Forgiving Ourselves

forgivenessAlthough we might make every effort to respond to other people and stressful situations in a mindful way, we’re only human and won’t get it right every time. Try as we might, we can’t be mindful twenty-four hours a day; we’re bound to sometimes say or do things mindlessly. As a result, we may end up hurting other people’s feelings, doing things we later regret, or getting ourselves into difficult situations.

Our first reaction might be to blame ourselves: “I should have known better. Why on earth did I do that?” However, mindless moments give us opportunities to become mindful again. Even though we may have caused trouble for ourselves or others, it’s never too late to re-centre and go forward with mindfulness.

What If We Don’t Want to Forgive Ourselves?

“When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future.” - Bernard Meltzer

It’s normal to feel some resistance to forgiveness. In some cases, it’s the very last thing we want to do. To forgive ourselves may make us feel like we’re saying ‘It didn’t matter’. Of course, how we treat each other matters very much. Forgiveness isn’t about diminishing our responsibility to others and it isn’t about dismissing the effect of our actions. 

Forgiveness is about acknowledging what has happened, and accepting the reality of it with open-heartedness and understanding. This is why forgiveness is so difficult to do! It’s not easy to open our hearts in painful situations, especially when we know it is us who has caused the pain.

Mindfulness gives us the opportunity to become clear on our intentions. If we have caused pain, suffering or even simple inconvenience to others, what is our heart-felt intention going forward? It’s probably to put it right somehow, to re-connect or find resolution. However, if we’re unable to forgive ourselves, it’s unlikely that we will be present enough to heal the situation, because we’ll be too caught in self-blame and anger towards ourselves to be there for the other person. If we really want to be of use to others, we must find a way to become grounded in the present. After all, the solution to mindlessness is not more mindlessness.

Forgiveness as a Re-Entry Point

When we feel that we’ve done something wrong or bad, we very often slip into mentally beating ourselves up over it. We chide ourselves, and can become overwhelmed with thoughts of how stupid we are, how selfish we are, how we were so wrapped up in ourselves that we didn’t think of the consequences of our words or actions. But here is the important point: when we are wrapped up in ourselves, there’s always a reason. Usually the reason is that we are experiencing some kind of pain or stress. We become blind to the present moment because of our own difficult internal experience.

This is why forgiveness is so important. If we beat ourselves up every time we act mindlessly, we are simply continuing to suffer and therefore not being as present as we could be. Acceptance and forgiveness helps us step out of our mental chatter about what a bad person we are, and back into the here and now.

Self-Exploration and Understanding

It may be useful to spend some time reflecting on what distracted us away from being present in the first place. What was on our mind at the time? What was going on in our life? Approach this process gently and lightly, with a sense of compassionate curiosity, rather than blame or guilt. If we can gain a better understanding of ourselves, then we are more likely to not get so stuck next time around. And if we do get just as stuck, we might be able to notice more quickly and accept the situation with a little more ease. Either way, taking the time to listen to ourselves and understand ourselves better will have an outwardly positive effect on those around us. So even though it might be hard if we’re in a self-blaming mindset, try not to think of it as a self-indulgent or selfish practice.

We all experience many mindless moments throughout the day. Yet this can be harnessed as an opportunity to really explore the inner workings of our minds. Every time we notice that we have become mindless, we can gently bring our attention back to the moment. We can practice forgiving ourselves, accepting that we, like everyone else around us, are only human and are always doing the best that we can in any given moment. In time, we may notice that practicing this self-forgiveness enables us to extend that forgiving nature to others too.

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