For the past 2 weeks I have been writing about the basic practice of forgiving yourself for any poor choices that made your life or the lives of others more difficult.
This practice is needed before one can move on to improve the quality of love and forgiveness one offers to others. But forgiving one’s self for poor or terrible choices is often not that easy for a number of reasons. Here is one of them:
The poor choices many made earlier in life has generated a set of life conditions that are truly painful and difficult to overcome. A poor choice in a marriage partner, or mismanagement of personal finances leading to a major decline in one’s standard of living, or both, are two good examples. Committing a crime that lands one in prison is another. Crashing the car or even killing someone while driving drunk is a third example of a terrible choice that makes day to day living genuinely difficult.
For others it might be harsh words or deeds they inflicted on children or a lover or parent where the guilt pinches on a regular basis many long years after the words were said or the deeds committed.
The problem in all these scenarios is this: It takes every bit of available energy a person can get to deal with tough life conditions such as marital problems, divorce problems, money problems, issues on the job, being imprisoned, or living with the guilt that someone is in a wheel chair for life because of their drunk driving. This is just as true for people with less dramatic problems such as running up high credit card bills, or buying the wrong house, or taking a job that turned out to be a major career set back. When a person has difficult challenges that can take months or years to work through it can be very discouraging. The consequences of poor choices are staring them right in the face on a very regular basis. Emotions of regret and harsh judgement of self can arise often during the day or the week or the month or the year. An inner voice kicks in that says, “If only you hadn’t made such poor choices you would not have these difficult problems to deal with. How could you have been so thoughtless? How could you have been so blind or stupid or just plain mean and selfish? Look how you let your family down?”
During meditation practice and throughout the day look carefully at any feelings of regret, self-reproach, or harsh judgement of yourself for having made poor or terrible choices as these feelings arise. Cultivate the mindfulness needed to see these feelings as they first bubble up within you before they gather too much momentum. Remember, no one living can change a single detail of the past. Remember you need all the available energy in your mind and body to deal with the genuine challenges of your life as they unfold day to day. Finally and completely forgiving yourself is one of the best ways to free up the energy you need to clean up the consequences of the poor choices.
Seeing regrets and harsh judgements of self as they arise and pass will allow you to remember to remember, “I cannot change the past. But I can change the way I relate to the memories and choices of the past as I seek to cope with present challenges.”
While there may be other work to be done to make atonement to others for poor, selfish, or just plain stupid choices, you can start the process by forgiving yourself completely whether others do or not.
“It is time to forgive myself for poor choices I have made in the past.”
“It is time to improve the quality of awareness, patience, and compassion I apply to the experiences I have now in working with the consequences of poor choices in the past.
Those who believe in God in one specific religious context or another will process forgiveness of self in ways that are different from those who are atheists or agnostics. What is important is that you find a method that works well for you.
Let me know what works for you? All constructive comments will be posted.
Peace and all the best,
Will Raymond Author of “The Simple Path of Holiness” host of MeditationPractice.com