Radical Acceptance: Enhancing your Life with the Heart of the Buddha (pp 246-282)
The Way of Suffering
Tara Brach begins this chapter with the story of one of her clients who has just learned that her husband is unfaithful to their marriage. Anger at him has arisen and she experiences recurring deep resentment (resentment means to feel again). Then anger and resentment toward herself arises. The feeling of unworthiness arises and thoughts of her being all bad with no goodness appear. She does not realize that these bodily sensations and thoughts are actually of selfless nature and not “her.”
“…the Buddhist perspective holds that there is no such thing as a sinful or evil person. When we harm ourselves or others, it is not because we are bad but because we are ignorant (in the sense of not knowing) To be ignorant is to ignore the truth that we are connected to all of life, and that grasping and hatred create more separation and suffering. To be ignorant is to ignore the purity of awareness and capacity for love that expresses our basic goodness.” Brach, Tara. Radical Acceptance (p. 248). To be ignorant is to be unaware of the three characteristics of life: impermanence, inability to have lasting satisfaction and selfless nature of all body sensations and thoughts.
“Novelist and mystic Romaine Rolland says, “There is only one heroism in the world: to see the world as it is, and to love it.” Seeing the world as it is means seeing not only the vulnerability and suffering of each person, but also the basic goodness of each person. When we embrace ourselves and others with Radical Acceptance, we are seeing past the roles, stories and behaviors that obscure our true nature.” Brach, Tara. Radical Acceptance (p. 249)
Instead of berating ourselves, we practice self-compassion which includes forgiveness – to ourselves and others.
What is the essence of forgiveness? It is not just saying the words, “I forgive you” to yourself or others. “We can’t will ourselves to forgive—forgiving is a product not of effort but of openness.” (p. 261) “We forgive by letting go of blame and opening to the pain we have tried to push away.” (p. 251) Letting go of the blame is realizing that blaming others or ourselves merely isolates ourselves and keeps us in the trance. If we do not forgive, we suffer, not the other person. The first step in letting go is the be aware of what we need to let go of. A nightly scan or review can be helpful.
What are we letting go of? The Buddha stated in the second noble truth that we suffer because we want life to be other than it is. To end our suffering, we let go of our attachment to a perceived outcome (e.g. we want the other person to behave differently) and become mindful of our painful bodily sensations and thoughts. We then can see ourselves and others as inherently pure, clouded by conditioning. We all have the essence of goodness.
Learning to See Our Own Goodness
There are several practices that we can use to remember our goodness. The Buddha addressed this in the Eigthfold Path, Step 6, Skillful Effort.
Skillful Effort addresses the thoughts that arise in our minds. These can be about bodily sensations, feelings (pleasant, unpleasant, neutral), perceptions, or emotions. There are two types of thoughts: wholesome and unwholesome. Unwholesome thoughts cause suffering. Wholesome thoughts cause happiness and peace. We can strive for wholesome states of mind using skillful effort and other steps of the path including skillful mindfulness and skillful concentration.
In order to nurture wholesome thoughts, we can direct our effort in four ways:
- Prevent the arising of unwholesome states of mind
- Overcome unwholesome states which have arisen
- Strive for wholesome states to arise
- Maintain those wholesome states which have arisen
To strive for wholesome states to arise, remember your skillful actions in the past. To maintain those wholesome states which have arisen, develop strong mindfulness, study the dharma, meditate, reflect on the Brahma Viharas (Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity)
Other practices include:
- Reflecting on certain qualities or behaviors that we appreciate in ourselves and noting the sensations and thoughts that arise
- Remembering that your intention is to be happy and peaceful
- Looking through the eyes of someone who loves us. (Love meaning without separation or distinctions.)
The Blessing of Feeling Forgiven
“Feeling forgiven is a sure way to open the heart. This power is recognized in traditional Buddhist practices. Before beginning the meditation practice of sending lovingkindness to all beings, we first silently ask forgiveness of anyone we may have harmed, intentionally or unintentionally. Even this basic gesture of asking forgiveness softens our heart. We can open further to the possibility of being forgiven by reflecting on specific people we may have harmed and silently asking their forgiveness…. Another step in the traditional forgiveness practice is offering forgiveness to ourselves. When we have released the painful armor of self-blame by feeling forgiven by ourselves and others, we can then in our meditation sincerely offer forgiveness to others. Brach, Tara. Radical Acceptance (p. 261).
Forgiving another is challenging especially when that person has harmed you or a beloved one. We narrowly and permanently identify that person as being bad, annoying, or unpleasant and do not see their inherent goodness. We do not see that all is changing.
What we know of other people
Is only our memory of the moments
During which we knew them. And they have
Changed since then
That at every meeting we are meeting a
Stranger. (T.S. Eliot)
“We maintain the intention to forgive because we understand that not forgiving hardens and imprisons our heart. If we feel hatred toward anyone, we remain chained to the sufferings of the past and cannot find genuine peace. We forgive for the freedom of our own heart.” Brach, Tara. Radical Acceptance (p. 262).
Forgiving does not mean that you approve of someone else’s behavior. You can and should set appropriate boundaries. However, “When we forgive, we stop rigidly identifying others by their undesirable behavior. Without denying anything, we open our heart and mind wide enough to see the deeper truth of who they are. We see their goodness. When we do, our hearts naturally open in love.” Brach, Tara. Radical Acceptance (p. 264).
Christopher Germer in The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion notes that when he is in a difficult conflicting discussion, he anchors himself with, “As the poison comes out of his/her mouth, all I can see is the pain in his/her heart.” (p. 189)
More on this in Recognizing Our Basic Goodness Part II
- Reread this talk and reflect on it.
- Continue to practice holding yourself with compassion using the four steps of mindfulness, investigation, loving kindness (metta for self) and connectedness. How does this feel for you?
- Is there someone whom you have not forgiven? From what you have realized in this talk, can you start the process of forgiveness, letting go of the blame and opening your heart?
- Meditate as usual in your daily practice with concentration and mindfulness.