Mirror, Mirror (written 2016)
I can't say I'm familiar with, never mind well versed in, all spiritual traditions, but it seems to me from those I know a little about, that the importance of forgiveness is central to happiness and peace. I don't mean just external peace, as in a treaty or agreement or even a stand-off or cease fire, but internal peace, the state of mind that is perhaps arguably equivalent to happiness of any lasting kind.
Forgiveness is necessary in every relationship, not least of all the one we have with ourselves. When we act in a way that we are ashamed of or feel guilt or remorse around, we tend to add to the burden of the action by being unable to forgive ourselves. We carry a basket of “should haves and could haves” that only serve to weigh us down further in the muck of suffering. How do we move forward to higher and drier ground again if we don't release this weight?
No ordinary human is perfect. And even those of us who are striving to live our lives in a way that runs against the grain of what is ordinary, are ordinary ourselves. We might wish to have the patience of a saint, the courage of a martyr, the strength of a Greek hero and the determination of an Olympic athlete. Perhaps all these traits would be helpful in making the right choices all the time and following through on skillful intentions. Perhaps even one or two would help a lot. But we have what we have. Perhaps intermittent patience and little courage, a modicum of strength and fluctuating determination. Whatever package we have, it is what it is, and here is where we begin. So we train in ways to improve from there without always stopping to assess and scold ourselves. We need to learn forgiveness.
For me this begins with being able to face who I really am and not who I want to be and to love myself anyway. This isn't the natural way the mind works so I have to be willing to keep at it. Not to look away. Recently I've been dipping into watching some of the episodes in a Netflicks series titled Merlin. Without going into a lot of detail about this fantasy series that takes great liberties with the Camelot legend, it's important to know that they use a film trick regarding “evil” sorcerers in the story. These sorcerers project an image of themselves that is convincing to those who deal with them. However, when sorcerers are glimpsed in a mirror, they appear as they really are. Obviously it's important to the success of the deception to keep mirrors covered.
This is something like what happens for most of us. Mindfulness is the mirror that reveals our true selves to ourselves. Unless we are mindful and deliberate in our investigations of our thoughts, intentions and desires, we are like those that meet the sorcerer, we are under a kind of enchantment. This enchantment is comforting and has its place in terms of self-esteem. It brings a superficial comfort to think of ourselves as the “good guy”. The problem is that, just like in TV shows and stories, this simplistic vision of ourselves leads to simplistic visions of others. We are good, they are bad. We are right, they are wrong. When we begin to look into the mirror of mindfulness, we see our scars and wrinkles. That's when we need to be unflinching and love ourselves anyway. A large measure of this is to know that this is so for every one of us. When I see my own flaws and recognize that this is universally true of human beings...each of us is flawed and struggling to pretend it isn't so, then forgiveness begins. For me, and for others. It grows from the compassion of clear insight.
No bad guys here. Flawed humans. And the way out doesn't require the lies of cosmetic surgery and better lighting. The way out comes from looking clear eyed into the mirror. We are not striving to be other than what we are, but to see that beneath mistakes, judgments and actions that are not pretty to look at, there is a pure heart. Lovingkindness and unstinting effort will allow it to shine through.