How often do you blame others for your troubles? How often do you get angry with someone who has hurt you or has done something wrong? How often do you blame yourself for not being or doing what you should? How often do you feel guilty for your words or behaviours? And what do you do when you feel angry, annoyed, guilty?
Holding on to blame and anger towards someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. The other person may not even be aware of your thoughts and emotions; they may not even remember you! Your anger and frustration are poisoning you, not the other person. Our mind is a funny thing – you think that you are angry with the other person, you believe it, you understand it, you know it… In reality though, the mind cannot differentiate between being angry with the other and being angry with oneself. We are not aware of this though, and we carry on blaming others.
Anger and frustration, just like anxiety and fear, trigger stress responses in our body – be it towards the other person or ourselves. Stress wears us out, leaves us depleted and unhappy, and prone to illnesses and accidents. Our health, relationships, families and jobs get into danger of breaking down.
I’ve experienced it all – anger, frustration, blame and guilt – to the fullest. Forgiving others was always easier for me than forgiving myself though. Not because I’ve always been full of love and compassion, not at all. I would just move on. I’ve been hurt enough and I’ve suffered intensely and yet, I’ve never held on to hard feelings towards those who hurt me, well, not for long. I’d just get over it at some point. Now, when I look back on difficult people in my life, I feel grateful for meeting them as each of them taught me a lesson I needed at the time.
On the other hand, I’d endlessly blame myself: for my behaviours, for being harsh, for my cruel words, for hurting others, for not being good enough, for not loving enough, for my arrogance… I’d feel guilty and I’d try to hide the guilt and its causes even from myself. I’d hide it in the darkest corner of my mind and leave it there, pretending that it did not exist. Once in a while the memories would of course come up and I’d do the same again – ignore, hide, pretend. For years.
I was ignorant, unaware and so good at pretending that I believed my own lies! Saying that, I have to add that I rarely deliberately lied to others, only if out of my own confusions. Anyway, the guilt was piling up and the dark corner of my mind was growing bigger. I was afraid to look at things I hid… My fears kept growing, adding pressure and triggering unpleasant events and my own reactions and behaviours.
By then I began my yoga and meditation practice and little by little my awareness started growing. I visited the least ‘scary’ memories and released traces of hard feelings towards others; I forgave. Then, eventually, I released some of the self-blame and guilt. I asked those I’d hurt for forgiveness and I was forgiven. And yet it was not enough. Only when I loosened my grip on self-judgement – through growing awareness – was I able to take the first steps towards accepting myself and what was. I finally started forgiving myself.
I also became aware that I had much more guilt buried in the deepest layers of the mind. The guilt and the fear got so entwined that I could not tell where one ended and another began. Although I could not ignore them anymore or pretend that they did not exist, I was still scared, if not terrified, to face them. In order to get up the courage I had to accept my past and myself fully, no matter what. I forgave myself.
I learnt that forgiveness and acceptance are two sides of the same coin. You can’t truly forgive without acceptance, and you can’t truly accept without forgiveness. Accept and forgive yourself, others and what was so that your past has no more power over you; release your burdens and find peace.
Image: Nicholas Roerich, Krishna