Why is it important to forgive yourself?
Much has been written about forgiveness, it is considered to be a divine virtue, as far as I know, all religions of the world encourage it. Forgiving is often the most noble gesture, if you forgive yourself, it unburdens you, and makes you light. It is not always easy though. Before I share my thoughts, allow me to narrate a story.
In a monastery once, a master was preaching forgiveness. A few disciples argued that while letting go was the finest act, it was hard. What was the harm in holding on to certain feelings, especially if it did not hinder their meditation, they wondered? The master listened patiently. He asked them to take a handful of potatoes, and engrave the initials of the person they could not, or did not want to forgive; one potato per person. He further instructed them to put their potatoes in a bag, bring them to class and take them back to their quarters every day.
The disciples followed the instructions and everyone carried a bag the next day. Some were carrying bags bigger than others. A week went by, the monks felt ludicrous carrying their sacks around. The potatoes started to rot and stink. They asked their master how long were they supposed to do the exercise for and said that it was becoming unbearable to put up with the stench and unnecessary weight.
“So, what have you learned?” the master asked.
“Potatoes are our negative emotions. Holding on to them is carrying burden and stench,” they replied.
“Exactly. But, can you carry potatoes without the bag?” the sage spoke, “if the potatoes are your negative feelings, what is the bag?”
Pin drop silence ensued. It happens at the dawning of wisdom. They understood the bag was their mind.
Like many such other practices as gratitude, concentration, and positivity, forgiveness can be looked upon as a practice too.
A conscious act, a reminder that you are not going to put a rotting potato in your sack. Over time, it will become your habit, your second nature. My focus today is not forgiving others but forgiving yourself. You may also want to read How to Forgive Others.
When others are out of mind and out of sight, you may eventually forgive them, or forget them, the pain caused by them may subside over a period of time. However, you cannot get away from you, you cannot run away from yourself, you are always in your mind, and your acts cannot go unnoticed by you. Consciously or subconsciously, each time you err, you give yourself a potato.
It is human nature to expect a great deal from oneself, such expectations can prompt us to progress, to act, to be, to have, to do, and so forth. It is much harder to align our own expectations we have from ourselves than others from us.
Every time you fail to meet your own expectations, you hand yourself another potato. A sense of lacking even when you seem to have everything, a feeling of negativity for no apparent reason, a kind of melancholy, or an inability to sustain your blissful state are mere signs that you have been a little too hard on yourself, they are symptoms of your own unforgiving nature towards yourself.
The necessity of forgiving others reduces dramatically when you start to forgive yourself. For, the question of forgiveness arises when you believe that wrong has been done against you. If you do not believe what they did was wrong, or if you remain unaffected, there is nothing or no one to forgive. The more you learn to forgive your own actions, the more unaffected you remain by others’ actions. Paradoxical? Only if forgiveness is mistaken for a license to keep doing wrong.
So, how to forgive yourself and let go? What to do when you can’t forgive yourself?
Let me share a simple two-step exercise with you:
1. Write it down
Sit down in peace and make a list of all that you would like to forgive yourself for. Your list should not only include your actions but also your non-achievements, you must also forgive yourself for all the wrong you have been through in life, and for untoward incidents you experienced. Forgive yourself. Heal yourself. Allow it to happen. Let go of the belief that every wrong thing that happened to you or that happens to you is somehow your fault, discard that sense of guilt.
Sometimes honest choices and right intentions can lead to difficult options and wrong outcomes. You did what you thought was right at the time, you did what made sense to you. Even if you did it with the knowledge it was not right, still, you should forgive yourself, especially if you are serious about not repeating it. Why? Because the past cannot be undone, and, it is not good enough a reason to punish your present and destroy your future. In fact, you will gain resolve and strength to avoid repetitions by forgiving yourself.
2. Explicitly forgive Yourself
Stand in front of a mirror, read out each item, spend a few moments to reflect on it, and say out loud, “I forgive myself”. You can use other affirmations or words to reinforce it. Cross out the item and move to the next one. Do this until you exhaust the list. If you do this right, you may end up crying and laughing during the exercise. Destroy your list once you are done. Make a new one next time you do the exercise again. It may have the same items as before, but, make a new list every time and trash it after each use.
When someone else says ‘sorry’, you may say, ‘that’s alright,’ but how many times have you said that to yourself? If you wish to truly gain a great advantage from this exercise, make two equal-length lists. The first containing items you would like to forgive yourself for, and the second, you wish to forgive others for. For each mistake of yours, you forgive yourself and pardon another person for theirs. You will be out of potatoes real soon.
Mulla Nasrudin was walking through a cemetery. A particular tombstone got his attention, it read: “Not dead. Only sleeping.”
After contemplating the phrase for a moment, he exclaimed, “Huh, he is fooling nobody but himself.”
False affirmations cannot travel far. Do not deny the burden, when you reflect upon yourself, you will see how big your sack is, how old the potatoes are, how heavy the weight is, and you will get the opportunity to empty it; you will feel feather-light, free, over the moon.
Take a deep breath. Let it go. Practice forgiveness. Start with yourself. Treat yourself with care, with love, with compassion. Your life depends on it.