Categories
Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery Spirituality

Forgiveness: The Path Back to Your Heart

Inspired image of @embodiedsacred from our sho...
“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Rumi

Forgiveness: It’s something we seek and it’s something we can give others. In recovery, forgiveness is imperative for the healing process to really thrive. In the 12-step process, we do inventories to uncover and discover the grievances we may have with others, and more importantly, with ourselves.  But for many of us, this idea of forgiveness, compassion, and kindness are foreign to us. In fact, in some circles, being compassionate and forgiving someone’s foibles is considered a weakness.

 

First, we must start with forgiving ourselves. The truth is, this is easier said than done. We are stuck with internal tapes on a loupe, reminding us of our insignificance and shame. We are inundated with fractured family systems that influence our self-esteem and self-worth. We are touched by the shame and sometimes self-righteous justification of our reactions. To begin this process of forgiveness and self-compassion takes a willingness to take contrary action and go into the emotional places of discomfort. Learning to love ourselves and be kind to ourselves is hard work. But it’s work well worth doing.

 

When I was younger, my anger fueled me. In some ways, it was also the thing that protected me. However, when I came to recovery, I was deeply affected by tragedy and trauma. At the same time, my dysfunctional family system projected blame and shame onto me, leaving me bereft of any ability to be kind to myself. When I began to do the inner work required to redefine my paradigm, I was frozen by fear. This wasn’t delicate work; it was an archeological excavation. But I soon realized that if I was to truly be of service and help others, I had to help myself first. If we are an empty well, we ultimately have nothing to give others.

 

The contemplative practices of yoga and meditation resonate with me, particularly in relation to my recovery.  These are the practices that have ultimately shown me the way to being of service, being kind, and having an open heart. There are a series of meditations called the Brahma Viharas. They are the heart practices, typically referred to as metta practice. They are:  lovingkindness, forgiveness, and compassion.  In each of these, you focus your energy on phrases that nurture a sense of lovingkindness, forgiveness, and compassion to yourself, someone you love, a benefactor, a difficult person, and then all beings. Often times, it is suggested to focus primarily on yourself in the beginning, sometimes even for the first year of your meditation practice. Cultivating compassion, forgiveness, and love for yourself is, in and of itself, the act of filling your well.

 

Yoga provides another opportunity: the chance to get back into your body through breath and movement. We can begin to forgive our inflexibility with patience; we can begin to forgive our hyper-flexibility by developing stability.  Both meditation and yoga are opportunities to reconnect with ourselves, and ultimately finding refuge within. One breath, one kind act of self care at a time.

 

I am reminded of the phrase, “My Friend, the Enemy.” Within it, compassion and forgiveness come together. When we develop compassion, we begin to develop the space to forgive those who have harmed us, those we resent, or those who continue to suffer. It doesn’t mean that we justify harms done; it means we get to put down the hot coal of anger we’ve been carrying around so our hearts can heal.

 

Links for Meditation and Yoga:

Against the Stream

Insight LA

Recovery 2.o

Julian Walker

Categories
Feelings Mental Health Recovery Self-Care Spirituality

Forgiveness and Compassion: One Breath at a Time

Compassion (Photo credit: Sarit Photography)

Recently I was asked, “What’s the difference between forgiveness and compassion?” Unearthed from a discussion about childhood trauma, recovery, and parents, the discussion had evolved to spirituality and Buddhist practice and the ways in which we can make space for the trauma and hurt of our pasts. There is an answer, of course, but I often find that questions such as these are best answered via experiential stories. Both forgiveness and compassion require that we practice some level of self-acceptance; in order to be forgiving or able to show compassion to others, we have to be able to provide ourselves with the same thing. This, in its very essence, requires patience and dedication. Changing one’s worldview is tough, and not something most of do without some elements of resistance.

 

To forgive, we must be ready to let go of our anger and resentment toward someone or something. However, the meaning of forgiveness that I prefer is simply “letting go.” The act of compassion is the desire to alleviate the suffering of others. In other words, it is showing care for others while understanding that they are fully responsible for their actions.  It doesn’t mean that we are justifying their behavior; instead, by being compassionate, we are making space for others to have their experiences without attaching our reactions to them.  This doesn’t come easy. I can tell you from experience that the first few years of my recovery were filled with justified anger.  I couldn’t see past my own resentment and fear, hurt and trauma. There simply wasn’t space for that and I wasn’t fortunate enough to have someone in my life to teach me how to create that space. Things have definitely evolved in the world of recovery.

 

Most of us come to recovery at the lowest points of our lives, finding that addiction and mental illness have negatively impacted our self-esteem, self-worth, confidence, and self-image, among other things.  We have a laundry list of harms that have been committed against us and another list of wrongs we committed against others. As with any list, you have to check things off one at a time. However, when we are in the midst of the “fight or flight” response (survival mode), we are actually at the polar opposite of forgiveness and compassion. Try to start simply. It’s the small things that often make the biggest differences in our lives.

  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Ask for help.
  • Feel your feelings, but understand they aren’t facts.
  • Pause. When we are stressed, we get busy. It detracts from the stress, but it also disallows us to deal what’s really going on within.

 

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.
Pema Chödrön