In my first post on forgiveness I focused on anger and its consequences. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m against anger as a human experience. Anger happens, it’s what our bodies do when we perceive an injustice. The issue isn’t finding some magical way to never FEEL anger in our bodies but rather the issue is to find the most skillful means to work to relieve that anger. Anger hurts; anger perpetuated hurts badly. The health consequences (see the video link in the previous post) can become catastrophic.
I believe it is important to look at anger as a sign that your body gives you to act, in the moment, to correct an injustice. But it’s important to know that there are many options to consider, not just to act aggressively through a loud voice or a pounding fist or a threatening stare. If you think about it, learning to diminish your bodily anger will enable your mind to diminish its emotional reasoning, which inevitably leads to the adoption of a broader cognitive perspective. So if you can diminish your bodily anger, not only will your body fare better from a health perspective, but you’ll be able to think more clearly and resolve the injustice with greater skill. I’d call this a true win/win!
So, the first step in the forgiveness process is simply to notice when anger is arising, and adopting the intention to diminish its strength. This is where our mindfulness practice is essential. When the body gets revved up in anger it can be very difficult to begin to relax. If you have a mindfulness practice you know that simply taking a mindful breath, perhaps with your eyes gently closed, and redirecting your anger-focused attention for a few moments to the peacefulness of your breathing can immediately help your body to stand down. A simple mindful breath, for one who meditates regularly and has learned to be present non-judgmentally, will slow the body and the mind down to a manageable speed.
With our bodies and minds moving a bit more slowly, the process of cognitive widening occurs. Now we are able to take perspective, to see a bigger picture. We can look at the event provoking our anger and ask a few simple questions: Does this truly concern me? Has this person intentionally acted to cause pain and suffering? Can this problem be corrected? Is it MY job to correct it? Should this person be punished for what s/he has done? Or should I let go of this and move on?
Notice something: I’m not talking about a major event, a lifetime transgression, something traumatic. I’m talking about the day-to-day events that happen without warning, and cause annoyance. The customer service representative who treats you rudely. The boss who criticizes you publicly. Your wife/husband who forgets to do something you needed him/her to get done. Your son/daughter acting disrespectfully. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.
It’s helpful if we can correct the transgression, and make right whatever has gone wrong. But now I think it’s essential to decide, in the course of a day-to-day annoying event, do I put my energy into punishing this person, getting justice, or do I forgive instead? We can spin our wheels and expend a lot of energy being the arbiter of justice, and God knows there are plenty of opportunities, if we so choose, to act as judge and jury. But in this world of small annoyances, what good does this really do for you? Has your day gotten better because you were able to tell the customer service representative what a jerk he is? Or told stories about your boss behind her back to make her look foolish? Or made your wife/husband feel defensive with a cutting remark? Or made your child feel small and powerless by exacting punishment for every mistake he makes? I can only speak for myself, but being focused on BEING RIGHT is exhausting and, frankly, not a very skillful way to living a life worth living.
If you’re like me, you want to be more forgiving than judgmental and punishing. But it’s not always easy to do so. It requires that you work at it, work that, in my opinion, is very spiritual work. It requires that you see things from the other person’s point of view, understand how their actions made sense to them in the moment they did them, and make a conscious effort, set a mindful intention, to not act toward that other person with anger. Instead, to act toward that person in kindness, with compassion, to demonstrate your caring and concern for them, over and above yourself.
Well, that’s counter-cultural! And can be controversial if not fully understood and accepted. More to come in my next post! But until that time, please take a few minutes to read and watch about Forgiveness and Justice. I think you’ll see where I’m going with this if you do. Here’s the link: http://www.thepowerofforgiveness.com/understanding/index.html#