I’d hoped to get this posted in September, our time of new beginnings, but posting it in October is a good chance to practice self-forgiveness.

In any event, as the seasons turn, and we begin out new “season” at InsightLA, a good thing to do at the beginning of the year – or any other time, for that matter – is to reflect on the harm that one has done, the harm that has been done to one, and to make an effort to forgive.  Forgive self, forgive others, and forgive life.

Here are some things I’ve learned about forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness is good for you.  Forgiveness lowers blood pressure, releases tension, even improves immune response.  Holding onto resentment releases stress chemicals that lead to backache, muscle aches, dizziness and upset stomach.
  • Forgiveness increases happiness:  Studies show that people who are able to forgive and let go have improved feelings of contentment and well-being, and are generally happier than people who are unwilling to let go of feelings of having been harmed.
  • Almost nobody wants to do it!  Forgiveness requires letting go of “cherished wounds;”  the stories we have told ourselves many times over about the wrongs we suffered, and the harm that was done to us, and how we’ve suffered as a consequence.  It requires “changing our minds”  and letting go of long-held, deeply ingrained habits of thought, many of which seem to make us feel better, by elevating ourselves over the person who harmed us.
  • Forgiveness is not a way to deny pain.  You can’t leapfrog over the hurt.  You first have to acknowledge the pain of the harm, to grieve the loss, to experience the pain of betrayal.  Attempting to leapfrog over this is called “spiritual bypass.”  A way of using pseudo-spirituality to avoid feeling pain.
  • Forgiveness is not the same as condoning.  It doesn’t mean you were “wrong” to be angry, or that the other person is “right.”  You don’t need to understand or sympathize with the wrong-doer.  You are letting go for your sake, not for theirs.
  • Forgiveness is a recognition that my lust for revenge, my resentment, my cynicism, hurts me.  Not the person who harmed me.

The Buddha said that when we carry a grudge of hold anger towards another, it’s like picking up a hot coal to throw at someone.  We’re the one who gets burned.

Nelson Mendela said resentment is like drinking poison, hoping the other one will die.

Catherine Ponder has said “when you hold resentment towards another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel.  Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.”

Coming soon:  How to practice forgiveness.  Also, forgiving ourselves, and forgiving life.  Stay tuned!


September – The fall season begins!

Maybe it’s all those formative years of being in school, when the year begins in September and ends in June, or all my later years working in television, where the year began with the fall season – or maybe some genetic ties to the Jewish calendar, which marks the fall as the beginning of the year.  But it always seems to me that September is the time for new beginnings.  And so, in the two groups I lead, Dharma Alliance and the Thursday evening sitting group, this feels like a good time to begin again.

Beginning again is the key to our practice.  We know the need for a daily practice, and we vow to have one – and then something happens, and a day or two or more go by when we don’t sit, and momentum builds and we find it harder to sit.  Don’t sweat it.  Just begin again.  We know that resting attention at the breath is a good way to develop concentration, but we notice one breath, maybe two, and then the mind wanders, and we’re off, onto our to-do lists, our hopes and dreams, memories and regrets.   No problem.  Just begin again.  Or we are doing a Metta practice, sending wishes of good will to all beings.  One being comes to mind and we’re carried off  on a train of thought that catapults us back to the past and all that might have been but was instead.  Doesn’t matter.  Begin again.

The Buddha has said that to which we incline our minds, becomes the natural state of the mind.  If every time we find the mind wandering, or our practice slipping, we blame or criticize or get angry at ourselves, all we are doing is practicing blame and harsh judgment or anger.  If on the other hand we simply notice, and without fuss or bother, begin again, we are practicing resolve, persistence, energy, mindfulness and kindness.

Which do you think it would be more beneficial to practice?