When we hurt others, and our conscience is awake, we suffer. While having a conscience is good, the Buddha is all about the ending of suffering, right? So, what do we do?
Bhante Bodhidhamma is a vipassana (insight meditation) teacher of over 20 years experience. He offers some very helpful insight practices to help us heal our hearts and perhaps (where possible) become reconciled with those we’ve hurt.
(This is Part 3 of a three-part series on learning how to forgive ourselves.)
Here, in Part 3, Bhante Bodhidhamma shows how to heal guilt and remorse through developing goodwill through creative imagination and metta, or loving-kindness.
An Exercise in Creative Imagination to Develop Goodwill
Bring the person to mind and explain your behaviour and how ashamed or sorrowful you feel.
Tell them that you wish to be reconciled. Apologize to them. Offer to make amends. Perhaps a present, too.
Here is formula for asking for forgiveness.
Whatever harm I have done to you, in thought, word or deed, by way of greed, hatred and delusion, intentionally or unintentionally, please forgive me.
Tell them what good qualities you recognise in them.
Imagine them forgiving you and offering you the hand of friendship.
Offer them some blessings for their life.
Can you let yourself be taken back into their heart? To be embraced?
We may need to meet the person and express our remorse.
It is important to choose the proper time and place. If we have done the inner work well, our body and facial language will express our contrition. It is always a good starter to let them know we acknowledge our behavior to have been wrong and to apologizes for any hurt caused.
The person will usually take for granted that we have caused them psychological pain. But we in ourselves must only apologize for our part. Unless it is appropriate, and it usually isn’t, there is no need to disabuse them of their misunderstanding, for our purpose is to undermine their suffering.
Perhaps at some later date there may be occasion to discuss the true psychology of suffering. There is no point in offering this understanding to someone who is not prepared for it. It will only cause resentment, for it will seem to them that we are not taking responsibility for their suffering.
What if a person refuses to forgive us and continues to harbour resentment and revenge?
We can but accept that. Let us remember it is not necessary to be forgiven by someone in order to empty ourselves of feelings of shame, guilt and remorse. These will be uprooted by the steps above. In such a case, it is best to stay away from the person.
Perhaps after a passage of time we can send out feelers and see if reconciliation is possible. We may even send a present. But our motivation ought to be because we want to undermine that person’s suffering.
Must, ought to, have to. These are words that in some counselling and psychotherapeutic circles are often said to cause further false guilt and self-hatred. This may be true if such demands are put upon us externally or if we take on demands we do not want. But when we take responsibility for our resolutions, when such determinations are our own desires, then they become agents of change.
How do we forgive ourselves?
What if the internal judge will not forgive us even when the other person has done so?
We can hear the judge within us:
“I’m terrible!” “How could I do a thing like that?” “Other people must think I’m awful.” “You just can’t improve.” “This is the way I am.” “You deserve the worst!”… and so on; such thoughts can lead to self-harm.
It is important not to identify with this voice. It is just a conditioning within the mind. We do not have to believe it! We do not have to agree with it. Just listen. By just listening, we do not empower it.
Sit quietly with the thoughts and feelings as they arise. Simply listen to this condemning voice as if it belonged to another person. Feel fully the emotions that arise with the voice. In this way you distance yourself from them too. They are just part of the mental turbulence you have created within yourself and it is simply not necessary. Just listening and feeling means we are not empowering those thoughts and feelings and eventually they will die away.
Ask yourself what good does this train of thought do? Surely it is better to do what you can to put right what you did wrong and accept the consequences of your actions.
Then you need to make an act of humility, which properly means to accept yourself as you really are and not as you would wish to be. Accept our limitations, our failings. You can make up your own sayings, such as:
Because of past actions based on greed, hatred and delusion, I have developed such and such unskillful habits.
So long as I am not free of greed, hatred and delusion, I will make mistakes.
Finally, from that starting point of “this is the way I am,” to realize you can change!
Make a determination not to behave like that again. Even though I know I may probably act in a similar unskillful way, yet I keep making the effort. In time, the old unskillful habit will give way.