Tag Archives: Compassion

What I’ve Learned About Acceptance and Forgiveness

Misunderstood signals.

Confused feelings over a piece of writing.

An old friend knocking on the door.

Acknowledgement of a shared painful experience.

All of the above have occurred in the past two weeks, though not in that order, and I’ve been talking about these experiences with a few people. What has struck me is that I’ve actually learned something over the past year about acceptance and, from that, about forgiveness. What I’ve learned has profoundly impacted my reaction to and understanding of the situations above. The following attempts to explain.


Acceptance

I don’t understand it any more than you do, but one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to understand things for them to be. – Madeline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

People sometimes react to things we say or do in ways that are surprising, and such surprises may be unpleasant. I have learned, however, that an individual’s reactions say a lot more about that person than they do about anyone else.

It is very important not to internalize nastiness that might come your way. People can disagree and disagreements can be healthy, informative, and an opportunity for growth. But a negative response to something I have said or done is not because of me. If I do or say something you don’t like, consider why you don’t like it. Consider what bothers you and why. Consider why you reacted the way that you did. You know yourself better than I do and chances are, your reaction has more to do with you than it does with me. I might bring up emotions, feelings, memories, or areas of discomfort that you do not like – but your reaction is about you and not about me.

This does not mean that I should not consider your feelings and try to gauge how you might react in a given situation. This does not mean that I can do and say what I like with blatant disregard for the affect it might have on others. It does not mean that I can be intentionally or unintentionally cruel and walk away like nothing has happened. It simply means that as long as I am acting as a decent person and treating you with that dignity that you deserve as individual, I should feel neither guilt nor shame when you react in a way that I do not expect or understand.

People are surprising in positive and negative ways and that demonstrates that we should always give people a chance because they may be experiencing something we are unaware of or cannot imagine. This means that we cannot condemn others for behaviors that we don’t understand. Rather, we can meet others where they are and accept who they are with open hearts and open minds. Since we still may not like or agree with everything people do it is also vital to practice compassion in all of our interactions.

Forgiveness

It’s no use to go back to yesterday because I was a different person then. – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

When we practice compassion towards others and accept them simply because they, like us, are doing the best they can with the lives they lead, being angry with others is nonsensical. Ignorance causes suffering and suffering causes harm. People who harm are hurting and they need our love and support. Our anger only hurts ourselves.

I’ve read a lot about Buddhismmeditation, and how the brain is wired to help others. It has taken me a long time (and six months of chatting with a therapist – best decision I’ve ever made) to internalize what this means. It means that I can’t be angry with you if you hurt me because you’re hurting, too. And whatever you’ve done to me is reflective of whatever has happened to you. I don’t need to know what that is to forgive you for your actions.

When we find ourselves angry or hurt, it is helpful to consider why. Consider what it was that brought up negative feelings for us. Exploring those negative feelings is an opportunity for personal growth and development. When we find ourselves angry, we can stop. We can take a breath. Acknowledge and lean into our emotions. We can allow ourselves to feel.

And then we can return to the people who brought up these emotions and forgive them for causing us harm. Likely, that harm comes from their own suffering. Likely, they did not mean to hurt us.

When we forgive each other, we become different people. We become more knowledgeable about ourselves and others. We become more aware, more open-minded, and probably happier than we were. Even if we choose not to continue our relationships with people who have angered us, we are not allowing negative feelings to take over other aspects of our lives. It is far healthier to live without anger, either at ourselves or others.


It has taken me my entire life to learn these lessons. As someone who feels very deeply, I know that it’s very challenging to step away from emotions that arise without invitation and often claim our attention for longer than we’d like. Recently, I’ve noticed that I’m far calmer now in the face of adversity than I ever have been. I’m not driven to anger as readily and when I am hurt or upset, it’s much easier and less painful to find a quiet mind and state of equanimity again.

Mindful awareness of how I intuitively react and why I do so has been extremely helpful in developing a clearer mind, deeper understanding of others, and a renewed desire to be vulnerable in relationships with others. I no longer try to be right because it does not bother me as much when I’m wrong. I am much happier accepting people for who they are and forgiving them for what they do than I ever was when I constantly kept score or internalized what others said or did. I am not nearly as important in anyone’s rational or irrational decision-making as I used to think. Knowing this makes it much easier to respond with love when others are clearly hurting.

If I’ve hurt you, I apologize. I was likely suffering and certainly did not mean to cause you harm.

If you’ve hurt me, you’re forgiven. I love you, too.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. – Lewis B. Smedes

On Being Loved

If you have as many true friends as you can count on one hand, that’s a lot.

I can’t remember where I first heard it, but it’s stayed with me for years. It has held me up when I’ve been alone, afraid, and unconvinced that there was such a thing as feeling better. It’s what keeps me holding my friends close and trying to be to others who they are to me.

Since friends are special and since Valentine’s Day is coming up, I wanted to say a few things about friends, about the people who have come to be my people. February 14 is the day we’re supposed to remind our people that we love them, though I try not to let mine forget.

True friends are the people who have stopped what they were doing to be happy or sad with me, who tell me when I’m wrong and cheerfully admit when I’m right, who have welcomed me into their arms and homes and lives all over the world, who have seen me grow, who want for me what I want and don’t mind how often that changes. These are the people who I turn to at any time for any reason because they’re always glad to have me. These are the people who I can (and have) called at odd hours with laughter and with tears. These are the people who witness my life the way that I witness theirs.

Like any relationship, that with friends ebbs and flows. The people who immediately come to mind when I think of counting on one hand (which, admittedly, is a very rare occurrence) have remained largely static for some time, but I always find it interesting to observe how, why, and when that changes. Life changes. People change.

But what doesn’t change is the warmth and love that all of these people make me feel. Being reminded, flooded, with all of that love augments my desire to bring warmth and love to everyone else. I’ve found loving-kindness meditation to be particularly helpful in guiding me to let go of frustrations, irritations, and anger that get in the way of the compassion and caring that I prefer to feel. It’s also a good reminder of everyone who loves me – and I admit that sometimes I do need a reminder.

Valentine’s Day can be difficult for people who don’t feel like they have people. The circle of people in loving-kindness meditation ultimately extends to all humanity, so I can assure you that you’ve got me.

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Made by Hmong women in Sapa, Vietnam

To all of my people, thank you for everything. Love you now, love you always.

Compassion is Still a Practice

I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. If I want to change something in my life, I change it regardless of the time of year. That’s why I’m writing this post.

Over the weekend I sifted through some old writing and reread my post on compassion  from May 2015. While I previously committed to practicing compassion to myself and those around me, I’d forgotten the journey I took to get there. I’d forgotten the finer points of the thought process that helped me understand what it means to be a kinder, more compassionate individual. Rereading that blog post reminded me and I’m glad it did.

Reflecting, I think I’m more judgemental than I want to be. While there are definitely  circumstances when passing judgement on another person is appropriate, there are likely many more when it is not. Anything that qualifies as gossip almost certainly falls into the latter category. There are few things we can unequivocally determine about others, yet we are quick to draw conclusions that may be dangerously inaccurate or at the very least, misguided. Those conclusions affect our actions towards others or our thoughts about them, often to the point of never attempting to know or understand them. The mere thought of engagement with someone we have condemned becomes abhorrent and inconceivable. This then leads to a breakdown in social relationships, an unwillingness to step outside of our tight circles, and a refusal to hear or recognize perspectives that might differ from our own. We are uncomfortable admitting that whatever we heard might be more complicated than we initially thought.

This is what happens when we are quick to appraise others, especially those we don’t know. We smile knowingly at those in our confidence and say things like, “I’m in no position to judge but. . . .” We admit to knowing that we don’t have the knowledge or understanding to say what we’re about to say.

And then we say it.

I’m guilty of this, too, which is why I’m writing this post. The next time I catch myself (or you catch me!) beginning such a sentence, I’d like to stop with, “I’m in no position to judge.” And then I’d like to take a moment to think about what I want to say. Maybe there is nothing to say, which should be the end of the conversation. I expect this to be the case rather frequently.

As I wrote nearly two years ago, I believe we need to accept Matthieu Ricard’s explanation of ignorance as “the mental confusion that deforms reality and gives rise to an array of mental obstructions such as hatred, compulsive desire, jealousy, and pride”. We need to accept that ignorance causes suffering and suffering causes harm. From there, we have to accept that people who do harmful things are suffering in some way due to ignorance, due to mental confusion. When we approach others and their actions already knowing that the actions are a mere glimmer of what might be happening internally, it far easier to approach other people mindfully, thoughtfully, and compassionately. It is far easier to extend a hand in love, kindness, and generosity to help them return to a place where the inner confusion and turmoil do not take such a hold.

This way of seeing others, truly seeing and not just looking at or looking past, paves the way for dialogue and understanding, essential aspects of building a better and more peaceful world. Though I firmly believe this, I’ve been negligent in my practice of compassion because I often find it challenging. I tend to feel emotion very intensely and can be uncomfortably reactive in my thoughts, though that’s now much rarer in my actions and behavior. I’m much better at keeping the thoughts to myself than I used to be but I’d like to grow stronger at tamping down the thoughts as they begin rather than letting them flare until they burn out.

Compassion is a practice. It is ongoing. It can hurt, it can heal, and it will wax and wane as we work at it. But it will ultimately get easier and hopefully become a deliberate habit. I have a renewed understanding of this. Practicing compassion is necessary if we are to create a better, more peaceful world. Simple as that.

If I believed in New Year’s resolutions, I might put this one aside for next year. I might brush it off as something to do someday but not quite today. But I don’t, which is why I’m writing about it tonight. Life is about getting better daily and this is one way I’m trying to do it beginning right now.