Throughout history, the question has dogged beggars and philosophers alike—why are we here? What are we here to learn? What is the greatest thing that we can learn while we are on this Earth? In this body?
The answers depend upon what corner of the church we face and what God we ask them of. I am no philosopher nor do I propose to know the answer to one of Life’s greatest questions, and I don’t propose to know more than I’ve learned. Even then, I really know nothing. Not truly.
But then there came this.
One morning, sitting in stillness, the questions, the thoughts, the “what if”’s fell away and for the first time were replaced by a knowing and a feeling of undeniable truth. Surreal and yet sacred in its delivery, the questions and answers came without hesitation. The moment had been waiting and I was ready to finally listen.
What is the most important thing we can learn in our lifetime?
Without compassion, the love we feel for another will still have attachments and conditions.
Without compassion, the forgiveness our lips speak does not match the anger, hurt, and resentment still in our heart.
Without compassion, the understanding we have for the other person will still depend on their skin color and faith.
Without compassion, the peace that we fight for is nothing but murder and an excuse.
So how do we find compassion? Through suffering. Without personal suffering, there is no compassion. Suffering is more than having “bad” things happen to you. Suffering is going through a situation that is negative or unpleasant but it’s also the opportunity to take the situation from cries of “Why me?” to something that will forever deepen our understanding of others and our own reactions.
No one can know how they’ll feel or react in a situation unless they’ve been in it. Anything outside of that is just an opinion. To have compassion for anyone else means walking through your own fires first.
The importance of compassion is one of the key teachings in Buddhism. It is also one of the key teachings in learning to be fully human. No one is above suffering but we don’t need to perpetuate the feelings of suffering from what we are suffering from.
Forgiving others is something we’ve been taught we should do since we were children, but it’s not until much later in life do we come across the concept of forgiving ourselves.
The ability to forgive ourselves is just as important as forgiving others. Admitting fault in ourselves is not easy. It’s acknowledging that we’re not as perfect as we want to be or at least as perfect as we want others to see us. Taking responsibility for our actions and accepting any guilt we feel is a powerful step toward personal growth. Sometimes we may not know or understand why we did or said the things we did, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still be held accountable.
When you forgive yourself, be wary about the tendency to beat yourself up about what happened. This defeats the purpose and only serves to strengthen any underlying guilt or shame you may be feeling. True forgiveness is sitting with the action and recognizing your role in the situation. If it was less than stellar, own it.
In hindsight, we can all find a thousand different ways we would have acted differently in situations, but it doesn’t mean that under the circumstances of that moment, you weren’t doing the best that you could. This doesn’t excuse the action by any means, but rather it’s understanding that we respond to situations with the skill set we have at the moment, framed by our values and mindset at that time. Cultivating self-forgiveness allows us to emerge as more loving and compassionate human beings, and by seeing ourselves and our past behaviors, choices, and words for what they were at that time, and learning from them, we can grow.
Forgiving yourself is not a Get of Of Jail Free card and in no way excuses past actions. I hope today’s focus is a reminder to include ourselves when we think about the people in our lives we want to—need to—forgive. By doing so, all of the energy that was invested in feelings of guilt, self-blame, and self-doubt, can instead, be used for more positive growth. Feeling disappointment in yourself and your actions is natural but holding onto it shouldn’t be.
I don’t know very many people who are perfect. I don’t know any actually, but there are certainly a lot of us who put our face forward acting as if we were and thinking anything less is unworthy; even shameful. It’s from this place of striving for perfection of whom we think we should be—the perfect parent; perfect spouse; perfect child; perfect employee; perfect person—that one day, we will inevitably stumble.
And when we do and we reveal ourselves of the imperfections of being human, we either ask forgiveness or are asked to forgive. Is there a limit to the number of times we forgive? Do the numbers change when we ask for forgiveness of others instead of ourselves?
Some people say there is no number—you forgive as often as there are stars in the sky, and then there are people like my ex-husband who held steadfastly in the belief of three strikes and you’re out.
I’m not sure which is harder, forgiving someone else or forgiving ourselves. I think that we tend to be much harder on ourselves, allowing feelings of shame and degradation for not being “perfect” to cloak us into feeling unworthy and unloveable.
Perfection isn’t real, but forgiveness is.
In those moments when we fall out of who we think we should be into who we really are, in our various stages of sometimes awkward, sometimes raw humanness, learning as we go, we need to remember that underneath it all, in each one of us, there is always the connection of grace and divinity. And for that, there is nothing to ask forgiveness for.
I’ve been an avid reader all my life—all sorts of books from fiction to nonfiction and inspiration to The Far Side cartoon collection. No matter how many books I have, there will always be room for one more, except these past few weeks, when I’ve had to find room for many more.
It’s just one of those things where everywhere I turned there was something I wanted to read more about and so these past few weeks I’ve been gifting myself with an armload of books from local bookstores. As my pile got higher, I noticed that the subjects were all related in theme: without realizing it I had surrounded myself with biographies of individuals who fell from a place in their lives, met resistance, dealt with it, and overcame it or were working at overcoming it. These were stories of, in part, discovery, faith, challenges, courage, and strength in physical, emotional, and spiritual areas. Except, there were those Stephen King and Anne Rice novels thrown in there a few weeks ago that was pure blissful mind candy….
I can’t help but wonder if these books have been put in my path as an answer to questions I have been asking. Some questions I’m fully aware of and others I feel lurking just beneath my consciousness, stirring up the waters and tickling my dreams. Or perhaps they were brought to my attention to show me to have faith and acceptance no matter what course I’m redirected to. Either way, I am enjoying them tremendously and have already learned much with a lot more to digest.
That being said, one of the books I’ve been reading this week is from Pema Chödrön and I was reminded of the Four Limitless Qualities Chant. I’ve known about it but I was happy to be reminded of it again and I thought its showing up right now, is impeccable timing in that it perfectly expresses my wishes for everyone during this holiday season. Whatever religion you practice, whatever nationality you are, wherever you live in this world, I share and wish for you this:
May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May we be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May we not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering.
May we dwell in the great equanimity free from passion, aggression, and prejudice.