Forgiveness of Self: a Radical Act of Self-Compassion
I prided myself on being spiritual, evolved with a deep sense of awareness.
I had confidence in my bona fide years of spiritual experiences from multiple retreats, classes, and some certifications. And yet somehow, I was oblivious that a friend of many years ended our friendship by continuously setting boundaries.
These boundaries were like little paper cuts or a balloon popping in my face. My surprise, shock, and then defensive, passive-aggressive anger ensued. After the wave of emotions, I always looked at myself to see what cues I might have missed during our conversations.
Setting boundaries sometimes looks like spiritual bypassing. Avoiding the real vulnerable conversations can be easier than having them. At the risk of being starkly truthful about feelings, sometimes people turn it around to make others responsible for their emotions that may not be so pretty.
After some time to reflect, I realized that at the risk of being vulnerable, she decided to put me in my place as she did so often in the past. From her perspective, they were boundaries; from my perspective, it was judgmental and out of line.
The repetition of behavior finally became clear, although I had ignored all the warning signs for years. It was a pattern of betrayal mixed in with genuine love, over and over. From her perspective, she could probably say the same in reverse.
I am no stranger to spiritual bypassing. I had been doing it with this friendship for years.
John Welwood, a psychotherapist and author in the transpersonal psychology field, defined the term:
“Spiritual bypassing as using spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional ‘unfinished business,’ to shore up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings, and developmental tasks.”
The people in our lives will always show us where there is an opportunity for growth or self-awareness. This means looking at our contribution, questioning the triggers, and engaging with our shadow—if we choose to accept the task.
What does Buddhism say about forgiveness? How do we live more forgiving lives? Why should I forgive?
We live in such a grudge-holding, self-righteous world behind our screens and social spaces, and holding onto these grudges is simply not healthy and does not raise our vibration of compassion. Sometimes our expectations are not met when we forgive. I consider that forgiveness of self is more important for my own health, and putting myself first is the best I can do for others.
Perhaps I will take the suggestion of the Goenka tradition of ceremonially saying goodbye to her while forgiving her:
“If I have hurt or harmed you knowingly or unknowingly, I ask your forgiveness. If you have hurt me knowingly or unknowingly, I forgive you.”
I have determined over these last months of processing, meditating, and writing to salvage and set boundaries within other key relationships, that this relationship isn’t ready for mending, if at all. I am setting a boundary around my heart; it is my human right to be happy and free—and forgiveness is not amnesia.
“If we cling to anger or hatred, we will suffer. It is possible to respond strongly, wisely, and compassionately, without hatred.” ~ Jack Kornfield
Here are three steps to manage the experience without spiritual bypassing:
1. Self-forgiveness and compassion: I need enough of both so I can forgive her. Can I see that she is only human? Can I see that although from my ego’s perspective she is wrong, it is only my ego telling me this.
2. Not holding onto my ego to be right: We are each having our own experience of our own realities.
3. Continue to cultivate self-awareness: I must continue to soften, changing the level of hostility and giving it less power over my emotional well-being.
The ideas impermanence, allowing the realness of the hurt to exist, and giving myself tender care. The feelings are vast, from numbness, tiredness, sadness, fatigue, and happiness. Only when I allow all the emotions for myself, am I able to recognize the universal suffering or her suffering.
I have accepted my friend’s boundary request, and while I still harbor disappointment and sadness, I forgive myself most of all.
After all, life is too short for me to be holding onto her belief in me and her expectations, for I can only keep my side of the street clean and learn from it. And I still love her and wish her all the best.