Twice within a week I found myself in conversations with two different friends who seemed to be suffering from the same situation. They were caught in the thoughts of thinking that another person is responsible for their happiness or their woes. Some friends that I speak with will understand what I am saying when I explain that what they are feeling has nothing to do with the actions of other people and everything to do with themselves. Just as some friends that I speak with won’t have the faintest idea of what I am talking about as if I am speaking a foreign language. With this experience in mind, it got me thinking that what I am saying will seem like a foreign language if you don’t speak “heart-opening” language. This language can seem hippy-drippy and Kum Bah Ya-ish, but really it is a language filled with heart felt advice, compassion, and words that can and will heal your soul. The trick is to be open and put your fears aside. You know when you hear it, whether you speak it or not. It's kind of like walking past people in a conversation and they are speaking Spanish or at least you recognize it as Spanish even if you don’t speak Spanish. Heart-opening language you will hear in a yoga class, or a dharma talk. But what about just walking down the street and your ear catches this, “You don’t need someone to apologize to you in order to forgive them. You can forgive them all on your own, AND you don’t even have to tell them that they are forgiven.” To some that makes perfectly good sense, to others it’s not so easy to wrap their head around and that’s okay, too. The more one is exposed to people who embrace this way of communicating from the heart, the more likely their own heart will open to this language. Forgiveness is big in heart-opening speak. Really big. I am not so good at remembering quotes from movies or books, but the opening paragraph, Chapter One, of Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts has stuck with me for the past five years.
It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realized, somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it’s all you’ve got, that freedom is a universe of possibility. And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.
With that opening paragraph, I was in. I was into forgiveness, I was into traveling through India with the author’s words and his incredible journey. I was into reading the next 930 pages of Shantaram. Perhaps that opening paragraph has inspired you to put it on your Kindle or iPad, or head to your local book store or find it on Amazon. Or maybe you said, “What’s that got to do with anything?” or maybe you’re indifferent. There are many other responses too, I was just rattling off the top of my head.
I offer the concept of forgiveness if you are feeling stuck in an emotion and holding on to anger or fear of letting go of that anger. Sit in a quiet place and take a few full breaths in and out. Notice how you feel. If you want to work with anger, practice connecting with that angry feeling and breathe with it. Notice the story that is going on in your head and then stop repeating the story in your head - it’s just a story. The more you tell it, the more power you give that story. Instead of recounting the story that pissed you off in the first place, practice connecting with the breath, notice the inhalation and the exhalation, and keep letting go of the story. Guess what is going to happen? The anger will go away. You will soften. You will have created space for forgiveness. Next, with each breath forgive yourself for getting angry with yourself. Maybe with some practice you will open the door to forgive someone who you feel has wronged you as well as opening the door to learning heart-opening language.