What Blocks Love: Forgiveness as a Practice of Loving Kindness

(This photograph was taken on Main Beach in Laguna Beach and constructed by the artist, Larry Martin, from San Clemente, CA).  

So, it’s March, and we are STILL talking about love, but from a different angle.  Namely, what BLOCKS love?

I so appreciate Sharon’s Salzberg’s teaching that suggests:   ‘Loving kindness is NOT a feeling. It is an ABILITY…the ability to look at OURSELVES with kindness instead of reflexive criticism; the ability to SEE the humanity in people we DON’T KNOW and the PAIN in people we find difficult.’   Everything becomes easier through the eyes of loving kindness.

The choice points that open up from this teaching invite us to consider:  If I can’t be loving, can I be kind?  If I can’t be kind, can I be non-judgmental? If I can’t be non-judgmental, can I do less harm?

Often, we have to note the ABSENCE of something before we can cultivate the PRESENCE of it, and nowhere is this more apparent than with what CHALLENGES our hearts from  holding loving-kindness.  The biggest obstacle, it turns out is our struggle with unfinished business and forgiveness.

It’s hard to open our hearts to ourselves or to each other when the process of pain is unprocessed.

To truly forgive is a process.  It is a journey.  It can’t be willed, but we can cultivate a willingness to be more INCLINED towards it.  It requires turning to the places where we have caused harm or been harmed by ourselves or others.

Jack Kornfield, a renowned Vipassana meditation teacher in the West, refers to forgiveness as the ‘process of giving up all hope for a better past.’  We are prompted to ask ourselves:  How do we hold in our hearts the wrongs and the in-justices, yet ACT in a way that doesn’t FURTHER the resentment or hate?   How do we ACT in a way that PREVENTS harm from happening again, as much as possible?

How do we actually do that?  We practice forgiveness, just as we practice steadying attention with the breath; just as we practice loving kindness or compassionate phrases.

The FORGIVENESS PROCESS is directed in 3 ways:

• Towards forgiving Oneself
• Asking forgiveness from Others
• Offering forgiveness to Others

Essentially, the practice of forgiveness is a practice of COMPASSION.  It facilitates our coming into a new relationship with suffering.  Ultimately, we practice it for ourselves.

Archbishop  Desmond Tutu,  a South African Anglican cleric, known for his role in the opposition to apartheid in South Africa, puts it this way:  ’to forgive is the highest form of self-interest.  I need to forgive you so that my anger, resentment, and lust for revenge doesn’t corrode my being.’

So with forgiveness, we are choosing NOT to retaliate.  We are choosing something other than revenge.  This can’t be forced or pushed.  The underlying fear for many people is:  if I forgive completely, I may be condoning harm.  If I forgive completely, the story of what happened may be forgotten.

Forgiveness is NOT weak or naive.  We often think or believe that our defense of resentment will protect us but resentment actually shuts us down.  Think about it, the word, resentment means ’re-sending.’  We get caught in the cycle of rumination.  Again and again, we are RE-SENDING messages internally about what we find so difficult to forgive.

With the PRACTICE of forgiveness, we grow in our capacity to accept what has happened.  We are able to say to ourselves:  This happened.  It is NOT about condoning.  It is about moving FORWARD.

In forgiveness practice, the INTENTION is the most important piece.  The intention is to develop a less resentful and open heart, both towards yourself and those you come in contact.  Don’t worry about how you are doing in this moment.

All that matters is the intention to forgive as conditions allow.  We practice holding intention with these phrases:

May I allow myself to make mistakes.

May I  allow myself to be perfectly human.

May I allow myself to be a life long learner…STILL learning life’s lessons

Freedom grows here, moment by moment.

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