Letting Go of Being Right
Excerpted from The Power of Forgiveness by Joan Gattuso
If you truly desire peace, you must relinquish being “right” and release attack—violent thoughts and actions. If you are unwilling to practice forgiveness, you keep the seeds of separation alive. You are watering those seeds rather than the seeds of loving-kindness and forgiveness. What you water through your consciousness, either positive or negative, will sprout and grow in your life and can be witnessed in your day-to-day experiences.
So many times I have witnessed individuals absolutely fixated on holding to their grievances, not realizing their unforgiving thoughts are keeping them in hell.
Alex is such a person. She absolutely and totally loathes her only sibling, an elder brother. She has loathed him since she was three; she even has a photo of her dainty little self attempting to pull away from her ten-year-old brother, who was trying to hold her hand so the picture could be taken.
Fifty years later she still loathes him. He has never physically or sexually abused her. He has never sworn at her, made fun of her, mocked her, or told lies about her.
There is no reasonable or rational explanation as to why she has always hated him. She just does. Even if he were totally out of her life and she never consciously thought of him, she would still need to forgive him. Because of their elderly parents, however, he flies across the country three or four times a year to be with them, and that is just enough contact to set her off anew each time.
Hers is an irrational hatred. Since it is so ancient, I tend to think it must go back to a past life. But Alex cannot see that. Perhaps her chronic gastro problems, heart palpitations, and sinus troubles might have an emotional connection to continually fanning the flames of hatred. Said the Buddha, “Hatred does not cease by hatred but only by love. This is the eternal rule.”
You may be thinking how miserable she must be. But if you met her you would never see her underbelly. She is bright and articulate, very witty, and caring to total strangers. But underneath this pleasant exterior is a raging inferno.
Through the years I’ve noticed that her unrest has escalated as she has gotten older. Her loathing of her brother hasn’t lessened but has gotten more intense as each year passes.
Several times I have broached the subject of her need to work on forgiving her brother for whatever she perceives he has done to damage her. I might as well be talking to my sofa! She doesn’t want to hear it. She doesn’t want to get it. She doesn’t want to change her story. As a result I’ve politely told her I’m done listening to it.
Alex’s unwillingness to forgive is keeping her in hell and in poor health at best. If she was willing to begin to forgive her brother for whatever negative perceptions she has about him, she could begin to release both of them from the evil dream in which she continues to live. Broad, sweeping forgiveness techniques are what are needed for her, because there is no recall of any specific instances that need forgiving—thoughts such as, “I bless you. I release you. I forgive you. I let you go to God.” Such affirmations need to be repeated over and over again. Think of a stone wall guarding a prison, in this case the prison of her unforgiving mind. Beyond that wall and deep inside the prison lay her innocence and the innocence of her brother. It would take a tremendous amount of prayer work and release to break down the wall and enter the depths of the prison.
To further assist her in doing this it would be helpful if, every time a negative thought of him enters her consciousness, she immediately releases it to God or the Holy Spirit or Mother Mary or whomever she trusts as a spiritual guide, then breathes deeply and creates a loving thought of her brother.
Whatever the circumstances of our past, we must forgive the perpetrators in our lives to experience a shift in consciousness to experience healing—to be happy. Desmond Tutu once said, “To forgive is not just to be altruistic, it is the best form of self-interest.” And again from the wisdom of the Buddha, “How easy it is to see your brother’s faults; how hard it is to face your own.”
A wonderful technique from the Dalai Lama is called “giving and taking.” In a deep meditation one visualizes sending to the other person positive emotions like happiness, loving-kindness, love, compassion—good thoughts of all kinds. Then, in the next meditation, one visualizes taking in the other’s negative emotions—suffering, fear, cruelty—all the toxic emotions. Breathe all these in, when in a deep meditative state, and then breathe them out.
The Dalai Lama says that these techniques are very helpful to reduce pain and hatred, to cultivate forgiveness, and to experience peace and happiness.
When we withhold forgiveness, we become as culpable as the offender, except that we rarely are able to acknowledge our participation. So we remain in the mind-set: I’ve been wronged. I am right. Damn the offending party. This hostile state of mind will never lead to healing or resolution of any kind.
As you travel along your soul’s journey of spiritual advancement, it is good to begin to be open to exploring exactly what was your part in allowing the negative situation to occur in the first place. Perhaps you were too passive, or you were not true to your moral conviction or you pretended that it didn’t matter. In the first place you should have been paying more attention when inwardly you were furious.
The Dalai Lama teaches that to harbor a destructive emotion like hatred is of no use. He does not hate the Chinese, even after all the destruction they have wrought on his people and his country. In time he has totally forgiven the Chinese communists. If he can forgive the atrocities he and his people have had to endure, can we learn to follow his example and be set free?
Excerpted from The Power of Forgiveness by Joan Gattuso with the permission of Tarcher Perigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright © 2015 by Joan Gattuso.