Everyone has seen movies where a person goes into a confessional booth in a Catholic church and the priest is on the other side of a screen. Very possibly this is the image most people have of what confession is.
But this is only one model or format used for confession. Confession is very different in many Protestant churches. For example, in many Protestant denominations there is no need for a minister to be involved, nor is the minister deemed to have any ability to forgive sin. A person confesses their sins or character defects directly to God and asks for pardon.
12 step programs offer another variation on confession. As part of their 5th step a person can speak to any person they trust whether that person is a lay person, or even an ex-convict without official religious or psychological training of any kind. They then confess the exact nature of their character defects to that person, themselves, and to their “higher power” .
In Buddhist monasteries on a very consistent basis, the monks confess their infractions of the monastic rule to one another in a group setting.
The traditional Jewish observance of Yom Kippur calls for a 25 hour fast as part of the process used by believers as they prepare to confess to God the times they broke the various commandments.
No doubt other traditions have their own myriad variations on how they view sin, or character defects, and how they confess and atone for the times they have transgressed the customs and norms of the traditions.
What I feel is important is that you look into different forms or models of confession to find one that seems true and good for you. Those who do not believe in God will approach this work in ways that are different than those who do.
Yet the work remains to be the same.
What moral compass will you use to distinguish between what is right and wrong?
When you reflect honestly that you have harmed, or wished harm on someone else, what do you do with the results of that reflection?
Do you honestly admit you were wrong and apologize to the person involved, when it is reasonable and reasonably possible to do so? Or, do you stubbornly refuse to admit you did anything wrong or to apologize when it is clear to everyone else that an apology is in order?
When you make an apology is it some half-assed attempt that means you are not really taking any responsibility for what you did, or is it a full and open apology without condition or equivocation?
How you answer these questions and work with these issues will have more to do with you reaching enlightenment or not reaching enlightenment than any other single issue.
Before you can know the truth of this life, you must be willing to face and admit in what ways you have let yourself and others down by how you acted or treated them.
Facing these truths is a humbling experience.
Confessing this truth to God, or to a trusted mentor or both, is also a humbling experience.
When direct amends can be made, without causing further harm to the injured person, this process continues to deepen the sense of awkwardness and humility.
Look closely at how you feel when you engage these practices with an open heart and a very, sincere spirit. But certainly step back from some morbid obssessiveness or excessively rigid code of rules.
Look closely at how you feel when you realize you have hurt yourself or someone else.
If you believe in God, then use the process of confessing to God, either through a priest or directly, to clarify your understanding of the nature of God and your relationship to this “higher power.”
See how you feel as you do this.
If you do not believe in God, then see how your interior experience of life changes and how the gates to the castles of insight and wisdom swing open for you when you engage this and related practices.
People search for esoteric doctrines or special practices and these efforts have their value.
But most miss that real progress with meditation is simpler than they may have heard.
When you are wrong admit it. Good skills with mindfulness will make it more possible to clearly see when this is the case.
When you do something hurtful make amends to the person you have harmed when it is possible to do so without causing further harm.
Make a sincere effort to change offending habits and thought patterns.
Repeat the process when you need to because you probably will need to time and time again until one day you learn to really change your ways.
But then one day you will realize that fundamental change has come into your life.
One day you will realize you are closer to the goal of perfect peace and wisdom than you ever really expected was possible.
All the best.
Will Raymond Author of “The Simple Path of Holiness” Host of MeditationPractice.com.