“Because we are human beings, we cannot avoid making mistakes. We might have caused someone else to suffer, we might have offended our beloved ones, and we feel regret. But it is always possible for us to begin anew, and to transform all these kinds of mistakes. Without making mistakes there is no way to learn, in order to be a better person, to learn how to be tolerant, to be compassionate, to be loving, to be accepting. That is why mistakes play a role in our training, in our learning, and we should not get caught in the prison of culpability just because we have made some mistakes in our life. “
~Thich Nhat Hanh
Have you ever had those moments where you felt like you were driving off a cliff, but you couldn’t turn the wheel. The times when you knew you were acting unmindfully, but you watched yourself get deeper and deeper and just couldn’t break free from the power struggle. One Dharma teacher described it as, “waving to yourself as you go over the waterfall.” I think we’ve all been there. Despite all our training and resolve, we say the wrong things, we act in ways we know will harm ourselves or others. Our fear, habit, or resistance keeps us bound up with our desire to control others, or push for the results we want. In these moments, where we see our missteps and are disappointed and discouraged, we can remember that we all make mistakes and we can start again.
When we offer forgiveness to ourselves, we create a spaciousness that removes our blame and judgement about our failings and lets us begin again. We all come up short of our expectations sometimes. We all come from complicated backgrounds and relationships that can influence us in unconscious ways that we do not always recognize until we are reenacting the past. A practice I do every day is offering forgiveness. In this way, I can shine light on the hurts and judgements from the day. By caring for my suffering, I keep the small resentments from becoming larger ones. Here is my adaptation of the classic Buddhist forgiveness meditation:
Daily Forgiveness Meditation
I bring awareness to my body. I recognize the ways I have hurt my body today, both knowingly and unknowingly. I have not always listened to my body and I sometimes ignore my hunger, tiredness, fatigue, and pain. I do not always care for my body with exercise or healthy food. Maybe I ingested food and drink that brings toxins into my body. But now, to the extent that I am able, I offer myself forgiveness for how I have hurt my body. I make a commitment to care for my body and not abandon myself. Just as my body loves me and always does the best it can, I promise to be there to support my body.
I bring awareness to the ways I have hurt myself, both knowingly and unknowingly, through my thoughts, words, and deeds. Sometimes, I place unrealistic expectations upon myself or create impossible to do lists that I cannot accomplish. I have been harsh and critical of my abilities. To the extent I am able, I offer myself forgiveness for my lack of understanding of my own suffering and dissatisfaction with myself. I give myself permission to be human and to make mistakes. I release myself from the prison of perfection and from responsibility for other’s thoughts and feelings. To the degree I am able, I forgive myself for what I perceive are my imperfections and love and accept myself exactly as I am right now, without any expectation that I will ever be different than I am right now.
I bring awareness to the way I have hurt another, both knowingly and unknowingly, through my thoughts, speech, or actions. Understanding that the inability to care for my suffering only brings more suffering, I make the commitment to offer compassionate attention to my thoughts, perceptions, and emotions, so I will be capable of kindness and compassion. To the extent that I am able, I release myself from blame and offer myself forgiveness for my mistakes. Giving myself understanding and offering myself gentleness, I release myself, as best I can, from judgement, blame, and disappointment because of my unskillful thoughts, speech, and actions.
I bring awareness to the ways I have been hurt, both knowingly and unknowingly, by another’s thoughts, speech, or actions. I recognize that my highest priority is to the purity of my consciousness and holding onto judgement, hatred, and revenge, not only damages my relationships, but hurts myself as well. Knowing that forgiveness is not possible until I have fully understood the depth of my own suffering created by another, I vow to care for my hurt with mindful compassion. Recognizing that those who cannot take care of their own suffering, cause suffering in others, to the extent I am able, I offer understanding and forgiveness to the other person and free them from my judgement, dislike, and blame. To whatever degree possible, I offer this person the same freedom as myself, the right to make mistakes, to be imperfect, and fully human.
Wishing you unconditional forgiveness for your own perfectly imperfect life.
May we all trust our light,
Artwork credit: Professions for Peace.com