I have a tendency to hold onto a grudge. When someone has “wronged” me, I feel irritated and hurt. This reaction occurs even when I know that the slight was unintentional, and is especially strong if the other person is someone with whom I am closely connected.
At these times I become short-tempered or withdrawn. If the other person treats me warmly despite my negative reaction, my defensiveness quickly dissipates. If he has a neutral reaction or becomes defensive himself, though, my emotions intensify. These uncomfortable feelings present a challenge to my spiritual practice of cultivating equanimity and loving-kindness.
For years, when I could not rouse loving-kindness for another I have roused it towards myself. This practice has worked well for me, helping me to regain my equilibrium and my goodwill. But the process tends towards the dramatic and it generally takes a while for my feelings to settle. I wanted a short cut, and began to contemplate other possibilities.
My contemplation led me to re-discover a simple, ancient practice—the practice of forgiveness. The practice is so potent, I feel as though I have stumbled onto a pot of gold. When I find myself blaming another, or feeling alienated by some word or action, I now contemplate the possibility of forgiveness. I ask myself the question, “Is this something that I can forgive him for?” Asking myself this question enables me to gain a larger perspective, and not take the slight so personally. It helps me to see the other person as a separate human being with preferences and feelings of his own.
At the same time, I feel empowered. My victim identity is stripped away by the realization that the decision to forgive is mine, always. If my answer to the question is, “Yes,” or even “Maybe,” I experience an inner shift—a letting go—often accompanied by a tinge of humor.
I do not express my forgiveness to the other person, since my contemplation is more about me than him. Forgiveness releases me from the grip of my self-righteousness, and reconnects me with our shared humanity. My grudge melts away, to be replaced by warmth and lightness of heart. I am home again.