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Understanding Forgiveness - Part 6

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

Self Forgiveness


This Weeks Video

In The Centre for Western Mindfulness’ Pathways to Mindfulness program we assess people’s current state of awareness regarding who they are physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. There are 15 statements in each of the four elements, which highlights an aspect of that element. One of the spiritual aspects reads - It is easy for me to be self-forgiving. People have three options to indicate how they relate to that statement: Yes, No, and Yes But. In the 12 years that I have been using the program this is the one statement of all the 60 statements that has the most ‘No’ responses, as well as ‘Yes But’. For over a decade, this aspect has had the least amount of ‘Yes’ responses.

As much as it is a challenge to be forgiving of others, it seems that self-forgiveness is the most challenging. I would assert, that when we can be truly self-forgiving, we will be better able to forgive others. The world I am is the world I see!

In the current series of forgiveness posts there is a consistent theme to the best practice regarding forgiveness. it is this simple, and this hard - Forgiveness is selective remembering. In other words, we can choose how we wish to relate to a hurtful situation. One of the key strategies for adopting forgiveness as a way of life is to remember that there are only two motives for any behaviour. All behaviour is either a call for help, or is extending love. If it's the former, then you will find a safe way to extend love to that person. If it’s the latter, you will be extending gratitude. Whatever the situation, empathy or gratitude will always be the answer.

It goes without saying that this same approach to forgiving another is to be adopted in the situation of self-forgiveness. What this means is that the inner dialogue transforms. Instead of situations being judged as right/wrong or good/bad, they are observed as being more, or less serving (loving). I have intentionally used two words that distinguish the difference between being self-forgiving or not. Judgement and observation.

Judgement means that when we have experienced a hurtful event, we see what has occurred, we experience the pain, and then generally give both the event and the people involved a meaning, i.e. bad, wrong, hurtful, stupid, ignorant etc. Observation means that when we have experienced a hurtful event, we observe the facts of the event, we observe what we are experiencing (physically, mentally. and emotionally) then contemplate, and this is the distinguishing western approach to living mindfully, how it is possible for this moment be immersed in love.

When we have been the cause of suffering, we can either react from the self-judgement, or act from the place of self-forgiveness. When we are self-judging we typically feel shame because we perceive that what we did was wrong or bad, which will see us resort to a variety of survival strategies, conscious or otherwise. We might go into denial, or maybe a distraction like drugs and alcohol. A common strategy is to project blame onto another, or plead ignorance. Whatever the reaction, in one way or another it will result in some form of suffering. If not short-term, then it will certainly appear in the long-term.

When we choose to act with self-forgiveness, our first port of call is to step back (metaphorically speaking) and become the observer to the series of events and outcomes that resulted in the less-serving situation. In this state you are witnessing the facts. The key here is that initially, you state the facts and then add a full-stop after each fact. No judgement or meaning is attributed to the fact, which would require a comma!

For example, maybe you got angry at your partner. If you were to choose a strategy of self-forgiveness this is what you might do. You identify what the issue was that you reacted to. In your mind, just state the facts of the issue. Don’t give it any meaning, no judgement that it’s wrong or bad. Observe their reaction or response to your behaviour, once again don’t give it a meaning. Then observe how you are feeling, what you are thinking, and sensing. When this happened, it resulted in me feeling this way. Stick with the facts. You will notice that being in the place of the observer dissolves any emotional context. The observer doesn’t feel, it is just a witness. If you are emotionally triggered, you have moved beyond being the observer. You have used a comma and not the full-stop.

Once you begin to be free of any emotion, you can begin to breath again, you can be more still. Now we move to a deeper level of observation. Given this forgiveness model, that there are only two motives for any behaviour, a call for help or extending love, take a moment to consider what your call for help was, given that you obviously weren’t extending love. You are still only looking for the facts. What was it about this situation that caused me to act in the way I did? Once again stick to the facts. Maybe they acted in a certain way that triggered you. Let’s say they left their dirty clothes on the floor, and you have asked them to put their clothes in the laundry basket many times before. Today was the last straw.

So you observe that today was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Their leaving the clothes on the floor is obviously a behaviour that has occurred on many occasions before. So their behaviour was the catalyst for your reaction, but maybe not the cause, because this has gone on many times before, and you haven’t reacted this way.

A Course in Miracles says - we are never upset for the reason we think we are! This introduces the concept of form and content. For example, anger in terms of content can take on many forms. And even though the forms can vary considerably (e.g. physical abuse or counting to ten) the intensity of the content can be exactly the same. So clothes left on the floor could represent disrespect. Disrespect can take on many forms. Projecting blame or anger onto someone else is your call for help! Maybe during the course of your day you experienced disrespect from a work colleague or manager leaving you disgruntled or feeling poorly about yourself.

Feeling so poorly, the only way that you know how to lift your spirits (and this is generally a subconscious strategy) is to dampen the spirits of someone else. Feeling disrespected I am heightened in my awareness of anything that looks like disrespect in my world. The world I am is the world I see. So your call for help is to make someone else feel bad because of how poorly you are feeling. Imagine if you could see the relationship between your feeling of disrespect at the end of your work day and the build up of anger on seeing the clothes on the floor. There is a chance that you might just sit in the observation of your ‘call for help’ and stay committed to sustaining your peace by not reacting.

In this place you can work out a strategy for dealing with the issue (yes, the clothes still need to be picked up) but in a way that is more loving, loving for yourself, and loving to the other person. Now you can consider natural justice consequences. You explain to your partner that if the clothes aren’t put in the laundry basket they won’t get washed, and you will be putting them in a non-laundry basket. Or a more drastic measure might be to explain that clothes left on the floor they will be thrown in the bin. No anger, no revenge, just a form of natural justice.

Self-forgiveness is one of the most serving forms of self-love. In short, self-forgiveness is having the ability to see your less than serving behaviour as a call for help. Then, responding to the call for help in a manner that is loving to yourself as well as to others. This is about being mindful. From the western perspective this is two fold:

  1. Stop and step back and be the observer.

  2. Then contemplate an alternative thought, feeling or action that is loving to yourself and to others.

“When peace is your priority, then forgiveness is your only function” A Course in Miracles.

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