A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a woman also attempting to cross. She asked if they could help her. The junior monk, in keeping with his vows never to touch a woman, ignored her request for help and crossed to the other side of the raging river. The senior monk carried the woman on his shoulder, forded the river and let her down on the other bank. The junior monk was very upset, but said nothing. As they continued on their journey the senior monk noticed that the junior monk was suddenly silent and inquired, “Is something the matter? You seem very upset.” “As monks, we are not permitted to touch a woman,” the junior monk said. “How could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?” The senior monk replied, “I left the woman a long time ago at the river bank. However, you seem to be carrying her still.” This begs the question: What baggage are you carrying that you should have left behind a long time ago?
The arrival of spring is a good time to do some mental and emotional housecleaning and to finish up unfinished business from the past. You can start by doing an inventory of old grudges you still carry, like the boss who kept you from getting that much needed raise and that much deserved promotion, the friend who never paid you back the money you lent, or the person you love who broke your heart. Your unwillingness, or inability to let go of past hurts stunts your spiritual and emotional growth and can cause stress that may lead to physical illness. Carrying old grudges weighs you down and keeps you stuck in the past. Dwelling on past grievances is a form of emotional and mental clutter and keeps you from getting on with your life.
Don’t let life pass you by. Forgiveness is an important step toward letting go of past offenses. It releases you and the other person. It creates opportunities for new possibilities either to form new relationships, or to transform the relationship with the person you feel has wronged you. If you have unfinished business with someone you need to release forgive him first and then let him go. If you need to reconnect with someone so you can begin again forgive her first and then push the reset button.
Forgiveness doesn’t happen all at once. It is a process that requires regular and consistent practice. If you are having difficulty forgiving someone who you feel has wronged you, start the process by forgiving yourself. Admit it, most of the time when someone has done us wrong, we not only blame them for the wrong doing, we blame ourselves for not being smart enough to have avoided the offense. “How could I have been so blind?” “Why didn’t I see that coming?” “What I should have done/said instead was…” Instead of blaming, shaming or criticizing yourself for something you wish you hadn’t said or done, or wish you had done differently, try forgiving yourself using this four-step process
- Identify what it is you feel you’ve done wrong or neglected to do right.
- Allow yourself to feel the remorse that comes from having done something you regard as wrong or neglected to do differently.
- Promise and mean that you will never do it again.
- If you do it again, repeat the first three steps of the forgiveness process and then don’t do it again. Forgiveness is a recursive process, not something you do once and for all.
As you practice forgiving yourself, you will discover that it becomes easier to forgive others. Don’t be like the young monk whose rigid adherence to a rule blinded him to the senior monk’s kindness. Leave the past where it belongs, in the past. As Jack Kornfield reminds us, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past.” Practice forgiveness. Step into the present moment. Let bygones be bygones.