a long, long time ago called Metta. Metta is a Pali word that means non-violence, or loving-kindness, and the practice is simple. I’ve heard it taught different ways before, but this is how it was given to me:

Whether in a meditation practice or in your car, rage bubbling from the *ahem* individual beside you driving *ahem* carelessly… It starts with the self, for as we have all been wronged, we have, each of us, been the one to do the wronging to another. “May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be filled with lovingkindness.” Not just running the words through your mind, but filtering those feelings through your heart. From there you move to others, whether those you know and love, or those who are strangers to you, or those who have hurt you the most. “May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be filled with lovingkindness.”

Forgiveness, compassion and loving-kindness don’t excuse bad behavior or undo the evils of this world. However, they can release you from the role of victim, judge and jury in the after school drama special that is Life. They can liberate you from carrying the heavy weight of your experiences and the collateral damage of others’ actions. They can allow you to let go and to move on, whether frozen in a moment of road rage or enslaved for years by a hurt of long ago.

We are imperfect. And most of the time we are doing the very best we can. Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes not so much. As you are moving through your day, notice if you’re carrying around heaviness, anger or resentment from someone else’s words or actions. What if you chose to spill that poison out, smooth on the salve of lovingkindness, and get on with your bad self? Light and free, remembering that all we have is the precious Now.

May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be filled with loving-kindness.