Most people will categorically agree that one of the most difficult emotions to express is forgiveness. More lives have been destroyed by bitterness and the inability to forgive than perhaps any other negative emotion. Even the most minuscule issues that we refuse to let go of can poison us for a lifetime.
When it comes to this issue, I’ve found an ancient quote from the Buddha very helpful: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else — you are the one who gets burned.”
Resentment from my own past was like dragging around a thousand-pound anchor in the form of hostility and self-pity — it became exhausting. Each day I became more and more depleted, as I simply refused to let go of any hurtful actions that had been allegedly perpetrated upon me. Occasionally, I’d find a place in my heart where I wanted to let go, but the tremendous weight on my shoulders wouldn’t let me even entertain the thought of it.
Self-Resentment & Self-Hatred
As strong as my bitterness toward those around me was, the anger I directed at myself was much worse. Self-hatred consumed me like a cancer, eating away at my soul with every memory of regret. Each time I revisited the past and recalled my mistakes, the burden of carrying this load made my heart grow weaker and weaker.
Self-resentment truly is the original “heart disease”; and to achieve a life of kindness, holding on to this paralyzing energy is simply not an option.
Setting Ourselves Free from the Ego's Cage
Forgiveness is the key that releases us from the ego’s cage and sets us free from the illusions of our past. To forgive, we must first learn to be present, and this means letting go of the past and not anticipating the future — or as Ram Dass told us in the ’70s: “Be here now.”
The delusional belief in anything other than the present moment is what causes us to feel emotional pain, and fear what may or may not happen. The truth is, the only way you can ever experience either one is in your mind. The past is simply a movie you keep replaying in your head, while the future is nothing more than a coming attraction for a film that’s yet to be released. Being in the present, however, is the very essence of life and where everything takes place. To completely understand this principle means to recognize that it’s impossible to continue to be hurt by anything that has ever happened to you.
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The Heart’s Perspective: Compassion
One of the most effective ways in which you can forgive adversaries is by looking at them with sincere compassion. Until you change your perspective and realize that those who have hurt you are also in pain, you’ll never be free of resentment.
When working with schools, I always encourage staff and students to embrace this philosophy when dealing with bullies. I honestly believe that someone only becomes a bully because he or she has been abused in some way.
Aggression is typically stored-up pain that’s released upon an innocent bystander. In most cases, this conduct is an oppressor’s cry for help. Rather than attempting to relieve this angst, our culture tends to first punish the offending students. Sadly, this only adds to their negative energy, causing them to repeat their behavior and prolonging the suffering.
Being For Kindness, Not Against Bullies
My message to our educational system is to stop being against bullies and instead be for kindness in our schools. Being “for” gives us tremendous strength, while, in my experience, being “against” only weakens us.
For example, even though I watched alcohol destroy my family, I’m not against substance abuse; I’m for healthy living. While I’ve had friends experience the horrors of war, I’m not against it; I’m for peace. And despite having personally witnessed violent acts of unkindness, I’m not against violence; I’m for love, compassion, and kindness.
Seeing Through the Eyes of Empathy
Forgiving my father became a genuine possibility when I was no longer against him; and I was only able to do so when I began looking at him with empathy. For me, viewing life through his eyes was now freeing and illuminating . . . but it was also quite heartbreaking. As I began to see the pain inflicted on him by my grandfather, I couldn’t help but sympathize and feel an overwhelming sense of compassion toward him.
Rather than being angry with my father, I was now opening my heart to him through my awareness of how difficult his life must have been. I didn’t think of him as a bully anymore; I knew that he was the one who had been bullied.
This all happened because I was able to change my perspective. By shifting from my head to my heart, everything looked completely different, and my life felt lighter.
Opening Your Compassionate Heart
We can practice this technique with anyone who has mistreated us. By looking at people in this way, we can see that they’re spiritual beings disguised as a mother, a father, a friend, a co-worker, or even a stranger; and they’re doing the very best they can. It’s not wise to judge others’ actions until we truly know their story.
If others have been unkind to you, consider that they may have been hurt in some way. Their harmful actions could simply be a manifestation of the pain in their own hearts and minds. By seeing them as wounded beings, the targets of unkindness themselves, your heart will open . . . which allows a forgiving spirit to flow through you.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Hay House Inc. ©2011. www.hayhouse.com
am i being kind: how asking one simple question can change your life...and your world
by Michael J. Chase.
About the Author
Affectionately known as “The Kindness Guy,” Michael J. Chase is an author, inspirational speaker, and a powerful voice for creating a kinder world. At the age of 37, following a life-changing epiphany, Michael ended an award-winning photography career to found The Kindness Center. After gaining extensive media attention for his 24 hours of kindness event, he quickly became a sought-after speaker and workshop leader throughout the world. Visit his website: www.TheKindnessCenter.com.