Good day, team.
It is the start of 2013 and a wonderful time to begin anew. Many of us come up with similar New Year’s resolutions. We resolve to exercise more, eat better, keep our weight under control, be more organized, reach out to family and friends more often, etc. The list is endless. These types of resolutions are often not the hardest for me to keep throughout the year. I actually resolve to do these things daily, and I have more or less success with them, depending on how much self-discipline I can muster.
This year, I thought I’d make a deeper inquiry into what I’m holding onto from the year before that is particularly difficult to let go of or change. What behaviors am I continuing that prevent me from being healthier physically and psychologically? What attitudes am I harboring that prevent me from moving forward or seeing something differently? What prevents me from experiencing the peace and freedom that is inherent in my heart?
The resolutions that I find especially hard to keep have to do with forgiveness, loving kindness and peace. These three states of mind and heart seem to be challenged most often in our interactions with others.
Unfortunately, it’s not difficult to recall a few heinous crimes that occurred over the past several months and that lead to the deaths of children and adults at the hands of young men. How do we forgive the young men who perpetrated these crimes? Where is our ability to transform our anger, our resentment and our fear? As Albert Camus wrote, “We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes, our ravages. Our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to transform them in ourselves and others.” Forgiveness releases the forgiver from resentment and fear. It allows the forgiver to transform the negativity and restore peace and love into his or her heart. As for the forgiven, the miracle of redemption is possible. Offering another person the time and space to change, to turn evil deeds into noble ones, is the true result of forgiveness. No matter how extreme the circumstances, a transformation of the heart is possible.
One of my favorite stories about forgiveness comes from Roberto De Vicenzo, the famous Argentine golfer, who upon winning a tournament received a large check for his victory. After receiving the check and smiling for the cameras at the clubhouse, he walked alone to his car in the parking lot. There, a young woman approached him. She congratulated him on his victory and then told him that her child was seriously ill and near death.
De Vicenzo was touched by her story and took out a pen and endorsed his winning check for payment to the woman. “Make some good days for the baby,” he said as he pressed the check into her hand.
The next week, he was having lunch in a country club when a PGA official came to his table. “Some of the guys in the parking lot last week told me you met a young woman there after you won the tournament.” De Vicenzo nodded. “Well,” said the official, “I have news for you. She’s a phony. She’s not married. She has no sick baby. She fleeced you, my friend.”
“You mean there is no baby who is dying?” said De Vincenzo.
“That’s the best news I’ve heard all week,” said De Vincenzo.
By forgiving the thief and remembering what was most important, De Vincenzo shows us the greatness of his heart.
One of the biggest blocks to loving kindness is our own sense of unworthiness. If we leave ourselves out of the circle of love and compassion, we have misunderstood. The Buddha said, “You can search the whole universe and not find a single being more worthy of love than yourself. Since each and every person is so precious to themselves, let the self-respecting harm no other being.
It starts with cultivating loving kindness toward ourselves — free of judgment and self-deprecation. This then becomes the foundation for experiencing loving kindness toward others. Each day, I try to make an effort to help another. Sometimes I stop at an intersection to allow a pedestrian or bicyclist to go before me. Other times, I hold the door open for someone or give a checkout clerk a smile at the grocery store. What prevents me from doing these small kindnesses? Usually, I’m in a hurry or too self-absorbed with my worries.
Mother Theresa once said, “I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look at the individual. I can only love one person at a time. I can only feed one person at a time. Just one, just one … So you begin — I begin. I picked up one person — maybe if I didn’t pick up that one person, I wouldn’t have picked up 42,000. The whole work is only a drop in the ocean. But if I didn’t put that drop in, the ocean would be one drop less. Same thing for you, same thing in your family, same thing in your community, where you live. Just begin … one, one, one.”
Finding peace means surrendering our illusions of control. Human beings are constantly in combat — at war to escape the limitations of circumstances we cannot control. We fight against evil, we fight for good, we fight to maintain, we fight to win. We courageously wage war over what’s right and what’s wrong. Even when we work too hard to be good, we can lose our inner peace and tranquility.
Thomas Merton wrote, “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to the violence of our times.
I try to take peace as my responsibility. Only I can affect the quality of my inner state and when I’m feeling peaceful, there is a greater possibility that I’ll project that peace onto others. I often ask myself, “What do I have to let go of to be at peace right now?” The renowned Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield wrote,
“If you put a spoonful of salt
in a cup of water
it tastes very salty.
If you put a spoonful of salt
in a lake of fresh water
the taste is still pure and clean.
Peace comes when our hearts are
open like the sky,
vast as the ocean.”
This week, explore these three qualities of forgiveness, loving kindness and peace. Which one challenges you most? What kind of attention will make it more of a reality in your life? Are you willing to think that peace is possible for you? Is there something you can do in this moment to extend your loving kindness to another? Are you cultivating forgiveness in your heart by letting go of hate and resentment? What can you do this week to let go of last year’s baggage that prevents you from experiencing these qualities?
Life changes unexpectedly. Although events can be difficult, I know the key to my happiness lies in how I respond to them. With forgiveness, loving kindness and peace, I have a better chance of allowing life to be as it is while I remain gathered in my inner strength and compassion.
Have a good week!
Many of the quotes in this week’s challenge came from a wonderful little book titled “The Art of Forgiveness, Loving Kindness and Peace” by Jack Kornfield. I am grateful to him for compiling such wisdom.
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