I was meditating this morning on forgiveness. Forgiving others, for all the actions and inactions that have caused me harm, that I have held onto throughout the years. And equally important, for the actions and inactions that I have taken that have caused myself harm, mentally, physically, emotionally – including holding onto harms resulting from other people’s actions and inactions.
Forgiving oneself for slights against oneself is hard work. I have a friend who often gets mad at themselves for every perceived error, angry for not being smart enough to predict every outcome, enraged when they don’t understand something or get an unexpected result. For months, several years ago, they tried to update the iOS on their phone and, when it failed repeatedly, would throw exquisite temper-tantrums, berating themselves for being so dumb that they – a tech support guru – couldn’t even update a damned iPhone. I suggested they visit a Genius Bar and see what they could learn, but no-o, that didn’t fit in with their image of themselves as someone who should be able to figure these things out for themselves. In the end, it turned out that they were trying to load the new iOS on a phone that was old, so old that it couldn’t handle the new iOS. All that storm, all that drama, all that attachment to who this person thought they should be, and the fear that they weren’t that person after all, actually prevented my friend from solving the problem, because the problem wasn’t in them, it was in the phone, a deliberate ploy by Apple to get them to upgrade.
This is a great example of when you need to forgive yourself for something, in this case, for calling yourself stupid and useless, so dumb you couldn’t even upgrade an Apple operating system. You’re always so dumb, look at all the mistakes you’ve made all your life, clearly you deserve all the illness and bad luck you’ve experienced, you deserve the miserable life you’re in.
It sounds harsh when you say it that way, and it is harsh. We are often hard on ourselves, fat-shaming ourselves, blaming ourselves for not being able to control the crazy people we encounter, or for making the same mistakes again and again, or for not living the unrealistic lives that we dreamed of as children – what is that about? The unfortunate thing is that compassion starts at home. You cannot find compassion for others unless you have compassion for yourself. And it will show in your relationship with the people in your life; your children or pets, your employees, the people you encounter throughout your day; they will all bear the brunt of your anger, your unreasonable expectations, when in fact the person you’re mad at is yourself. Think about your parents’ unreasonable expectations for you, the things that they get so mad at you for: not being a perky blonde cheerleader, not being a child who is so open to new experiences that you will eat anything, not pursuing the career they think you should? Who are they really mad at? You? It becomes so much easier to forgive their anger when you recognize that it’s anger at themselves.
In my meditation this morning, I was extending forgiveness to myself, to my body and my mind, to my heart. When I get angry, I eat, I don’t know why, but that’s my go-to. I want to change the behavior: I recognize it’s not healthy and, frankly, I can’t afford the new wardrobe it’s costing me. It also doesn’t fit in with the image I want to have of myself and that I want others to have of me. So I meditated on forgiving myself for causing this harm to myself. And my stomach told my heart, I forgive you for you’re the anger and the fear that underlies that anger, and told my head, I forgive you for not having another way of managing this anger. This dialog between my different body parts, reminded me of those cartoons where Snoopy is jogging, and his various body parts are holding arguing, the stomach lobbying for cookies, while his feet are complaining about doing all the work.
Compassion is a work in progress that starts with yourself.