Meditation and Forgiveness

March 11, 2012


In stillness there is perfect reflection.

At first glance these two seem unrelated. One is mystical, Eastern and trendy, while the other is cliched, Christian and old school. But hang on, is one possible without the other? Upon inquiry we find that the two are so intrinsically linked as to be two sides of the same coin.

Meditation is something I have practiced for years and so people sometimes query me about it. The other day a young woman, whom I shall call Rosie, was telling me that she had  been sincerely trying to mediate but “my mind just won’t co-operate.” I asked Rosie what she understood to mean by mediation. She replied that she thought it required emptying the mind and that when she attempted to do so, memories of past hurts came flooding back to her. Even as she recounted this, her eyes flooded with tears. I was not surprised. I have known Rosie for many years and she has suffered more than her fair share of pain during her young life.  She is a  deeply compassionate woman who has been taken advantage of time and again by the very persons she has attempted to help. Boyfriends have mistreated her, female friends have  left her holding the bag for their collective mischief. Her judgements may have been lacking, but she has never been a mean-spirited woman.

My advice to her was to stop  meditation, at least for now. I know intimately where she is on her journey. For years I too struggled with my mind throwing up years of buried emotional pain. It is something akin to trying to fall asleep while your arm is bleeding. No matter how many sheep you count, rest will not  be possible until you take care of that hemorrhaging. And emotional pain is a kind of hemorrhaging, it bleeds your psychic energy. First and foremost, take care of that pain.  Forgiveness is the balm as well as the bandage.

Then the golden question becomes, how? How does one go about forgiving someone who has done deliberate, lasting harm?  Well, firstly, forgiveness can never be a superficial thing. It requires a deep understanding of the situations and motives that led to your hurt. It requires letting go of your certainty about the narrative of events. It requires a willingness to see things from the perpetuator’s point of view and this calls for deep compassion for him or her. It requires revisiting some very dark places.  I do not believe confrontation is necessary to forgive. Often it is not even practical. Even if you do have the opportunity, it is unlikely the perpetrator will co-operate with a sincere apology. If he maliciously hurt before, he might just aggravate your pain. The good news is that forgiveness is best done  alone, within the silence of the heart. Just like meditation.

During this process of forgiving do not neglect the other person in this blame circle, and that is, oneself. He too needs to be forgiven. There are many people in the world we blame for all kinds of atrocities, but they don’t insist their presence when we sit quietly for mediation. An integral part of emotional pain is that there is self-blame, and it is often so painful that we cannot even bare to think about it. Though it too must be healed.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not advocate ‘forgive and forget’. Why should you forget a lesson you paid for so dearly? Forgiveness, however, is a letting go of  emotional pain so that you are left with peace of mind. And isn’t that the goal of mediation also? Mediation is nothing but letting go. It requires turning away from the thinker and all his obsessions – all that you think you are, all that you  believe you were, all that you wish to become. It is a state of being comfortable with – well, just being. Nothing to gain, nothing to lose. Nothing to protect. Just be.

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