07 Mar Forgiveness is like an onion…
“If you want to see the brave, look to those who can return love for hatred. If you want to see the heroic, look to those who can forgive.”
‘a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.’
Betrayal. The ultimate injustice to us as adults. Have you ever watched a child and how they play? One can belt a friend across the face with a toy truck. The victim comes rushing to you clutching their cheek, screaming bloody murder. Once you get to the bottom of it, you discover it was a total misunderstanding. The attacker interpreted one story, didn’t know how to communicate a message, was tired or simply watched similar behaviour modelled at home. You work out the problem and the next minute, the same two friends are skipping off together. As a school teacher, I see this all the time. As children, we are so understanding, so forgiving. We believe an apology, and we are willing to give more chances. On the other hand, children are more willing to cough up an apology. Something happens as an adult. As we lose a grip on spirituality, understanding and empathy, we replace it with judgement. For some, betrayal can be like water off a duck’s back. I envy those people. Those people have perspective. Let’s all be those people! For others, they stash it away and don’t properly analyse it. It grows into a perpetual pit of darkness that haunts them, clouds their judgement and perspective. These negative feelings creep into their subconcious and tap into who they are. They lose trust in the world, question their worth, they live in an alternate, unhappy realm.
Forgiveness. A concept that is easier said than done. It is so much more than smiling and letting something go with the click of the fingers. I mean, if it was like that, nothing would be learned in life. Sometimes (depending on the person, and their emotional intelligence), the penny drops and the process is swift. But, in my expereince the act of forgiving someone is a multilayered process.
Like an onion, there are layers upon layers that need to be peeled back until you can actually forgive.
The concept is complicated, requires introspection and an ability to critically reflect and gain perspective. This possibly explains why so many of us find it hard to execute! When we are unable to forgive, we manifest extreme suffering within ourselves. Hatred, anger, jealousy, attachment and resentment are all symptoms of the unforgiving. But the beauty of the human mind is that we have the power to treat and heal ourselves.
My onion analogy helped me to move beyond residing in a place of negativity, hatred and suffering caused by my inability to forgive those who had betrayed me. To a place of forgiveness and happiness. I often make my husband peel and cut the onions when we cook. I fear of the pain and tears that come with the process. But in this instance, I lay the onions in front of me, took a deep breath and begun to peel….
Layer 1 – Identify your suffering
Suffering and negative states of mind are a plague that destroys our happiness. Yet for many of us, we collect these feelings in our lifetime as we plod along our paths. Suffering is like a bank account of bad experiences. The break up we experienced 10 years ago, the loss of a relative, a friend betraying our trust, an illness or injury. We all suffer to some degree. But not all of us manifest our suffering into the same negative feelings. Some of us collect interest in hatred. Others pay fees in jealousy. Then there are some (myself included) who take large life mortgages out in anger… These negative feelings are our default and go-to emotions in times of high stress and emotion, and at all other times they generate useless and insubservant energy. These feelings seep into the pores of life and poison it. They cloud your perspective, your ability to see the good in situations, your quality of life… “Oh hell!” You are thinking. “I’ve been depositing into my bank account of negativity for years!” Stop a minute. It’s not all doom and gloom. If your bank isn’t working for you, just shop around and take your business elsewhere!
Jack Kornfield (a prominent Buddhist psychologist and my spiritual crush – second to the Dalai Lama) highlights the importance of acknowledging these negative feelings that you have collected over the years through diving deeply inward to sense the suffering in yourself. Ask yourself the following:
Are you holding onto this lack of forgiveness for yourself or for another?
Do you have this great suffering that’s not in your own best interest?
Here, you may actually sense the heavy weight of not forgiving. It’s an uncomfortable process, but think back and really sit with each event or situation. It is with this action that you become consciously aware about how these feelings are affecting you. Once you have acknowledged that you are holding onto some negative feelings of suffering (whether it be jealousy, anger, sadness or hatred), you can come to terms with the “why?” Why has this feeling become a part of who you are and how you live your life? What led to your heart break ? Were you always jealous of how perfect a sibling was? Did you never feel like you didn’t do enough, achieve enough, like you weren’t enough? Often, it may seem like a recent event has caused us grief, but the pain can start long before this. For anyone who has seen a psychologist or counsellor you will be well versed with the “take me back to your childhood” line. We all have to do it. You may have had a seemingly pleasant childhood. I am not trying to take that away from you, but it is important to note that even the best parents can implant negative characteristics and beliefs into the minds of their children (think parents who give their children everything and spoil them rotten). Our parents have shaped us in a number of ways – good and bad!
My negativity bank account had been accruing interest for years, I was paying fees, I was depositing negative thoughts into that bad boy like no one else. I didn’t need to work hard to think about and reflect on my life. I knew straight away who had “betrayed me,” who I hated, who I “would never forgive.” I knew who I thought about before I went to sleep, who I dreamed about, who made me tremble with rage. This was definitely not a hard process for me…
My father – A man who emotionally (and at times physically) abused my mother, sister and myself for most of my life. My father was a product of abuse and abandonment himself. I was the centre of his world for around a year or two, before he met a new partner. I was tossed to the side and deemed scrap metal again. I haven’t spoken to him in two years. He didn’t even attend my wedding…
Ex boyfriends – Men I had been involved with who I viewed as having hurt me in a number of ways. Mostly through infidelity and lies.
I refused to speak to any of these men. I would clench my teeth in rage whenever I saw them, thought or spoke about them. I often envisioned what I would ever say if I every happened to bump into them. I imagined cutting them down and tearing them to shreds for the pain they inflicted on me. I was so angry, hurt and betrayed that the only thought I ever had was revengeful. I wished nothing but suffering on them. But it was through this mindset, that I was the one who suffered.
Layer 2 – Accept suffering
After you identify the cause of your suffering, whether it be current or lurking behind you like a ghost. In Buddhism, you are taught to accept and embrace it as a guaranteed part of life. Although most people do not embrace it and are poisoned by it! How you view suffering, changes everything.
Suffering presents itself in many forms: the loss of a loved one, illness, pain, death or betrayal.
The most important lesson you can learn is that not all suffering is equal. Some forms are inevitable and other kinds are self-created. Either way, you can’t change the external, but you can change what happens internally. In my case, there are things that have happened to me in my life that are beyond my control (my fathers abuse, the death of my mother, the hurtful actions of others). On the flip side, how I choose to respond to this suffering 100% in my hands. I have failed to respond mindfully for most of my life. I have opted to respond as a victim. I saw my misfortunes as opportunities to generate more suffering for myself. You may think that no one on this earth would create suffering for themselves, yet the truth is, most of us do. There are certainly instances where suffering follows you and lingers around like a bad smell. But if you wish to eliminate suffering and live a happy life, it is ESSENTIAL for you to see it as a stepping stone to greater things. Blaming events or others for your misfortune is a surefire recipe for a miserable life. The only way out of the mess, it to blame effectively! Tony Robbins, advocates for blaming people and events not only for the shit storm that they bring but for the good things too. I have only just realised that for the past 10 years (probably longer), I have perpetuated my own pain and kept it alive by focusing on the negative. When all I needed to do was see all these experiences as opportunities. I have replayed betrayal over and over in my mind and thrown huge pity parties for myself. I was engaging in this “poor me” show and was focused on rallying everyone to buy tickets. Fuck, all I needed to do was pull down the lighting and stage equipment and move on!
Layer 3 – Identify negative feelings
Hatred is toxic. Hatred can be the biggest stumbling block in the development of compassion and happiness. Don’t think you exemplify hatred? Challenge accepted. Is there anyone who you haven’t forgiven for something, someone who you blame for making you feel a certain way? There it is – front and centre.
I was led to a dark and miserable place. For most of my life, I clutched onto anger and wouldn’t let go. Upon embarking on my spiritual path, I recognised the inherent need to let go of all this crap as it was weighing me down like swamp mud, gripped like sludge around my ankles. As a teenager and young adult, I was a product of my abusive childhood. My mother probably over compensated for the fact she chose to expose her children to a less than ideal mate, so she spoilt me. Later in my life, I threw adult tantrums to get what I wanted. If boyfriends didn’t conform, I hit, kicked, screamed, scratched and swore. I said the most awful things and went for the jugular with harsh insults. Now as an adult, after a lot of work with a psychologist after the death of my mother, my anger manifests differently. I have done enough work on myself to have moved past attacking those that I love, to a place of hurting myself. Not in a physical way, but in how I speak to myself.
Until the beginning of this year, I lived my life as a victim. Poor me for having an abusive and disconnected father, poor me for the loss of my mother, poor me for all those awful boyfriends who did me wrong, poor me for my father abandoning me at age 28, poor me for battling a number of health issues linked to stress. ME, ME, ME, ME, ME. The problem with this self centred approach on how I viewed mylife, was that I couldn’t see past myself. I have taken ownership for many things since beginning this Happiness Project in May, so I thought I was “healed” but what my experience with spirituality has taught me, is that I had only just skimmed the surface. I had learned how to control my anger, but I had not overcome it. I was still hanging onto baggage from my childhood and I was quickly accumulating more as moved through my life. The only way, I was going to make it through another year, another obstacle, through life – was to put the bags down.
In the Dalai Lama’s book, ‘The Art of Happiness,’ one particular line resonated with me…
“Endless recounting of our woes can serve a limited purpose, it can add drama and a certain excitement to our lives and elicit attention and sympathy from others. But it seems a hard trade off for the unhappiness we continue to endure.”
This may be true of your own suffering too. It is common for us to think about all the injustices done to us, the ways in which we have been unfairly treated, and we keep thinking of them over and over – fueling the hatred fire! What we do is let our wayward emotions get the better of us and it’s harder to reign it back in to really examine the situation for what it is. We find that it extends to other areas of our lives and we tend to take small things too seriously and blow them up out of proportion, while at the same time we can remain indifferent to the really important things.
Sound familiar? The result is that this imbalance of reaction to things in our daily lives can lead to long term consequences and implications. There is salvation from these feelings. There is a way out – through forgiveness. I hate to leave you here. Probably deep in reflection about your past and observant of any feelings you didn’t know you had. In an upcoming post, I will share how forgiveness can change everything. You will learn what forgiveness is and what it is not. This is so important. Once you understand that forgiveness is about yourself and not anyone else it makes it makes it much easier to execute. Through this understanding, you can set an intention to forgive and release pain and suffering. I know that this is possible because I have done it for myself. It has been a game changer. It has changed my life and I know it will change yours.
Kornfield, Jack (2011) https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_ancient_heart_of_forgiveness
Kornfield, Jack (2011) The Ancient Art of Forgiveness video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiRP-Q4mMtk&t=2394s)
The Greater Good Magazine (2018) Forgiveness Defined- https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/forgiveness/definition
Williamson, Marianne (2018) A Course in Miracles (Podcast) https://melissaambrosini.com/podcast/a-course-in-miracles-with-marianne-williamson/