Insight Meditation Houston

Compassion & Forgiveness

On the first Monday of each month, we’ve been practicing in turn the four Brahma Viharas or Divine Abodes that the Buddha taught to open the heart.   Pascal Auclair, a teacher at a month-long retreat at Spirit Rock, led a blend of Compassion and Forgiveness practice that I’ve adapted for tonight:

Sit comfortably with eyes closed, and bring your attention to your heart.  Sense the warmth and energy there.

Bring to mind a person you love.

You may have an image or sense the presence of this loved one.

Be aware of any difficulties or challenges that this person has been facing:  times of sadness, fear, loss or illness.

Feel a caring connection resonating in your heart.

And repeat the following phrases silently:

 

I care about your pain.

May you be free of suffering.

May you find peace.

 

Whenever you catch your mind wandering, reconnect with the heartfelt meaning of the phrases, and continue concentrating on the recipient….

With a deep exhalation, let go of the image or sense of this beloved person.

Return to the sensation of your heart with its warmth and energy.

Now reflect upon your own difficulties, losses and challenges.

Connect with how much you have struggled.

Direct similar compassion towards yourself, repeating these phrases silently:

 

I care about my pain.

May I be free of suffering.

May I find peace.

 

With a deep exhalation, bring your attention back to the sensation of your heart with its warmth and energy.

Now bring to mind a difficult person, someone with whom you have unresolved issues, unfinished business, or even conflicts.

To help your heart soften, image this difficult one as a vulnerable baby.

Imagine holding the baby and feel what it’s like to protect the infant from harm. Lay down the baby gently.

Now image this difficult person in the process of dying, taking final breaths.

Imagine sitting close by and reaching out to hold one hand. Feel what it’s like to say goodbye.

Now visualize or sense the presence of this difficult person in current circumstances. Recall that everyone’s life has a measure of joy and sorrow. Repeat the following phrases silently:

 

I care about your pain.

May you be free of suffering.

May you find peace.

 

As your heart expands with compassion, see if there’s room for forgiveness in your relationship with this difficult person. If you feel ready to practice forgiveness, recite the following phrases silently:

 

For your thoughts, words or deeds, intentional or unintentional, that have harmed me, I forgive you. 

For my thoughts, words or deeds, intentional or unintentional, that have harmed you, I ask for your forgiveness.

For my thoughts, words or deeds, intentional or unintentional, that have harmed you, I forgive myself. 

 

Notice any resistance that arises, and gently return to the phrases…

Often it’s hardest for us to forgive ourselves for past mistakes.

Meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein reminds us: “Whatever we’ve thought, spoken or done in the past could not have been otherwise due to the causes and conditions of the moment.”  We did the best we could with the level of consciousness that we had at that time.  When we react from greed, hatred or delusion, which are part of being human, there is no need for shame and guilt.  But we have an opportunity to take responsibility for learning from unskillful actions, so that we don’t repeat them.

We practice the Brahma Viharas to set our hearts at ease and to release the burden of carrying hatred and resentment.  Notice how your heart feels after practicing compassion and forgiveness.

One person who epitomizes a capacity to forgive is Nelson Mandela, who died in his mid-90s in December of 2013. During decades of imprisonment, he forgave his captors, and, when he was elected president of South Africa, he invited some of those who had denounced him to join his new government, dedicated to establishing peace, justice, and harmony for all citizens, regardless of race or creed.

A friend gave me a copy of a poem called A Prayer for Mandela, written by Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes, who transmits inspirational messages from his site called Unfolding Light.  Let us hold Nelson Mandela in our hearts as I read the poem:

 

God of life,

For a brother of our peace,

Walking on the edge of life,

We hold open our hearts.

 

For a father of our hope,

Standing at the heart of life,

We raise our heads.

 

For the world we have seen in him,

Rising in us no less mightily, we stand.

 

All whose gifts are yet imprisoned,

Whose lives are not yet freed,

We remember, and we embrace.

 

The courage you gave him lives in us;

Our gratitude for him unites us, one love, one Spirit.

 

What he has accomplished is in our hands;

What he has not yet accomplished is in our hands.

 

God of mercy, God of justice, Gentle One,

Our Mighty Hope, you who forgive and transform and smile,

 

In his honor give us vision,

In his will give us a future,

In his spirit give us ourselves.