Gentle Curiosity and the Art of Forgiveness

| February 1, 2016 | 0 Comments

36224447_mExploring meditation over recent years has led me to a lot of new understanding: about dedication, about the anatomy of habit; about myself; about the concept of loving-kindness and about forgiveness.

I have recently listened to two meditations: one where the guide encouraged the listener to be an internal explorer with an attitude of being “merely an observer” and the second which suggested you approach your meditation with a sense of “gentle curiosity.” These phrases resonated with me with their loving acceptance.

I believe I have been drawn to these meditations and their messages for a reason. I have been sitting on this article for a few weeks now, not knowing where to start or where to go with the idea of forgiveness. Sometimes the hardest and scariest journeys are the ones we most need to take; and are the ones which can deliver us the most benefit.

I was brought up to be a nice person, a good citizen, with strong healthy values of kindness to others, community, charity. Because of this, or perhaps just because of my personality or upbringing in New Zealand (a nation renowned for its laid-back, easy-going attitudes), I don’t tend to hold a grudge and happily take people on face value, accepting of foibles and follies; confident of an underlying foundation of “nice-ness” in all I meet.

Therefore forgiveness for me is not a difficult concept. We all make mistakes. We are all young, silly and don’t know better at times. We are all doing our best and making decisions as best we can with the information, skills, and motivations we have at the time. If it doesn’t work out and mistakes are made, better trying next time. “Que sera sera”- what will be, will be. Let’s go and have a coffee and talk about other things. I’m ok, you’re ok, move on.

There is one person though, I struggle to be so accepting of.

They are a nice person, I know that.

They try their best, I know that too.

They are just like me, doing what they can with what they’ve got, as best they can. I know that as well.

And yet…

There are occasions when they make a mistake or do something “wrong” in my eyes and the judgey pants come straight on and I am mean. I am scathing of their uselessness or of their incompetence; I am openly vocal in my disappointment and harsh in my assessment they should’ve known better. I question what they were thinking- clearly, not at all!

There is no acceptance at all of their humanness. There is no searching and embracing of their underlying goodness. There is no gentleness.

Who is this person I am so determined not to forgive of their misgivings? Who can they be, on the receiving end of such judgement?

That person is me.

While I have worked hard through the last decade or so, not to treat myself so, there has been a lifetime of habit and critical self-talk to override and repair. I would like to say these episodes above are becoming less and less.

As a recovering perfectionist, I certainly haven’t allowed myself the same liberties of human-ness I naturally and happily offer others. I haven’t previously allowed myself those common and accepted foibles of being young, silly and not knowing better. My youth and early adulthood was dominated by a drive to always be good, always perfect. It was exhausting and terribly unhealthy but I did not recognise it, I was too busy being contained and precise; neat, tidy, cheerful (but so full of teenage angst); living a life of pleasing and blending in.

An episode in my early adult life brought me a realisation that something was seriously wrong and I had to do something about it. I made what I saw to be a huge mistake; an unforgiveable error but one I felt driven to do. On reflection it was a breakdown. Pure and simple.

On further reflection and with help and support, I saw it for what else it was. I had acted impulsively, not having the tools, awareness, or love of self to know what else to do. It was a call for help.

Time moves on. Wounds heal and lessons are learned. My biggest lesson from all of it? Forgiveness of self. I remember clearly the first time I openly and freely offered myself the same compassion and acceptance I prided myself in offering to others. It was freeing and painful. I sobbed for hours.

“Forgiveness is a heartache, a giving away, and ultimately the refusal to be possessive about the original wound; it is the act of letting the wound have its own life so that it can heal, mostly by reimagining itself, and not by our telling the story again and again from the point of the one who carries the hurt.” – David Whyte

Now as I meditate and am able to enter a safe space of self-reflection and contemplation, I do so “not by our telling the story again and again from the point of the one who carries the hurt…” but as a gentle observer. When I offer my loving-kindness prayer at the end of each practice, I am reminded of a nice person who makes mistakes and is human and who is doing her best. And just as I offer others happiness, health, and peace, I freely and with love offer that prayer to her especially.

Kirsten Hanlon

Kirsten Hanlon

Kirsten Hanlon (B.A. Education and Psychology, PG Dip Teaching, Dip LC, distinction) is a Well Parent Advocate and combines the concepts of parenting and wellbeing by promoting beneficial self-care practices. With 15 years training and experience in education and coaching, an author and speaker, Kirsten runs a private practice in the Cotswolds, England. She loves baking, chocolate, and often only survives the day through cups of tea. She lives with her deeply supportive husband, little Miss 6, and Bubbles the cat.

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