|Freedom by Peter Max|
“Once we realize that by inwardly blessing an enemy we can melt our own anger and resentment, we no longer feel like such victims of our feelings.” –Sally Kempton, Meditation for the Love of It
When there is someone who caused you to lose something important—whether that’s a marriage or other relationship, a job, your self-confidence, or your ability to feel safe—it can be hard to let go completely of your anger or resentment at the person who harmed you or people you care about. You may be reminded over and over of the crime committed against you or of how someone betrayed you.
This happened to my friend Ram Rao and his wife (see Forgiveness (Kshama). After experiencing some traumatic events, they suffered from ongoing reminders that brought back intense memories and even flashbacks of the “harrowing” experiences. In an attempt to “overlay” their painful memories with positive feelings and experiences, they practiced yoga, meditation, pranayama, Ayurveda, and Pranic Healing. Although this brought them closer to alleviating the traumatic experiences, Ram said, “At the very far corner of our minds, we continued to harbor the negativity albeit at a low threshold.”
It was only when Ram and his wife learned about kshama (forgiveness) and began to put this yama into practice that they were able to finally let go completely of the traumatic experiences and move on. Now Ram says:
“Over the years, forgiving actually helped us to erase that little speck of negativity that was deeply rooted in the far corner of our brains and brought us to a more ‘present state.’ We could completely mitigate our past horrible experiences through the act of forgiveness, and gone was the sorrow, sadness, and flashbacks. The harrowing events disappeared completely; it was as if the nerves associated with these experiences had either withdrawn completely or had died down.
“We understood that since the biggest obstacle to connecting with our true selves was hatred or bitterness. Forgiving the individuals who injured our minds and upset our emotional balance helped us to let go of the underlying emotions. Let me clarify that by forgiving, we were neither accepting nor forgetting the facts. Forgiveness also doesn’t mean we were overlooking/excusing the behavior or that we were correcting the wrong. Forgiveness only meant that we needed to free ourselves from the traumatic past and move on with those events cleared from our lives.”
Kshama is one of the 10 yamas in the Yoga Yajnavalkya, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and other yoga texts. The Sanskrit word “kshama” is especially beautiful because it has so many layers of meaning. In addition to being “forgiveness,” it also means letting go, releasing time, and living in the present. As you can see from Ram’s story, by forgiving those who have harmed you, you are able to let go of your attachment to a grievance and release the grip the past has on you. It also means “forbearance” no doubt because the ability to forgive and let go allows you to bear so much more with patience and large-heartedness.
Practicing kshama does not mean confronting or reconciling with the person or people who caused you harm. Instead, it is a type of forgiveness that you practice within yourself so you can “release” the pain associated with the harm that was done to you and move on from it. Of course, if you have harmed yourself or done something that you regret, you can also forgive yourself.
Here are three ways you might practice kshama:
- Meditation. You can use a Loving-Kindness meditation and focus on the person who caused you harm when you reach that point in the meditation. You could also just focus solely on the person who caused you harm (or on yourself) in your meditation, using any phrase you feel best expresses your forgiveness and a letting go of the hurt they caused you (or that you caused).
- Cultivating the Opposite. Each time you notice yourself remembering how someone harmed you, you could intentionally follow that thought with an “opposite” thought, such as “I forgive that person,” “I’m releasing this now,” or whatever phrase works for you. You can do the same for yourself if it is yourself you need to forgive.
- Acts of Charity. You could take charitable actions in your life, such as making donations or doing a charitable deed, in honor of the person who you want to forgive.
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