BEFORE YOU JUDGE ON THE TITLE, let me just say this is not going to be some ultra-religious diatribe about turning the other cheek. It is instead the result of helping a friend through a mid-life crisis using a method that worked for me in the lowest points of my life. He seemed grateful for the advice, so I thought I’d share. Feel free to leave your own opinions in the comments if you feel so inclined.
The Practice of non-judgment
Yoga has helped me in many ways – not just with physical health, but mental and spiritual as well. One thing that I hear again and again in my yoga classes is to practice Non-Judgment. That is, eliminating your competitive drive and accepting your personal limits as well as the limits of others. This can be difficult in yoga because of the physical aspect. For example, I attended a level 2/3 class the other day, and was frustrated to find that a ten year old girl in the class had more strength and flexibility than I did. Eventually, I had to close my eyes to quieten my competitive spirit and focus on my own practice instead of letting her actions affect me.
Non-Judgment is about discovering how to become the best ‘you’ without beating yourself up over your faults or through comparison to others. Usually, though – as in the case with my friend – there are underlying reasons behind self-criticism, and maintaining Non-Judgment is not as easy as it sounds.
Attacking the problem Head-On
When I first met my friend with whom I shared this advice, it was apparent in his mannerisms, speech and the way he interacted with others that he was not entirely comfortable with himself nor at peace with his childhood. Later, when I asked him about it, he tried to change the subject, mentioning that he was planning to go to a meditation class to ‘fix it’.
Here’s where I take issue and where I think a lot of people get stuck: instead of finding the courage to deal with your problems head-on, you expect that taking a drug or attending a class or a religious service, or a whatever will automatically eliminate the problems you’re experiencing. But unfortunately, there isn’t a ‘cure’. Obviously, establishing a good support group is a very important part of getting out of depression, but ultimately, if you’re unable to address your problems head-on, any religious service or group you attend to ‘fix it’ is just going to be a band-aid. This is where the practice of Forgiveness comes in.
Finding Confidence through Forgiveness
What I found in my case – when I searched deep enough – was a series of grudges that I just couldn’t let go of. I held them against friends, family members, ex-boyfriends, and most of all, myself. They ranged in size from minutiae to the extreme, and they affected me every day. When I identified these grudges to be the main cause of my distress, I became intent on eliminating them.
The funny thing about a grudge is that it’s hurting you more than the person against whom you’re holding it. Not only does it take effort to maintain a grudge, but grudges also give you an excuse not to achieve self-actualization. Your lack of success in whatever realm gets blamed on someone else, “Well if so-and-so hadn’t have done x, I’d be in a better position now.” In my opinion, self-pity is the arch-nemesis of a person trying to pull out of depression. But I digress.
What I told my friend, and what I’d like to share with you here is how to make peace with your past through forgiveness. When I asked my friend if he’d forgiven whoever it was in his past that had affected him so deeply, his immediate response was, “Yes.”
“But have you really forgiven them?” I asked, “Have you searched deep within yourself and let go of that grudge with a quiet, but true ‘It’s OK, I forgive you.’?”
“No, no I guess I haven’t,” he said.
This is the catch. Forgiveness is not just a verbal statement. True forgiveness is not as easy as saying, “I accept your apology”, nor is it something that you do once and you’re suddenly cured. Instead, it is a daily practice of making peace with the past by letting go of your grudges. Depending on the magnitude of the grudge, it can take immense and continuous effort or be as simple as closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and letting go.
Sometimes letting go of particular grudges requires both deep inner searching and daily reminders. If there is something in your past that affects you greatly, chances are, it will come up in your thoughts on a regular basis. When this happens, pay attention to what your face and body do – do you tense up? Try calming yourself first by relaxing your muscles, then do your best to smile and remind yourself that you’ve forgiven that person, you’ve forgiven yourself, and you’re at peace with the situation.
Using Forgiveness in Daily Life
One of my goals this year has been to be more forgiving with the people with whom I interact in my daily life. I have always had problems with road rage, and so my biggest challenge has been to stay calm on the road, even when someone does something stupid. The result has been a much calmer, nicer, less stressed me, which is pretty important when I’m operating a huge vehicle at high speeds.
You can translate this practice to any aspect of your life, and you will be amazed at the changes you’ll feel in your overall happiness. You become practically impervious to insult or embarrassment because you’ve learned to forgive whomever has insulted you, or yourself for doing something stupid.
Is Forgiveness The Answer??
Forgiveness is just one method to help you find the light at the end of the tunnel, but it is by no means “the answer”. I do think, however, that practicing Forgiveness can give you the strength to delve deeper into your problems and to discover the best way to climb out.
Maybe later I’ll write a post about dealing with other issues such as coming to terms with death, getting over panic attacks and motivating yourself, but I don’t want to write a novel, so I’ll end this post here. I’d love to get your opinions, so feel free to leave a note in the comments if you agree/disagree or just want to share.