Forgiveness

I’ll never forget how it felt when, deeply offended by someone, I was told by an advisor to respond the following way: Pray for him for 30 days. Don’t miss a day or you must start over. Start by praying or meditating on who is most dear to you and all that you want for them and then transfer all of those blessings and good wishes onto this person who offended you. Every day. For 30 days.

Wow! I didn’t think I could do it. This person, among other things, had shown themselves to be a bigot — something I found to be deeply abhorrent. How could I want for them all that I wanted for my own child? I may be able to say it (and maybe not), but how could I possibly feel it sincerely?

But I didn’t want to carry this poison inside that I felt towards them either, however justified I believed it to be. Or no matter how many others there were who might validate my position. I valued my serenity and growth, and I trusted my advisor who’d traveled some steps ahead. I believed the wisdom of Buddha, “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”

At first I prayed and meditated for the willingness to be willing. There wasn’t any part of me that wanted to do it. After a few days I really wanted to clear this burden and offense so I committed to giving it a try. I made a tick mark each day like someone in a jail cell, to make sure I didn’t miss a day, because I sure as hell didn’t want to start over or have to do this even one extra day.

I was wisely encouraged to push myself as far as I could with it. I thought it should be sufficient (and plenty generous) to just add him into my general prayer/meditation practice, which then was the Buddhist Loving Kindness Meditation:

“May you be at peace. May your heart remain open. May you awaken to the light of your own true nature. May you be healed. May you be a source of healing for all.”

But instead, in addition to that, I was to really get personal and specific by thinking of the happiness, joy, safety, dreams fulfilled, etc. that I wanted for my own small child. Then I was to add that I wanted these things for this blankety-blank s.o.b., I mean person, also….

It started off very challenging, and with plenty of resistance and expletives, whenever I would switch my thoughts to who I found so offensive. But something great happened along the way before I hit the 30-day mark. Gradually, the edge became less sharp. And one day near the end, I had an A-ha! moment when I realized that I was bigoted against bigots. The irony! It didn’t mean that I suddenly (or ever) condoned bigotry. But I saw something in common in the judging, generalizing behavior. I saw the similarity and humanity under the surface of the behavior versus focusing solely on how we were different. It softened my heart and I felt compassion for us both as I was able to drop more judgement.

It taught me a powerful lesson. And it’s a practice I’ve used a few times since if I can’t let go of something any other way. It’s shortened the bridge to forgiveness considerably, in many instances and relationships. It’s strengthened the insight of our interconnectivity and my commitment to “just love more” — myself and others. It’s definitely not easy, but it is simple. And most importantly, it works.

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