For all my harmful actions
Whether of body speech or mind
Back through the limitless past
For all these harmful actions
May I forgive myself
May I see myself as a student of life
Still treading this path
Still making mistakes
May I forgive myself
If I can’t forgive myself now
May there be a time, in the near futre
When I can forgive myself
— Rev. Myo Lahey, Hartford Street Zen Center
This is part of a guided metta meditation by Rev. Myo Lahey. In his meditation, which you can download for free, he begins with this preamble of forgiveness (this is the 1st part of 3 stanzas) and then continues with his meditation on metta. (If you want to hear more about metta, I suggest this audio talk.)
I’ve been repeating this meditation to myself for the last month. Everyday (with only a little lapse), forgiveness for myself, forgiveness for those I have injured, forgiveness for those who have injured me.
I love these stanzas. The way they are phrased allows for the idea of perfect imperfection; So what if I didn’t act in ways that someone else (society for example) thinks I should act, I also didn’t act in ways that take away from my need to noticed, understood, taken seriously, and respected.
I’m not excusing crazy reckless behavior, behavior that causes harm of self and others but I am also not damning behavior in myself that seems out of the ordinary (especially when compared to others). Because sometimes the most important thing you can do for yourself is engage in behavior that is out of the ordinary.
I find this especially true since I was raised is a family where a lot of the time my feelings and actions weren’t noticed, understood, taken seriously, and/or respected.
Recently a friend heard a bit of my story and suggested the book, The Drama of the Gifted Child. It’s a book about the struggle for true self when you have been raised in an environment that denies true self. Usually an environment with parents who will only “love” you when you meet their expectations.
The book states, and I agree, that it is hard to know your true self as an adult when your “self” as a child has been denied in order to receive the basic human need of unconditional love. All children need unconditional love; but from the start, you’ve only received conditional love. You’ve only been taught how to deny your true self in order to gain “love.” Basically it’s the “I only care and love you when you act in a way that is pleasing to me” rub.
And this child is the adult who later becomes the enabler and/or victim of this type of behavior; but still continues to never really know or allow true self.
The author of the book says that we can only receive and should only receive (I dislike the word should, but I’ve used it anyway) unconditional love in our childhood and if we have not received that, we should mourn the loss of this period in our life because we can never get it back again.
I say we can get unconditional love again, but it must come from our self and it cannot come for anyone else but that person in “there.”
Yes — friends help greatly, as do loved ones, but ultimately only one person can understand your truths, and that is you.
And this brings me back to the idea of engaging in behavior out of the ordinary. Since I’ve been denying my true self since childhood, the first thing I had to do was take the time to find out what was ordinary for me.
What ordinary behaviors do I engage in that deny my true self ? What ordinary behaviors do I engage in that honor my true self?
For those behaviors that denied my true self, behaviors that denied me from being noticed, understood, taken seriously, and/or respected, I mindfully engaged them. I examined them and said, “Hey, why are you there? What are you trying to do?”
I would say most behaviors were there to protect me. Others were there to allow me to be me, not the normal perfected me that I show to the world but the angry annoyed me that was always repressed out of fear; behavior out of the ordinary.
Engaging those behaviors was fun. I was free, finally able to be me imperfectly. I made mistakes but I rarely lost over that, in part because I was quick to understand the value of what I had around me. And also because those around me accepted me as me.
I also found some self-destructive behaviors, which I still cope with. But one of the things that has helped me in dealing with that is learning to forgive myself (hence the 1st stanza above) and then showing those parts of myself love and compassion (metta and karuna).
I asked those parts of myself why do you feel the need to do this? I’ve yet to get an answer but whatever, sometimes not forcing yourself is the best way to honor thyself.
Often times, I try to recognize these afflictions in others.*
I may not be able to help them with what they are going though, but I can learn to see what is in me, is in them. And I can show them the compassion I showed myself. Are they stubborn about an idea or thought? Am I? The stubbornness is the same even if we have different reasons for it.
Forgive. Rinse. Repeat.
*Again this doesn’t include behavior that recklessly harms others and self.