The art of self-forgiveness

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Self-forgiveness is an important subject that sometimes gets overlooked, especially in a world where we often have much to forgive others for!

It was Thich Nhat Hanh’s 94th birthday (or more properly – Continuation Day) on 12th October this year. He was asking people to carry on his teachings of mindfulness and forgiveness. I thought I would try to give him a present that he would like by forgiving someone.

As part of Vishen Lakhiani’s 6-phase meditation (see You Tube, Mind Valley) you have to forgive someone each time, so naturally I started with a long list! I gradually worked through them til I was really struggling and started to leave out that part. However, when it came to Thay’s ‘birthday’ I considered forgiveness again and realised I should include myself on that list!

It came to my attention again when my partner, Dan (who has the patience of a saint, and is generally the soul of compassion!) was out driving and getting very angry when someone was driving right up his boot. Dan being angry is a rare event, so I thought we should look into it to see what he was really mad about.

He said he was angry that people (who were driving up his boot) didn’t give others any space or consideration, and that they had no patience for others.

What you are angry at externally is usually something to do with yourself, so we considered his answer in that light and came up with: perhaps he was really angry that he didn’t give himself enough consideration and that he was very impatient with himself. This turned out to be spot on.

The reason I have told this story is to illustrate that very often when we think we are mad at others, we are actually mad at ourselves, and it is something that can get overlooked. In the main, people do tend to be too hard on themselves and need to cut themselves some slack.

We inhabit physical bodies and part of being human is that we are not perfect. We are not here to attain perfection either! We are here to try and improve ourselves, and to learn and grow within the limitations of a physical form.

So, starting from that premise, you’re human – you will make mistakes! However highly advanced you are spiritually, however many lives you’ve had and whatever ‘heights’ you have previously achieved, that is still the case. So let up on yourself! As long as you are not deliberately causing harm to others you can breathe easy, look at whatever the mistake was, decide not to repeat it and forgive yourself for your human ‘frailty’.

We are here to learn and grow. If there is no growth there is no life, or no point to life. Growth doesn’t have to be huge. Experiencing a sunrise can be growth! We are all growing and changing through our experiences and our interactions with each other. We learn what does, and doesn’t, piss each other off! And we learn how it feels when we behave in a certain way, and whether or not that is fulfilling or helpful for us.

Fully embracing the physical form and all the experiences that are available to us on this beautiful planet is something we will each do in our own unique way. Some will stumble more than others on the path. There is no one perfect strategy for being human or living our lives.

You can only try to do your best, monitor your actions and feelings and try not to repeat your mistakes. Physical incarnation brings its challenges, and it’s supposed to.

Thich Nhat Hanh would have us show compassion and love and forgive one another. This is a very worthy aim, but it is easy to forget that in order to forgive others, it is helpful to first forgive ourselves.

So lighten up. You’re going to make mistakes, but don’t brood over them. Pick yourself up and move forward. Show yourself the same love and compassion as you would show a child who is still only learning how things work. There is so much to know about life. We are still only learning, whatever age we are. Mistakes are part of that, and we should try and embrace them, and ourselves, with compassion and understanding. After all – charity starts at home, right?

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