Tracey Ford, the mother of a 17 year old boy who was shot dead at an ice-skating rink in London, some years ago has wisely said, “Forgiveness is not saying that what happened was OK, it’s being able to say within your heart that you accept what’s happened and you won’t let it stop you living a life or seeing humanity in the person who has hurt you.”
A frequently quoted life enhancing statement by survivors of the Holocaust of WW2 is, “We can forgive, but we will not forget.”
And, what did Nelson Mandela proclaim? “We must strive to be moved by a generosity of spirit that will enable us to outgrow the hatred and conflicts of the past.”
The topic of forgiveness has come up for me because next week I will be facilitating two meetings on Conscious Ageing when this subject will be the main item for discussion. Whilst I have been running groups on conscious ageing, for more than ten years, now I have taken on the role of a ‘blogger’ I have decided to incorporate my postings into this facilitation process. So the current posting will act as both an introduction for the participants at the meeting, and hopefully the source of food for thought for the readers of this blog.
Stocism is a Hellenistic Philosophy which was developed in the 3rd century BC and has a very practical approach to life and living. The central tenet of Stoicism reminds us that our dissatisfaction in life tends to depend on our reflexes rather than logical reactions to life events. Buddhist philosophy and the Stoic belief system have a common thread running through their philosophy of how to live the good life. It is not what happens to you in your life that causes difficult emotions like hurt feelings, but it is rather your response to life events. So these unconscious reactions need to be transformed by the cognitively conscious part of the mind. Once you are able to understand the reason for the unconscious wounding, the logic behind your reaction; then you are better able to deal with those feelings and forgive the perpetrator.
As many of you are aware, one of my ways of exercising my body and my mind is by participating in playing croquet. This sport allows one to exercise both the mind and the body whilst at the same time having the opportunity to socialise with both partner and opponent. I believe that intrinsic to the game of the croquet there is an exercise in forgiveness.
When I was recently telling my tennis playing companion about my love of croquet the response was, “But I have heard that is a most unfriendly game as it involves hitting the opponent’s ball away from the hoop. Don’t you find you feel anger at having your beautifully placed ball sent far away from the target by your opponent.” “But, it is just a game,” comes the obvious response.” Just as others will hit my opponent’s ball away, so they will in turn do the same to me.” The procedures intrinsic to the game becomes excellent training in not taking offence. The result – there is nothing to forgive!
Many senior people today were brought up in an era when youngsters were punished for making mistakes, either in school or in life. This early life conditioning places us in the position where we may tend to want to punish those who have seemingly wronged us in our adult life. This may be the unconscious and automatic reaction, but not necessarily the logical response to the hurt. We can all make silly mistakes. Today there is more enlightenment in the knowledge of child rearing. There is a greater recognition of children’s rights. Maybe the current generation of school goers will feel the need for forgiveness less often.
The practice of meditation is not easy for beginners. The natural reaction is to think one is not getting it right. “How can I attend to my breath when all these thoughts keep raging through my mind? I think of all my tensions, and all the jobs which I need to get done.” However, part of the rationale for developing a meditation practice is the training that is offered in self-forgiveness. There is no wrong way to meditate. Once you have set the attention, and go through the motion of bringing your attention back to your breath as soon as you realise it has wandered, then you are fulfilling the practice. You do not need to forgive yourself. There is no wrong way to meditate. Those people who have the resolve to stick at meditation practices will probably find the ability for self-forgiveness is considerably enhanced.
One of my favourite personal stories relates to an anecdote which goes back some thirty years. I was dining at home with my husband Joe, and our brother-in-law John arrived at the front door for a visit. Bonzo, our black Labrador barked when he heard the knock on the front door, I chastised him. “Bonzo,” I said, “that is Uncle John at the front door. You do not need to bark at him, you know he is our friend.” To which Joe spontaneously responded, “But Bonzo is allowed to make a mistake. You must forgive him. He is only human.”