Two methods for softening your heart to forgiveness
We all have our “screw you” list.
Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about.
You’ve got a list of people whom you’ve written off for hurting, belittling, ignoring, neglecting, rejecting, and/or disrespecting you in some way.
I do too.
It’s so much easier to blame them and block them out of our consciousness and lives than to deal with the messiness of working through the pain we say they’ve caused us.
If we do that, we may just find that we’re more responsible than we think.
Placing them on the screw you list feels like a form of letting go; after categorizing and labeling them, we put them in a box on a dusty back shelf in our mind so we don’t have to think about them.
But the pain and wounds, the resentment and bitterness remain and they fester. Avoidance, it turns out, is not the same as letting go.
We are worn down by the constant burden. Deep down, we want to forgive and truly let go.
But it’s tough. Our hearts have been hardened toward these people to protect ourselves from getting hurt again.
I’ve found the following two methods profoundly helpful in softening my heart and opening it to at least the possibility of forgiveness:
“Just like me”
“It is a simple human truth that everyone, just like you, wants to be happy and to avoid suffering. Just like you, everyone else wants to have friends, to be accepted and loved, to be respected and valued for their unique qualities, to be healthy and to feel comfortable with themselves. Just like you, no one else wants to be friendless and alone, to be looked down upon by others, to be sick, to feel inadequate and depressed.
“The equality practice is simply to remember this fact whenever you meet another person. You think, ‘Just like me, she wants to be happy; she doesn’t want to suffer.’
“It humbles us, because it shines a spotlight on our habit of thinking that we are the center of the world. When we acknowledge our shared humanity with another person, we connect with them in a surprisingly intimate way. They become like family to us, and this helps dissolve our isolation and aloneness.”
This is even more powerful when we apply it to our screw you list; it encourages us to consider their pain and deep, universal, inner yearnings that prompted them to do whatever they did that hurt us.
“When he did ________ to me, he was looking for respect. Just like me.”
“When she said ________ to me, she was wanting to feel important. Just like me.”
“Just like me, he is afraid of being unloved and unlovable.”
“Just like me, she craves to feel like she is in control.”
Just like me, just like me, just like me.
In our pain, we delude ourselves into thinking that we are somehow we are better than the people on our screw you list. We would never do what they did to us. We are right, they are wrong.
This sense of separateness, and the enemy image that creates it, is a source of great suffering. Few things have done more to separate people into enemy camps than righteous indignation.
When we can see and understand our enemies as we do ourselves, the ultimate peace of complete forgiveness is but one step away.
This practice is taken from the ancient Pali word metta, a multi-faceted word meaning loving-kindness, friendliness, goodwill, benevolence, fellowship, amity, concord, inoffensiveness, and non-violence. It is the “strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others,” as Acharya Buddharakkita puts it.
Mindfulness teacher Jack Kornfield teaches that loving-kindness meditation is to use words, images, and feelings to evoke a loving-kindness and friendliness toward oneself and others.
“You can begin the practice of loving-kindness by meditating for fifteen or twenty minutes in a quiet place.
“Begin with yourself. Breathe gently, and recite inwardly the following traditional phrases directed to your own well-being. You begin with yourself because without loving yourself it is almost impossible to love others.
“May I be filled with loving-kindness.
May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May I be well in body and mind.
May I be at ease and happy.”
Once you’ve established a feeling of loving-kindness toward yourself, you expand the meditation to include the following four types of people:
- A respected, beloved person, such as a spiritual teacher or mentor.
- A dearly beloved, such as a close family member or friend.
- A neutral person, meaning somebody you know, but have no special feelings towards.
- A hostile person, or someone you are currently having difficulty with.
Send the loving-kindness phrases, or any other personalized phrases you want, to each person in turn:
May s/he be filled with loving-kindness.
May s/he be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May s/he be well in body and mind.
May s/he be at ease and happy.
It’s hard to continue viewing a person as an enemy when you’re sending them wishes of loving-kindness.
What we yearn for above all else is human connection. Our ability to connect is inhibited by the extent to which we hold others as enemies.
By seeing them as being just like us and sending them loving-kindness, we soften our hearts to forgiveness and open ourselves to the connection we yearn for.