Dispelling Guilt

When we look at any wrongdoing or mistake we made in the perspective of our entire life, we stop blowing it out of proportion. With forgiveness, not guilt, we resolve not to repeat it.

Explanation

Forgiveness means not feeling angry with an offense, flaw or mistake and not holding a grudge. This is a positive state of mind we need to develop in response to not only the harmful things others have done and mistakes they have made, but also in response to our own negative actions and mistakes. To do this, we need to distinguish ourselves as a person from any specific action or mistake we have made. When we think of ourselves, we need to think in terms of our entire life – and if we accept the Buddhist teachings on rebirth, then all our past and future lives as well. When we open our minds to considering ourselves in this larger context, we see that any negative action or mistake we’ve made was just one incident. We’ve done so many other things on our life, and unless we are Buddhas, we inevitably make mistakes. If we identify ourselves with just a mistake or wrongdoing we’ve done and hold on to it as our true identity, the result is that we feel guilty. The longer we hold on, the longer we feel guilty and the worse we feel.

Forgiving ourselves does not mean forgetting about what we’ve done, as if it didn’t matter. We take responsibility for the harm we have done or the mistakes we have made. But we don’t hold on to them with guilt and we don’t get angry with ourselves. We acknowledge our wrongdoings and mistakes, let go of identifying ourselves solely with them – thinking we’re a “bad person” or “an idiot” – and apply the four opponent forces: 

  • Feel regret
  • Resolve to try our best not to repeat the harmful action or mistake
  • Reaffirm the positive direction we are trying to put in our lives 
  • Correct our mistake, if possible, counteract the harm we’ve done by apologizing, also if possible, and counterbalance it with some positive actions.

Meditation

  • Calm down by focusing on the breath.
  • Recall something harmful you did – perhaps hurting someone with your actions or words – and how later you kept thinking about what you did or said and felt guilty about it and were angry with yourself.
  • Expand your scope and think of yourself in terms of your entire life and recognize that this was just one incident, and even if it recurred, still there have been and will be many other things going on in your life.
  • Recognize that to identify yourself just with this act and to get stuck on that just causes you to feel guilty and feel bad. You’re thinking of yourself in too limited a scope.
  • Let go of that identification, by seeing that this does not correspond to the totality of you. 
  • Then look once more at yourself in terms of your entire life and rejoice in all the positive, constructive things you’ve done.
  • Acknowledge that what you did was destructive and harmful. You’re not a liberated being yet and sometimes you do harmful things. 
  • Although the fact that you did it can’t be changed, you regret having done it. That means you wish you hadn’t done it.
  • Resolve to try your best not to repeat the harmful action. You will try to stay mindful of how you act and speak, and exercise restraint when you feel like doing or saying something destructive.
  • Reaffirm the positive direction you are putting in your life – you are working on yourself to overcome your shortcomings and problematic areas and to realize your full potentials. 
  • Apologize, at least in your mind, to the person or persons you hurt and imagine doing something nice for them to counterbalance what you did. Resolve that if you meet the person again, you will actually do what you have imagined.

Repeat the steps with a mistake you have made:

  • Recall some mistake you made – perhaps deleting by mistake some important file on your computer – and how you got angry with yourself and very upset, maybe swearing and calling yourself an idiot.
  • Expand your scope and think of yourself in terms of your entire life and recognize that this was just one incident, and even if it recurred, still there have been and will be many other things going on in your life. You mostly do things correctly.
  • Recognize that to identify yourself just with this mistake and to get stuck on that just causes you to feel awful and upset. You’re thinking of yourself in too limited a scope.
  • Let go of that identification, by seeing that this does not correspond to the totality of you. 
  • Then look once more at yourself in terms of your entire life and rejoice in all the things you have done correctly and well.
  • Acknowledge that what you did was a mistake, and that sometimes you do make mistakes – nothing special. 
  • Although the fact that you did it can’t be changed, you regret having done it. That means you wish you hadn’t done it.
  • Resolve to try your best not to repeat the mistake. You will try to stay mindful and alert while you are working on the computer, so that you are always careful. 
  • Reaffirm the positive direction you are putting in your life – you are working on yourself to overcome your shortcomings and mistakes, like not paying attention to what you’re doing, and to realize your full potentials. 
  • With a calm state of mind, decide that you will try to remember what was in the file and type it again. Then actually do it.

Summary

Forgiving ourselves for harm we have done or mistakes we have made means not getting angry with ourselves or feeling we’re a bad person and feel guilty or curse ourselves as being an idiot. We stop identifying ourselves in a limited way with only the wrongdoing or mistake we made, by seeing that this doesn’t correspond to the totality of our lives. We take responsibility for our actions and deal with them. Acknowledging that what we did was wrong, we feel regret, promise to try our best not to repeat it, reaffirm the positive direction we’re trying to go in life and either apologize and do something nice to counteract the harm we’ve done, or we correct our mistake.

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