“Let go or be dragged.” Zen Proverb
A few years ago, I wrote out a list principles that I try to live by. One of them is to forgive unconditionally. I came to this understanding over a long period of time. And looking back, I realise that I had to go through a number of steps to get here.
Step one was making the decision to forgive the people in my life who had hurt me. At this stage, I still had caveats. I forgave them but I was very clear that these people had “wronged” me and I still wanted them to pay, just a little bit. So I reminded them exactly how they had hurt me every now and again. I told myself that I needed an apology or at least an acknowledgement of wrongdoing for true emancipation from blame.
Three things happened that changed my mind.
The first was a teaching I heard by Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön called The Propensity To Be Bothered.
Pema said that, usually, we blame someone else for our pain. Something or someone makes us angry or hurts us. We say, “Poor me,” or “Bad Mary.” At step one on my forgiveness journey, I was still blaming my the people who had hurt me even though I told myself that I had forgiven them. Pema said that there is some pre-existing tendency within us that causes us to suffer.
I thought back to boyfriends who had treated me badly in the past. Was it possible that there was something within me that made me attracted to them? Was the cause of my suffering inside me and they were just the catalyst? Why didn’t I just leave them? I wasn’t being held in these relationships under duress.
Pema went on to say that it feels like blaming would diminish our suffering but in fact it does the opposite. It fans the embers.
The second was a quote I read by Maya Angelou: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
This quote chimes very well with my experience of life. I only have to look back at my own past behaviour to see that I was doing the best that I could at times when that wasn’t great for me or for the people around me. Now, as a more evolved person, I try to do better. Would it not follow that the people who have hurt me in the past were just doing what they knew how to do? Wouldn’t I want somebody to give me a second chance and not put barriers up to prevent me from making amends?
The third thing happened when I was doing pretty well at forgiving the key people who had hurt me during in my life. In fact, I was feeling pretty smug . But I was still holding onto some resentment. Some feeling of having been “wronged”. Some righteous entitlement to blame.
I was on a 19-day yoga teacher training in Bali and in one class, the teacher told us to let go of something. So, I let go of blame. I just shook it out of me. And I then cried, a lot. I don’t think we were supposed to let go of something so profound but that is what came into my mind and so that is what I did.
This was the most painful step. The decision to forgive felt great. The transition itself was incredibly painful. And the resolution made me feel like an adult.
From that day forward, I started to breathe again. Life became expansive. It wasn’t instant but in time, I was able to properly forgive anybody who had wilfully or otherwise, hurt me. The wound that I had kept open started to heal.
I do believe in moving away from people who consistently hurt us but I always have to make sure that it isn’t me doing the hurting.
This post came about because I found myself in a fruitless debate with somebody on Twitter. Sadly, we were just talking past each other. Maybe my adversary was referring to wrongs that we experience as children which don’t apply to my model or to more egregious behaviour than I have experienced. He said, “That strategy is a good way to be in very toxic and abusive relationships” and he got a lot of likes for that. But I don’t have any toxic or abusive relationships in my life. I find that if you approach people with warmth and openness, that is usually what they reflect back.
Albert Ellis said, “The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realise that you control your own destiny.”
And this is how I feel. These are the best years of my life because I spend absolutely no energy in blame. I don’t want to armour up to keep potential baddies out. I don’t want to protect myself from the very real possibility of heartbreak. Or block the vulnerability that is required to have deep relationships. And I don’t want to live in the past. I want to live in the present. Allowing everybody (including me) the opportunity to do better.