I had the good fortune to see my teacher Lama Yeshe Rinpoche this week and he emphasised the importance of forgiveness.
There was a forgiveness exercise in the early Mindfulness courses we delivered, but it never made it to the current courses. I think it was quite a profound exercise, but painful to engage in sometimes. It involved writing a letter to a person we were resentful towards, offering forgiveness. We would then put ourself in the shoes of the other and write back to ourselves from their perspective. Letters would be written back and forth like this until all that needed to be said from both sides had been said – we never sent the letters!
This weekend I have been in Milan delivering a teaching skills weekend one with my lovely friends Elena and Gaia. I had quite a lot of free time on Friday and during the weekend when Elena and Gaia were leading tutor groups and I spent this time reflecting on forgiveness.
In my loving kindness practice for quite a long time now, when it gets to the difficult person, typically one of five people comes up. So it seems I have harboured resentment towards these five for some time, with barely a good word to say about them and many bad words to speak about them to a sympathetic audience. Thankfully, this has softened recently and my strong aspiration not to speak badly of others is manifesting more and I am holding my tongue.
I was reflecting on the cause of my resentment towards these five and there seems to be two reasons – both based in fear.
The first is a fear of their suffering. Suffering I am familiar with and struggle with in my own life, but I imagine their suffering is much worse than mine and I don’t feel able to face it. This gives me great fear and I dislike them because of it. They are issues such as insecurity, not being good enough and profound childhood rejection. Clearly, this is my fear projected on to them and sometimes I act my dislike for them out.
The second is a fear of humiliation based on past experiences, when I have felt shame and humiliation which I blame on their actions. Again, this fear of humiliation is something I cannot face in myself and I act it out in my active dislike and resentment towards these others.
Hurt has been caused both ways and continues on.
Most of the time these five are oblivious of my bubbling resentment, but I am stuck with the fear and anger, my familiar stories, and so I suffer. In this way resentment is like eating poison myself and expecting the other person to die.
I want to stop eating poison.
This requires forgiveness – forgiving myself and forgiving the others – then there can be some freedom from resentment.
How do we practice forgiveness? I am certainly not up to addressing the five people as yet, and asking for their forgiveness, but I am bringing them to mind in my practice and dropping the phrases ‘May they forgive me’, May I forgive them’ and ‘May I forgive myself’ into the mind and allowing my experience to unfold. I am cultivating acceptance towards whatever arises and cultivating compassion towards that part of me that is fearful. Aspiring to be more curious than afraid. Courageous work which makes my heart feel tender. So I know that some magic is happening.
Maybe you also wish to be free of some resentment? You can join me in this practice, slowly and kindly moving towards what scares us. Good luck!
May the five become zero.