Forgive and Let Go of Suffering
“If someone has abused you, beat you, robbed you, abandon your thoughts of anger. Soon you will die. Life is too short to live with hatred.”
Like almost everyone, I have relationships that have ended badly. I recognize that as humans, we can and do feel betrayed, hurt, or unjustly accused. I’ve struggled with the idea of forgiveness. According to Buddhism, extending and receiving forgiveness is necessary for redemption from our past. (https://jackkornfield.com/the-practice-of-forgiveness-2/) But what if the other person doesn’t accept or recognize the hurt they have caused to you? What if you don’t really want to forgive them?
As someone who is trying to live a mindful life, I want to live in and appreciate the present. This means recognizing how past events still cause present suffering. My ongoing resentment, bitterness, and anger keep me from mindful living. In Buddhist psychology, unlike Christian theology, forgiveness isn’t seen as a moral commandment – Thou shalt forgive. Instead, forgiveness is understood as a way to end suffering. And, as I well know, resentment, bitterness, and anger are powerful ways to suffer. Forgiveness is the only way to release my suffering. What I am slowly beginning to grasp is that forgiveness does not mean I must condone the misdeeds of the other person. Forgiveness is for me, for my own well-being. It is a way to let go of the pain I carry around with me. (https://jackkornfield.com/the-practice-of-forgiveness-2/)
What is Forgiveness?
There are lots of stories we tell ourselves about why we won’t forgive someone for their poor behavior. Maybe we say we “don’t know how”. Or maybe we think that forgiveness would let the other person off the hook and they will hurt you again. Or maybe we feel like we ‘own” the truth and forgiving the other person means giving up that power. It might mean admitting we were at fault – now, THAT’S hard!
“But the truth is, whether or not we forgive has nothing to do with controlling another person’s behavior. People do what they do. The only person to let off the hook is ourselves, by not concerning ourselves with monitoring someone else’s behavior, or replaying the past.” (https://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-forgive-when-you-dont-really-want-to/)
What is the process of forgiving someone?
The 4-step RAIN formula that I’ve discussed before is a helpful way to forgive someone.
Here are the 4 steps in brief…
R Recognize what is happening. Recognize and mentally name the emotions thoughts and sensations you have around forgiveness
A Allow life to be just as it is. Don’t judge these thoughts or emotions. Just acknowledge and accept them as part of your present moment reality. You don’t have to like the situation. Rather it means to soften our mental resistance to what is happening within us.
I Investigate inner experience. Why do you feel the way you do? What events happened ahead of the emotion you are feeling? Are other factors affecting you? What can you do to nurture and support yourself to alleviate this suffering? In my case, I didn’t want to forgive a relative because I believed somewhere deep down that it would absolve him from responsibility for his hurtful actions. I thought I would be ‘giving in” if I forgave him. What I do know is that he suffers too. He may not share his suffering with me and he may not even be aware that his behavior caused his suffering. But I know he suffers from the unconscious fallout of his behavior. Part of your investigation may also be the realization that you are not perfect. You may have engaged in similar misbehaviors or something similar in your life. We humans are all the same – born of the same cloth and interconnected in all ways. What caused the other person to hurt you is usually fear. No doubt you have experienced fear and lashed out at someone at some point in your life. We must forgive ourselves as well as forgive others.
N Non-Identification. This means that who you are IS NOT fused with or defined by your thoughts or feelings. No matter how painful the emotions are, there is always a part of you which is still, silent, and untouched by what happens around you. (https://mrsmindfulness.com/r-n-four-step-process-using-mindfulness-difficult-times/) Because you are not your thoughts and feelings, you can decide what behaviors, thoughts, and emotions you will tolerate in your life and what behaviors, thoughts and emotions you will not tolerate in your life. Freedom is letting go and moving on with your mindful life.
“Freedom is what we do with what is done to us.”
So I’m in the process of deep forgiveness – of myself and of the people who hurt me. Meditation, particularly metta/lovingkindness meditation, helps a lot. Now that I’m past 60, I know that life is short and I want to make every moment count. I want to be present for it all.
Brief Instructions for Loving-Kindness Meditation
To practice loving-kindness meditation, sit in a comfortable and relaxed manner. Take two or three deep breaths with slow, long and complete exhalations. Let go of any concerns or preoccupations. For a few minutes, feel or imagine the breath moving through the center of your chest – in the area of your heart.
Metta is first practiced toward oneself, since we often have difficulty loving others without first loving ourselves. Sitting quietly, mentally repeat, slowly and steadily, the following or similar phrases:
May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.
While you say these phrases, allow yourself to sink into the intentions they express. Loving-kindness meditation consists primarily of connecting to the intention of wishing ourselves or others happiness. However, if feelings of warmth, friendliness, or love arise in the body or mind, connect to them, allowing them to grow as you repeat the phrases. As an aid to the meditation, you might hold an image of yourself in your mind’s eye. This helps reinforce the intentions expressed in the phrases.
After a period of directing loving-kindness toward yourself, bring to mind a friend or someone in your life who has deeply cared for you. Then slowly repeat phrases of loving-kindness toward them:
May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.
As you say these phrases, again sink into their intention or heartfelt meaning. And, if any feelings of loving-kindness arise, connect the feelings with the phrases so that the feelings may become stronger as you repeat the words.
As you continue the meditation, you can bring to mind other friends, neighbors, acquaintances, strangers, animals, and finally people with whom you have difficulty. You can either use the same phrases, repeating them again and again, or make up phrases that better represent the loving-kindness you feel toward these beings. In addition to simple and perhaps personal and creative forms of metta practice, there is a classic and systematic approach to metta as an intensive meditation practice. Because the classic meditation is fairly elaborate, it is usually undertaken during periods of intensive metta practice on retreat.
Sometimes during loving-kindness meditation, seemingly opposite feelings such as anger, grief, or sadness may arise. Take these to be signs that your heart is softening, revealing what is held there. You can either shift to mindfulness practice or you can—with whatever patience, acceptance, and kindness you can muster for such feelings—direct loving-kindness toward them. Above all, remember that there is no need to judge yourself for having these feelings.