PDF text downloadable here Advanced Mindfulness Session 5
Last week we started exploring the practice of lovingkindness for others, and we did a practice that included sending wishes of well-being to a neutral person.
We have seen that the practice of lovingkindness has two part:
The first part is to train ourselves to see the goodness in ourselves and others
And the second part is to respond with love to what we see and to do it in a way that others can know about it.
Today we will continue by exploring what the Buddhists call the far enemy of loving kindness, which is aversion and blame, and how to open our heart to forgiveness. It is a good preparation before expanding the field of our loving kindness to include the difficult people in our life.
In Buddhism holding on to anger and blame is compared to picking up hot coals to throw at someone, and ending up getting burnt yourself.
When we are holding on to resentment and blame, we feel closed down, disconnected and isolated. As the meditation teacher James Baraz puts it: “We might be right, but are we happy?”. We are the ones who end up suffering when our hearts are closed in anger.
When you forgive you are not just doing it for the other person but for your own healing. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa says: “To forgive is the highest form of self-interest. I need to forgive so that my anger and resentment and lust for revenge don’t corrode my own being”
The Dalai Lama reminds us that an essential component of compassion and forgiveness is to realise that the other person’s words and actions are not about you, but about their internal reality, which has intersected with yours.
Today I would like to explore how we can shift from blaming others to forgiving others. It is really pervasive in our world, a perception of others being wrong or bad in some way and us getting hooked on judgment and blame. And it happens also in close relationships in the form of chronic resentment, and it can be very harmful in families.
We will explore how to recognise that we are in the trance of blame as Tara Brach calls it, and how we can start to shift out of it, to decondition it, using the two wings of mindfulness and compassion to shift from the limbic flight, fright, freeze reaction to an open and forgiving heart.
The trance of blame
First it is important to refrain from judging and shaming ourselves about our blaming and lack of forgiveness. It is a process and it takes time, it is part of our conditioning to blame. Judging ourselves for it is not helpful.
True forgiveness starts with understanding what might cause someone to behave in ways that hurt us, and to see that we are all products of forces beyond our control, including our genetic make up, our upbringing, our culture, and life circumstances.
Blame is an expression of the fight flight freeze stress response, it is part of our conditioning. It is just a universal part of our response to feeling threatened. When we perceive that we are under threat, our limbic brain, the survival brain takes overs, and we have a sense of being separate, and we look for what’s wrong and who’s to blame. This is compounded by our negativity bias that drives us to look for potential dangers. So there is a strong leaning towards feeling endangered and blaming.
It’s important to differentiate between healthy anger and the trance of blame: we often tend to think that we shouldn’t be angry. But anger is intelligent, it alerts us and mobilizes us to deal with obstacles, to respond and not get stuck in the freeze response, so we can protect ourselves from harm.
It becomes trance when we are continually fuelling the anger with stories of blame, leading to unwise reactivity and armouring of our heart, preventing us from feeling loving towards others.
Blame is a temporary fix, it helps us feel more in control, more powerful, but when we deepen our attention we can sense how it really blocks us from what matters most to us in our life. We are not relating to others from our wholeness, and we see them as unreal others too, we are not able to see their inner goodness.
Pausing for a moment, closing your eyes and letting your attention go inward. Taking a few deeper breaths to help the body and mind settle and come into stillness. And scanning your life to identify a recent conflict with a family member, a friend or a partner… a situation where you felt in the grip of blame, resentment , anger…. Re-play the triggering scene in your mind, getting in touch with the place where you felt really caught and angry… notice where you were, notice the expression on the other person’s face, their body language… notice what you are most focussed on in this moment… is it their facial expression, or their tone of voice, that are conveying anger, aversion or disrespect?
What are you believing is going on at that moment about how they are relating to you? Can you maybe sense that in that moment you are not seeing the real person, the whole of who they are, but just a fragment, the unreal bad other.
And now, can you try and imagine what it’s like for them, how they might be feeling, the challenges they face? They might be stressed, anxious, down on themselves, hurt…
And can you remind yourself of the things you like about them, that make you care about them, their qualities? What happens in you as you do that?
And now take a moment to turn your attention to yourself and imagine how you look when you are caught in anger and blame. How do you sound, how does your body feel, and your heart? Is this who you really are? What really matters to you? Can you sense that in these moments of blame you are also caught in an unreal self, cut off from your own wholeness and goodness?
And now ask yourself: if I let go of blame towards that person, if I let go of considering that person as bad or wrong, what unpleasant feelings would I have to feel ?
Taking your time to reflect on that, and you might start to sense the whole constellation of vulnerable feelings that are underneath the armouring of blame, maybe powerlessness, fear, sadness, hurt, feeling unloved… sensing how blaming buffers our vulnerability for a while…
When you’re ready you can open your eyes again.
There is often a deep vulnerability underneath the blame.
There might also be the fear that forgiving or releasing blame might in some way condone harmful behaviour. It is important to realise that when we forgive or let go of blame it does not mean that we saying you can keep hurting me, or what you did is ok. We can still create good boundaries for ourselves and take good care.
The three steps to release blame
- Awakening our intention to forgive
- Making the U-turn from blame to what’s going on inside of us, with the two wings of mindfulness and compassion
- Widen the lens and see the real other to open our heart to them
Step 1 is to be able to get in touch with a deep wisdom and understanding within ourselves that we need to let go of blame in order to have a free and open heart. There is a wisdom that knows that until we let go of the armouring around our hearts, we can’t be happy, we can’t love freely.
So we start with getting clear on our intention to let go of blame and to forgive. “You can’t will forgiveness but you can be willing”.
Step 2 is doing the U-turn.
Sensing the blaming and turning our attention from our thoughts to inward, to what’s here inside us, to bring our mindfulness and compassion to the vulnerability underneath the blame.
When Tara Brach talks about forgiveness, she often tells the story of a person walking in the woods and coming across a dog standing by a tree. Their initial response is to go over and pet the dog, but the dog lurches at them ready to bite, showing its fangs. So the person goes from being friendly to the dog to being angry and scared. And then the person sees that the dog’s paw is caught in a trap and bleeding. So the person’s mood shifts again, to feeling sorry for the dog and wanting to help. And it’s not necessarily that they are going to get close to pet the dog and risk getting bitten, but their heart has changed, it is not blaming any more. And they can start to figure out what to do.
That’s the basic understanding in forgiveness, in the moments that we realise how our leg or someone else’s leg is caught in a trap, our heart begins to soften. Forgiveness means “not pushing anyone, including ourselves, out of our own heart.”
Tara Brach “Even though the other appears as a trigger, the source of emotional suffering is inside us. And we can keep going around eliminating triggers, and leaving relationships, and dropping friendships, and judging, and self-justifying, but we will never process inside the place that needs emotional healing.” That’s why the starting place when we get triggered is to do a U-turn.
Step 3 is seeing the real other
So in this process we start by taking care of our own vulnerability and hurt, bring compassion, and then we can turn toward the other person and realise their own vulnerability underneath the unskilful behaviour and we can start sensing how to respond.
The important thing to remember is that there is always an unmet need when we are blaming.
Sometimes we might be stuck in a situation where somebody is behaving in a way that triggers us and no amount of wise action can make things better, we can not control the way that person keeps behaving.
We need to remember that we are 100% responsible for our internal reactions. The only place where we have real freedom is if we take responsibility for our internal reactions. It empowers us to then call on our inner resources to accept things, or adjust things or leave. We don’t have to suffer because of another’s person’s behaviour. There is no healing when we are acting from blame, when we fixate and blame we disempower ourselves. So we need to remember that we have 100% capacity to respond to what is going on within us in a way that is wise and kind. That’s our potential.
Quote by Arshbishop Desmond Tutu
“To forgive is the highest form of self-interest. I need to forgive so that my anger and resentment and lust for revenge don’t corrode my own being”
Practice to release blame (20 min)
Mindful pause, turning in (5 min)
I would like to invite you to become familiar with the three steps to release blame, so that you can remember them when you catch yourself getting hooked on blame in your day-to-day interactions.