“Do as the heavens have done, forget your evil; with them forgive yourself.”
– William Shakespeare
For many years I thought I had no ‘forgiveness’ issues; I am not offended by anyone and there is no question of forgiving my enemies because I don’t have anger or resentment towards others. Subtly, I began to assume I am spiritually advanced and have perhaps transcended the ‘holding grudges’ phenomenon that plagues lesser mortals on the planet.
One day I was rudely awakened to the reality of the subconscious mind when a friend mentioned, as a casual remark, “hey, relax; you need to forgive yourself.”
I froze even as he walked away. That was an epiphany for me. The phrase ‘forgive yourself’ shook me to the core. Suddenly things began to lighten up in my head and heart. I realized all these years I had blamed only one person for all the unpleasant experiences in my life – Me.
‘I am bad’ and ‘I have done terrible karma; so I deserve to suffer’ and ‘I am not good enough’ were common stories I told myself all the time. And I never even realized I speak these to myself. But on this occasion when I heard my friend say how we need to be kind to ourselves, I realized I never had issues with anyone because I blamed myself for all the miseries in my life.
On deeper introspection the painful reality dawned on me – I was vulnerable and in pain. I needed counselling as much if not more, than those people that I helped. My shame and inadequacies were inordinate and harmful.
As I became aware of this inner state, another problem arose – I couldn’t accept this realization. My mind protested, “Spiritual practises teach us to be humble and we should never blame anyone else for our miseries. God will be happy if I blame myself for my miseries.”
Slowly with the help of sincere well-wishers, I realized this was a terrible story to tell myself. I was rubbing salt on a wounded heart that desperately needed care and compassion. It was good that I didn’t blame others but the fact that I cursed myself constantly for my suffering meant the problem was insidious and I wasn’t doing well in my emotional and spiritual life.
As I began to work on myself with diligence and kindness, I was often confronted with the philosophical dilemma: our great saints of past condemned and blamed themselves; so we need to learn from them and be humble, and accept ourselves as fallen and insignificant.
Over the years I have learnt that this is an incorrect judgement of the inner world of our saints. They weren’t miserable when they criticized themselves; nor did they practise self-criticism as a conscious ritual. Far from it, they basked in the presence of the divine. Their souls bathed in love and gratitude for the supreme lord’s love. God’s love nourished their souls so much that in comparison they saw they were inadequate. But the focus and meditation essentially was on the lord’s love and his greatness and sweetness. In a painful contrast, many people, when they criticize themselves, the attention is on the wounded self and not on a higher spiritual reality.
This negative self-talk is false ego in action and most of our self-condemnation often becomes a reality.
We give hope to others but are prophets of doom in our own lives. And to our self-fulfilling prophecy we need to forgive ourselves, but please don’t forget the wrong you have done. We need to remember our mistakes so that we don’t repeat them, but we need to forgive ourselves so that we can do the right thing!
By Vraja Bihari Das