The release of self-forgiveness

Followers of the Jain religion believe the universe is shaped like a human body. Likewise, Taoists think society at large functions the same as a single person. Thus, when you understand yourself, you can supposedly understand the workings of the entire universe.

Similarly, I’ve noticed I reflect my inner state of mind onto the outside world. If I love and accept who I am, other people tend to pick up on my positive, carefree vibes and treat me more benevolently than if I despise myself. Like most others, I go through periods where I am less than happy with who I am. But I’ve realized this isn’t healthy for me or for anyone I come into contact with. Thus, personal growth is no selfish act. When you shine with joy, you contagiously spread beams of radiance while negativity simply dissipates into the air.

Once I worked with someone who made my blood boil a little. Although he was just a server in an average restaurant, he sauntered around the place reeking of arrogance. He wouldn’t do anybody a favor unless it made him look good. I hardly could have a conversation with him without consciously restraining myself because his stories of womanizing offended my feminist sensibilities.

On the flip side, I know my attitude toward him was just as immature as his cockiness. Seething about the guy only made me look down on him, just like he probably looked down on me.

Someone once told me that hate only hurts yourself. So true. When hatred – or any negative emotion – invades, it swiftly immerses me in a little bubble of red-hot fury. I become irrational. My nemesis appears subhuman in my eyes, and I stop treating him with dignity and respect. Anger never solves a thing. Hating him never made him a more compassionate person – it only transformed me into an immature little kid filled with an exaggerated sense of pride and entitlement. This uncontrollable anger always gripped me when I talked to him. A critical, judgmental coldness overtook any natural sense of goodwill.

Intuitively, my conscience says I should stop looking down on him. Countless religious and spiritual seekers have proven that happiness isn’t becoming superior to everyone – it’s letting go of your big, cumbersome ego and embracing a sense of humility.

Truly strong people don’t spend all their time sabotaging others or thinking about how much other people suck because they don’t need such petty compensation for their insecurities. Strength is kindness in the face of cruelty, not domination and superiority. The Dalai Lama said, “If the love within your mind is lost, and you see other beings as enemies, then no matter how much knowledge or education or material comfort you have, only suffering and confusion will ensue.” Any guru or priest probably will tell you the emotional and spiritual benefits of humility and love hugely outweigh the small and selfish satisfactions of hatred. I’ve noticed that when I am filled with love, I physically feel expanded. I am more connected and receptive to other people, and people sense and reflect my positive energy. Suddenly, the little things don’t seem so irritating. I am a lot happier when that screaming little ego isn’t getting in my way.

I’d love to claim that I am one of those untouchably positive souls who emits beams of radiance and loves everyone. But alas, I have a lot of work to do. And I can’t just tell myself, “Start unconditionally loving humanity, dang it!” You can’t just force yourself to love, like you make yourself get out of bed to get to class in the morning. Your efforts at compassion will seem just as groggy and reluctant as your weary face. Love is a strenuous and nearly impossible task when you feel about as compassionate as a block of concrete – when you’re locked in the haze of frustration, fear or defense. We’ve spent our entire lives programmed to look out for No. 1 and that won’t change overnight. The only thing that works for me is simply watching myself without judgment. When I’m angry and critical I watch my responses. Amazingly enough, when I simply observe my actions without constant critique, my flaws don’t seem to bother me as much. Then, these flaws are no longer despicable parts of myself – they are something separate from me that I detachedly observe from a distance, like watching a lion in a zoo cage.

You see, my co-worker embodies such an enormous threat to me only because I deeply fear becoming like him: arrogant, selfish and uninteresting. This guy probably makes me mad because he represents something I dread and repress within myself. Otherwise, he wouldn’t challenge me so much. Sometimes I feel selfish, which makes me so ashamed that I have spent my entire life running in the polar opposite direction, dabbling in spirituality, activism and volunteer work the entire way. Meanwhile, he shamelessly flaunts the very things I’ve spent my life running from. No wonder I can’t stand him. But here’s the irony: When I see him as a selfish bundle of pettiness, don’t I begin to engage in that very same pettiness?

Thus, when I unconditionally accept myself, flaws and all, I suddenly can tolerate my co-worker. Once I am in touch with my darker motives, they instantly loosen their iron grip on my actions. So what if he’s arrogant and rude? It doesn’t have to make my life any worse. And after all, he has good points I overlook when I’m seething mad. He makes conversation with me when I’m bored. He can be funny. He apologizes when he knows he has offended me.

So don’t waste your good intentions by suppressing your darker side. Accept yourself simply and fully because you can’t magically become someone you’re not. Only when we stop giving so much power to our darkest nature can it truly disappear.

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4 Comments

  1. Alchemiss said,

    March 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Yes, “The arrow we shoot passes through us first, ” and indeed, often things we hate in others we find intolerable in ourselves, whether we are conscious of it or not.

    My metta kindness wish for all of us is for our tolerance to transition into deep compassion for all beings including ourselves. Even folks like your co-worker, or perhaps especially so, would likely shift under a deeply accepting gaze. His pain is part of our collective pain.

  2. michellegm15 said,

    March 12, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    A beautiful response all around, Alchemiss. I love the comment that his pain is part of our collective pain…

  3. shivasveil said,

    March 13, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    I think when we experience the emotion “disgust”, which you so adequately described as your feeling towards your coworker, it might be because the traits we see in people we dislike goes against our own beliefs.

    Emotions, good or bad, are informational in nature. It is natural to feel a certain rage when we encounter something that so vilely opposes our own views. I feel that it is important to acknowledge that emotion, retrieve the information it offers (in this case, that this co-worker isn’t someone you want to be best friends with) and passively accept the fact that we are all different, and that this emotion only implies he is incompatible with you.

    The complexity of the human mind gives us the amazing ability to have consciousness, to think and compose ideas. Our personal beliefs are just as important as our individuality and our existence as a whole. That feeling of disgust we experience is a sign that we are indeed firm and committed in our beliefs. I believe that it is unnatural to try only to feel positive emotions and ignore the negative ones. After all, the negative emotions are there for a purpose. There’s a balance in life. For every Yang there’s an Ying, and for every positive emotion to exist, there must be a negative emotion to counter it.

    It is through an understanding of self, (why we feel these negative emotions, what they tell us), and an understanding of the world (everyone’s different and our beliefs are simply just one of the many respectable views that exist), can we truly come to be at peace, acceptance and appreciation of the world we live in.

  4. michellegm15 said,

    March 13, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    I do not disagree with you. I think there is no way to avoid negative emotions. The freedom comes when we aren’t dependent on having positive emotions to feel peace. Peace is beyond good or bad emotions…it’s knowing that though there will be turbulence, you don’t have to agonize over it.

    And yes, I agree with you that we should listen to our emotions and what they tell us. That is very wise to say. However, when these emotions affect our actions toward others and make us into a less than loving person, that’s when we are letting them control us, and that’s what I think we should all attempt to work through. If we were all disgusted with each other and never made any attempt to look beyond that disgust, there would be a lot less love in the world.


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