Open Discussion on “Forgiveness”
Discussion led by Phil Brown, President
REFLECTIONS ON FORGIVENESS
The need for forgiveness arises after there has been a violation of individual or social norms that is substantial enough to have caused injury or suffering. The action that causes this suffering may be a break, disregard, or infringement of a law, rule or promise. Violation means to treat with violence. So, violence in this sense can be either personal or structural. We can violate a person through physical or emotional violence. We can violate a person’s trust in us, or violate the rules that govern social well-being in an organization. This experience of having been violated heightens our sense of separation. Forgiveness assists us in coming out of, emerging from this sense of separateness. We cease to feel resentment, the need for redress.
Remembering that the Buddha taught that all human beings want to be happy, we can focus on our commonality rather than our separation. Mindfulness and deliberation help us move from reactivity to responsiveness. From responsiveness, forgiveness arises. Each person acting to heal him or herself
Forgiveness is at the root of the chain of the Brahmaviharas. The practice of Metta, or loving kindness, begins the process of self-healing. Without it, compassion for others is difficult. Sympathetic joy – feeling joy for others’ success and being is difficult without compassion, and the state of equanimity is difficult without forgiveness, compassion and being able to feel sympathetic joy (http://dharmawisdom.org/teachings/talks/forgiveness).
What do we have trouble forgiving others for, ourselves for? Every time we get near this memory or what sets off similar feelings of trauma we have trouble, and this conditions what we experience. What afflictive emotions come up when we remember or feel this – disappointment, anger, sadness, uncertainty, frustration, self-doubt, apathy, loss, regret, sorrow, hopelessness, rejection. This relates to somatic/energy sensations in the body/mind that also condition our experience. Being unable to forgive makes us feel depleted, detracted, closed, fatigued, withdrawn. We cling to this and cause ourselves and others suffering, which gives it solidity, but it can move if we don’t hold on to it.
Through meditating on forgiveness, we open the space to be kinder to ourselves and others, and be less caught in the emotions that drive unskillful actions and reactions. Through mindfulness we grow the capacity to see what’s going on, and see how our lives are being affected by the causes and conditions that have led to the violation, a sense of victimization. It allows us to move from reacting mind to responding mind. Not forgiving distorts us, as it grabs only one side of us, and it feels awful. Forgiving is not condoning a harmful act. We forgive a person, not the act. We can still act compassionately to change the causes and conditions of the violation/suffering.
Through forgiveness we deepen ourselves as human beings.