“Do as the heavens have done, forget your evil;
With them forgive yourself.”
I gave a presentation recently to a support group for older women coping with chronic lung diseases such as emphysema. The symptoms that affect their daily lives include fatigue, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Some have pain, most need the support of oxygen at least part of the time. None of them will be cured.
I asked if they ever wonder, “Why me?” and one woman admitted that she ponders the opposite question: “How could I have done this to myself?”
As it turns out, all of these diseases are the result of smoking. These lovely women grew up before the dangers of cigarette smoke were widely known. They told me that everyone smoked. It was so common, they couldn’t imagine having made a different choice. And now they are dealing with the consequences.
Why Forgive Ourselves
This interaction got me thinking about the power of forgiving ourselves. We’ve talked before about how staying stuck in a grudge makes us a victim of our own thoughts and blocks the natural expression of the life force through us. Not forgiving ourselves has the same effect. When we are caught in self-blame, we are blatantly unaccepting of our current life situation. We live in an unhappy story that keeps us bound and limited.
When we forgive ourselves, we remove the chains from the past which allows us to live freely in the present. We decide to stop repeating rueful and blaming thoughts in our minds like a broken record. We step off the wheel of suffering and discover an unlimited reservoir of wisdom and a huge capacity to proactively respond to what is in front of us. This is the pay-off that makes letting go the most intelligent choice.
Learn the Lessons
The companions of self-blame are some very uncomfortable emotions: guilt, shame, and regret. These can fester like an irritating wound that won’t heal and keep us suffocating under a blanket of negativity. They perpetuate a state of inner war and cause us to persecute ourselves unendingly. The decision to forgive ourselves releases us from the prison of these feelings. We discover that not only can we feel good, but that freedom and inner ease are our natural state, our birthright.
When tended to wisely, these feelings may contain a valuable lesson that we miss by staying in the rut of experiencing them over and over. When we welcome them in as friendly visitors and explore them with an open heart and mind, we can authentically ask, “What can I learn?” We gain perspective that guides our behavior from this point forward. We realize compassion for everyone, us included, who has made choices that have brought pain to themselves and others.
Transform the Contents of Your Mind
When our thoughts are caught in an endless loop of self-blame, the past, long gone, is kept alive in our thoughts. This is the funny thing, and the golden opportunity, about holding onto old baggage. The events themselves are over, yet we suffer because we repeat the story of them in our minds. We cannot control what happened in the past, but we can transform how we relate to the contents of our minds right now. In any moment, we can:
- Love, or
- Move our attention elsewhere.
We can let the waves of our thoughts release back into the ocean.
When we stop blaming ourselves for events of the past, miracles happen. Edges dissolve in our minds and hearts, leaving the space for wise responding, effective coping, and creative problem-solving. We are available to life, fully capable of receiving love and joyfully giving it away in all directions.
Having a chronic lung disease is a proving ground for sure. It is easy to sink into isolation, despair, and self-blame. Yet the women I met were true inspirations. Each day they choose to take the high road, to live in the “Yes!” and not the “No.” They expressed their fears and spoke about their trying moments, but their commitment to live their fullest lives was undeniable.
All of us face challenges. We contend with ways in which we are not completely at peace. We blame ourselves to no good end. And it brings me to my knees to realize that in every moment we have a choice – to suffer or to be free of suffering, to be weighed down by the past or to be fully alive now, to blame ourselves or open our hearts endlessly.
What do you choose?