“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.” ~ Buddha
The above quote seems so true, yet everyday we’re bombarded by a torrent of bad news on TV, in the newspapers or on the radio. There’s just no escaping from it.
But how much personal responsibility should we take for the impact these things have on our lives—and could forgiveness be the solution if one day we end up being the source of such news?
If you asked me this question 20 years ago, I’d probably have laughed.
In 2005, personal circumstances threw me into that very arena, when my partner was murdered. Psychologists say we experience five stages of grief before finding real peace after bereavement. Maybe that’s true in most cases, but for me it was much quicker because I chose to forgive his killer.
As a Buddhist, the concept of forgiveness is key to my everyday life. But believe me, losing someone in this way is guaranteed to shake any human being to the core, whatever their beliefs. Some won’t understand the concept of forgiveness, certainly many of my family and friends didn’t—but we must ask ourselves, what’s the alternative?
Remaining stuck in the trap of pain, anger and loss allows the perpetrator of the crime to become the focus of our attention. We allow them power over every waking and sleeping moment of our lives like some kind of grotesque black monster.
Did you notice how I used the expression “we allow?” This is because I came to realize very quickly that whether or not we remain stuck is our choice. Physical and mental health begins to suffer when we hold on to negative emotions—leading many to seek out appropriate escape routes such as prescribed medication, alcohol or illicit drugs.
But how can forgiveness help and why should we forgive someone who hurt us?
As a stress consultant, I am asked this question so often by people stuck in anger and grief and it brings a great sense of comfort to be able to guide people through this difficult time by sharing my own personal experiences and strategies.
Forgiveness not only liberated me from the bonds of grief, pain and anger, it also immediately transformed my partner’s killer from a big black monster right back down to human size.
But where do we begin?
If you’re thinking of taking the forgiveness route, it’s important to understand that feeling angry isn’t wrong. In fact it’s perfectly normal to feel angry following something so abhorrent and painful. The problems result however, when we hold on to those emotions which serve absolutely no positive purpose to the survivors of crime or the perpetrators.
We must learn to feel compassion both for ourselves and for those who did us wrong.
It’s all well and good talking about compassion, but in reality it’s not an easy process or is it a natural one. Forgiveness is a point we reach by developing and opening the mind so we can view the situation objectively rather than subjectively.
Meditation is a great tool for helping us do this. It brings us to the present moment so we see situations as they really are rather than how we imagine them to be.
Absolutely anyone can learn to cultivate forgiveness and compassion no matter what the situation, or how bad it is. Being able to forgive is a sign of great strength that neither needs the permission of the other person nor an acceptance of what they did. Forgiveness is first and foremost about finding personal freedom from the pain and anguish you’re feeling.
The particular type of meditation that worked for me, and that I recommend to all my clients is Tonglen or Compassion Meditation. Tonglen is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice now used worldwide to help cultivate compassion, forgiveness and acceptance. The most powerful thing about this type of meditation is that it not only helps us develop compassion for those closest to us, but also towards our enemy.
You can find the Tonglen meditation on my website.
Tonglen practice can be used in any situation that makes us feel stressed, angry or anxious. When we learn to feel compassion and forgiveness for those around us, we at the same time naturally cultivate a sense of inner peace and calm. This subsequently has a dramatic impact on our physical, emotional and spiritual health creating numerous benefits.
I genuinely believe it was my practice of Tonglen meditation that helped me bypass all those serious health problems I could have experienced because of the pain and anger my partner’s death created.
Stress, anxiety or anger cause many physical changes to happen in our body. Our muscles become tense causing real physical pain, blood pressure rises and our heartbeat quickens—often leading us to worry that there is something seriously wrong. All these come from a single thought in our mind that can be changed so easily through meditation on compassion. This is why forgiveness is so powerful, especially after going through a situation of trauma.
Just 10 minutes of your time each day practicing this wonderful form of meditation will make such a dramatic change to your life. It definitely helped me to get through one of the most difficult periods of my life and I’m absolutely sure it will have the same effect on you.
Author: Julie Kelly
Apprentice Editor: Tess Estandarte / Editor: Catherine Monkman