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The S-word September 23, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing the High Holidays.)

“Why can’t we talk it over?
Oh it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word”

– quoted from “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” by Elton John and Bernie Taupin

For years, I avoided saying the words, “I’m sorry.” It wasn’t that I never made a mistake or didn’t feel remorse about something I had said or done or even thought. Instead, I very deliberately, very intentionally, practiced expressing my remorse with other words. Because, despite the song and the old saying, “sorry” is a word I think it is far too easy for people to say.

We say we’re sorry when we accidentally bump into someone while walking or when we both reach for the same prop in a yoga class. We say “sorry” when we hit the wrong button on the elevator and the door closes on someone who was trying to catch it or when we don’t hold the door open for someone who has their hands full. We say “sorry” when we didn’t hear or understand something someone says and we say we’re sorry when we don’t want to do something that it’s clearly not right for us to do. We use the same word for the little inconsequential stuff as for the really big stuff and we do this despite the fact that we have so many other words; words that in some cases are much more appropriate for a situation. (Say hello, “excuse me” and “pardon me.”)

I apologize. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’ll do better next time.
Please forgive me. I was wrong. Please give me a second chance.
Pardon me. I regret what I did/said. My bad.
Excuse me. Please accept my regrets. Mea culpa.

Earlier in the New Year (that started this past Friday at sunset), I mentioned that words are one of our super powers – and by that I mean they are one of the siddhis (or “powers”) unique to being human according to Indian philosophy. In fact, the process of asking and/or offering forgiveness is something that utilizes all six (6) of the powers unique to being human.

First, there is uha (“knowledge without doubt, clear understanding, intuitive knowledge”). In a dhamma talk entitled “The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness,” Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield refers to the act of forgiveness as a “a deep process of the heart, which requires a person to process and honor ”the betrayal of yourself or others, the grief, the anger, the hurt, the fear.” I’ll add to that the need to process and honor the love, expectation, and disappointment that are usually involved in the situation. In order to reach the point where we can truly ask and/or offer forgiveness we have to understand the situation and the underlying emotions. The absolute worst “apologies” ever – and I put that in quotes, because they really aren’t apologies – are conditional and redirect action towards those who have been harmed. For instance, when people say something like, “I’m sorry if you were offended, but…” and/or “I apologize to anyone I may have offended,” they aren’t actually apologizing. The act of asking for and/or offering forgiveness is similar to the act of expressing gratitude: the more specific one can be, the more genuine the act – and this requires truly understanding the situation.

The second “power unique to being human” is shabda (“word”) and it is our ability to not only form a sound, but also to assign meaning that sound; depict that sound and meaning visually; to remember the sound, meaning, and visual depiction and to convey that meaning to others. I think it is obvious how this power comes into play when we are talking about forgiveness and repentance. However, for the record, let me reiterate that the words we use matter because of how we use them! (Also, this is one of those powers where one could say that this is a power other beings in the animal kingdom share with being human. And while this is true, humans have the ability to deliberately and intentionally hone this ability. Consider, also, the power of the written word. A handwritten apology is akin to a love letter.)

Adhyayana is the ability to “study, analyze, and comprehend” and it is directly tied to the first “power unique to being human.” This analytical ability not only allows us to turn inward and gain an understanding of our own intentions (as well as the intentions of others), it also means we can dig deep inside of ourselves and gain a clear understanding of what we are feeling. We can’t always understand how other people are feeling, but we can take a moment to cultivate empathy by considering how we would feel if the shoe were on the other foot. This third power also gives us the ability to understand why one person’s actions, words, and thoughts can hurt us in a way it is hard to get past, while another person’s actions, words, and thoughts feel inconsequential. Finally, it gives us the ability to predict the cause and effect of our thoughts, words, and deeds – which means we have the capacity to not hurt someone and/or to stop making the same mistake over and over again.

“It’s a deep work of the heart that purifies and releases – and somehow permits us to love and be free.”

– quoted from a dhamma talk entitled “The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness” by Jack Kornfield

 

The fourth “power unique to being human” is dukha-vighata-traya, which means we are born with the ability to eliminate three-fold sorrow (“physical-mental-spiritual suffering”) because we have the ability to understand the cause and the cure of what ails us. Forgiveness and repentance are powerful healing agents. They are a balm to the soul. Letting go of what no longer serves us (or only serves in dividing us) can feel like a cool breeze on a summer day. It’s a clean slate and is like hitting the reset button on a relationship.  Remember, as teachers like Jack Kornfield point out, forgiveness is for you: “It’s not for anyone else.”

The final two powers are suhrit-prapti (which is “cultivating a good heart; finding friends”) and dana (“generosity, the ability to give”). I put these two together not because they are less than the others, but because they – along with the fourth – can defy logic. They are, in every tradition, heart practices. The ability to cultivate friendship and emotionally invest in others carries with it the risk of being hurt. There is a reason why the word “passion,” which comes to us from Latin, by way of Old French and Middle English is more closely associated with love (and strong emotions) than with its original meaning “to suffer.” The ability to cultivate a good heart means that we open up to the wisdom that is part of the heart (according to Eastern philosophies) and also that we are capable of thinking beyond our own needs and desires. This last part – the ability to consider the needs and desires of others – is directly tied to our ability to give others what the need, including what is legally ours. We can spend all day considering what material possessions we have that could benefit others, but let us not forget the priceless value of what is in our own hearts. We are the only one who can offer our forgiveness.

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.”

 

– quoted from “An Essay on Criticism” (line 525) by Alexander Pope

Teshuvah (or Tchuvah), the Hebrew word for “repentance, return, turn,” is a big part of the High Holidays. On Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, there is even an absolution of vows (every vow). But remember, this is not about self flagellation (or even, really, about condemnation). In offering forgiveness to ourselves and others we are not required to forget or condone bad behavior. Neither are we required to stay in a bad situation. The practice does not require us to be perfect. The practice does, however, does require us to open our hearts to the possibility of a new beginning.

Please join me today (Wednesday, September 23rd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

The last song / A final word…

### BE DIVINE (WE YOU CAN) ###