With the arrival of a new year, we have an opportunity to shed those resentments, grudges, and hurts that drag us down emotionally, physically, and spiritually. As we renew ourselves as caregivers, we become better able to renew our families, our homes, perhaps even the “world” around us.
In Part One of this blog post, we looked at the positive benefits of entering into the “forgiveness process.” We noted that forgiving ourselves and others is a liberating process, similar to planting a garden, and one where we are the real beneficiaries. We are the ones who will inevitably “bloom.”
Forgiveness and Self-Compassion
There is no one undeserving of forgiveness. You, caregiver, are deserving of being forgiven. Acclaimed author and teacher Jack Kornfield, Ph.D., explains the process of forgiveness as “…the capacity to let go, to release the suffering, the sorrow, the burdens of the pains and betrayals of the past and instead to choose the mystery of love.”
Another author and teacher, Tara Brach, tells the story of a person walking in the woods and coming upon a little dog. “The dog seems harmless enough, but when they reach out to pet the dog, it growls and lunges at them. The immediate response is fear and anger, but then they notice that the dog has its leg caught in a trap, and compassion begins to rise up in the place of the anger. Once we see how our own leg is in a trap and hold our experience with self-compassion, it becomes easier to see how others might be caught, too – causing suffering, because they are suffering.” American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr even goes so far as to note, “Forgiveness is the final form of love.”
Just as a gardener must frequently weed the garden and water and fertilize the plants to make them grow strong and hardy, taking this time for reflection will help you to grow in inner strength and grace. The reflection that follows provides another opportunity for us to leave behind the old, and move forward into 2018 with new energy, new focus. This meditation is about forgiving ourselves, experiencing self-compassion.
A Reflection on Forgiving Ourselves
Find a place and time when you will not be disturbed for about twenty minutes. Try to create an atmosphere that is calm, relaxing, and peaceful.
When you are ready, gently close your eyes. Focus your awareness on your breathing. Breathe in peace and quiet; breathe out tension and stress. Try to eliminate all sources of distraction. Let your mind and body relax.
If the concept of asking forgiveness of yourself seems a bit vague or even unnecessary, here are some ideas to get you started. You are asking forgiveness of yourself, for what has happened, for what is happening, and for what may still happen:
- For submitting yourself to situations where you allowed yourself to be hurt, taken for granted, exploited, demeaned, emotionally and physically abused, etc.
- For being attentive to the needs of others but not your own;
- For putting yourself down when alone or in the presence of others;
- For judging or blaming yourself and/or permitting others to blame you;
- For being a perfectionist and not permitting yourself any mistakes;
- For causing suffering to your body, mind, heart;
- For allowing yourself to be the scapegoat.
Focus your awareness on your breathing. Become aware of the peace and timelessness that lies within you. Recall to mind the incident and the manner in which you neglected, or rejected, or abandoned your very own self.
For a moment, replay the situation from the standpoint of choices you are making, knowing that you are free to decide and that you can take responsibility for the consequences. Take a few minutes now and fully experience the inner sense of freedom, the release of a burden that has weighted you down internally, the release of stress. Now offer yourself tender forgiveness and respond, “I forgive myself.” Say it again to yourself with conviction, “I forgive myself.”
When you feel ready come back to the room and open your eyes. If you wish, write in your journal what this experience of forgiving yourself has been like for you. What have I learned about myself? Am I able to respond to demands made by others, especially those I love, in a way that respects my limits, dignity and integrity? What do you wish to carry away from this time of meditation?
In Part Three of “Cultivating Forgiveness,” and the last on this topic, we will pick up the theme of forgiving people who have impacted negatively on your life.
I wish you peace, patience, compassion, and joy in your caregiving today and every day!
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I am so grateful to my mentor and friend, Merle Stern, for her contribution of the above meditation to this article.
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The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley has developed a quick quiz to find out how forgiving you are. It just takes a few minutes. To take the test, go to: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/take_quiz/forgiveness.