All participants were kept anonymous to protect sensitive and/or personal information .
Have you ever been harder on yourself than you would ever be on a friend or acquaintance? If you’re living a human experience, then it’s likely that the answer is yes. When we speak to ourselves in a way that is judgemental, hyper-critical, and lacks sensitivity for situations and experiences that influence us that are beyond our control, we promote this inner voice that speaks in this tone when we observe others making mistakes much like the ones we do. Instead of cultivating an attitude of pessimism and resistance to our mistakes, if we encourage ourselves to have compassion for our own missteppings, we will start to view others as we view ourselves, and have compassion for them as well. We don’t have to actually walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to understand that sometimes, as humans, we make decisions that misrepresent our intentions and character, but each time someone commits an injustice, it is an example of how we all can be more aware of each other for the future.
At the University of Redlands, a diverse group of alumni, current students, and community members of various backgrounds and experiences meet on Wednesdays at 5:15 pm in Larsen’s meditation room to participate in a form of safe-space meditation therapy, where people are encouraged to share their struggles with forgiving themselves or others. I was given permission to sit in on one of these sessions, and while my expectations were high because of my love for meditation and personal spiritual practice, the session blew my expectations out of the water.
Led by the harmonious Religious Studies Professor Fran Grace, the session was initiated by us all placing our left hand on our chest over our heart center, and the right hand on our stomach to measure our stomach breathing. Breathing from your belly is important, because it moves your breath lower into your body and allows you to connect with energy centers called chakras that are lower in the body and responsible for feeling grounded, secure, energized and magnetic within your body, as well as give us the ability to express ourselves authentically. We entered a guided meditation where Professor Grace prompted the class to ask questions about how we may owe ourselves forgiveness, who we would want to forgive if we had the chance to, and what it means to forgive and transform negativity into a mode of healing and understanding.
To begin our session and remove any tension that comes with being thrust into a space of strangers, Professor Grace shared a story about her personal experience where she needed to have grace and mercy for her own misrepresentation of the character she knows is true to her spirit. Her experience reminded her that she is capable of making the same errors she sometimes finds hard to forgive in others’ behavior. This story allowed everyone to ease their mind and set a precedent that this was a safe-space to openly share without fear of saying something wrong or feeling as if you are unloading on others.
This is when Professor Grace reminded us that it is essential to “own the impact” of our actions on ourselves and others. She then explained to us how the mistakes we make should not just go unnoticed; rather that it is a blessing when we can share in our downfalls to learn from and transform them to serve others and ourselves.
The first brave soul volunteered to share a testimony of a time recently where they had a lapse of judgement, and unintentionally ended up causing others suffering. They decided they needed to forgive themselves because they made the situation right, and their intention was not to harm their friends.
The next person shared how the innocence of their child had shown them how compassion can help us even when we hurt each other, as their child offered to help them through their suffering despite a negative interaction beforehand. In this, they saw that they needed to forgive themselves in order to be able to receive compassion and truly accept their own faults.
The next participant shared their personal struggle with how they view their accomplishments now in comparison with their past successes. They shared what they had gained from this process of self-analyzing, reassuring us, “everyone is their own worst critic,” and when faced with inconsistency of progress, that we must have grace for our own growth.
Next, the person to their left shared their familial struggle with a legal case in which their family had divided over a dispute. This caused them a lot of suffering because they have a deep unconditional love for their kin, however the lack of compassion has driven everyone apart. This person’s spouse had joined them, and shared how the compassion in their marriage shaped the way they could have forgiveness for themselves and how this also impacted their personal worldview.
The person neighboring this couple then confided to the group their struggles with a grandparent who wouldn’t help themselves find peace before death. This greatly impacted their entire family dynamic as all the family’s efforts to help their elderly relative’s health and well-being were instantly undermined by their long standing habits.
A guest entered the room during this time, someone who had actually helped Professor Grace initiate the program in 2007, following the opening of the meditation room when they emailed her asking if she’d be willing to do some meditations on forgiveness. When Professor Grace asked them to share why they felt called to inquire about starting the program, they shared this piece of wisdom; “why is [forgiveness] important? My life depends on it.” This person’s story was remarkable because their testimony about living with the results of the past and moving on to a place of peaceful transformation by redefining the human experience. When they found forgiveness, it helped them to see that their parent was just another sick person, struggling with a human experience in a way that paralleled their own, and this allowed them to let it go while forgiving themselves simultaneously. As Professor Grace eloquently interjected, “even your mistakes help others evolve.” When we see ourselves in this way, even our misfortunes are forgiven because we see the inherent value of each interaction, good, bad or in between.
The oldest person present lastly shared how they had personally chosen to alter their thinking so that no one else was to blame for inflicting pain upon them, liberating others from being bound to a negative dynamic and liberating themselves from being a victim of others’ suffering. In this way, they became totally self-reflective and took responsibility for how their efforts affect their environment, whether someone else was aware of it or not.
Professor Grace led the group in some closing thoughts about how the energy of self-expression is communicated without words and is often completely a reflection of what is energetically happening within ourselves. She prompted the group to think about how even one person in coherence (peace) with themselves and their past can dramatically shift the thermodynamics of a space simply by being present in it. By releasing ourselves from these shackles of suffering we release anyone who may be shackled to us through the pain that we carry.
Finally, the group was left with a question to close the session; when your past comes knocking at your door, will you choose peace?