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Healing the Heart (Relationships and Forgiveness)

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” and Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”
Matthew 18:21-22, New International Version

“Being motivated by compassion and love, respecting the rights of others—that is real religion.”
Dalai Lama, How to Expand Love

In his book, How to Expand Love, the Dalai Lama discusses the need to develop love and compassion for all human beings—without getting caught in labels such as Buddhist, American, Asian, African, European, friend, enemy, stranger, etc. He quotes an Indian saying, “When an arrow has hit, there is no time to ask who shot it or what kind of arrow it was.” Human suffering requires a response of compassion.

In theory, we likely can all agree that compassion and love for other human beings is a good thing. But how do we carry that out in our lives? How do we respond with compassion when we are angry with a former spouse? How do we remain loving when we’re upset with a friend, neighbor, partner, child, or relative who does something hurtful? And what about in a marriage when our partner says something or does something that causes us pain?

There’s a saying in Al-Anon, “Being angry at someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” The Dalai Lama agrees. “Anger cannot be overcome by anger . . . if you control your anger and show its opposite—love, compassion, tolerance, and patience—then not only will you remain in peace, but the anger of others also will gradually diminish.”

Staying loving and compassionate does not mean you can’t set healthy boundaries and walk away from people who are destructive. It means you remain loving and compassionate toward yourself, and you remain compassionate toward others who are suffering or who have caused you harm. The reason: otherwise your inner peace and well-being are damaged because you’re holding onto toxic emotions.

Forgiving others is one way to heal your heart. When your heart is soothed, you make better choices and live a happier life. For me, forgiveness of deep hurts has always required a lot of difficult but necessary inner work. When my biological father left when I was four and then died many years later in an alcohol related driving accident, I felt incredible hurt and anger toward him. I needed Al-Anon, journaling, meditation, spiritual teachers, and the insights of a skilled counselor to help me navigate my suffering.

In the end, forgiveness was the key that set me free. But it took understanding to get me there: Understanding of my father’s suffering, understanding the disease of alcoholism, understanding my own human failings and shortcomings, and understanding that I am loved and capable of loving others . . . despite any prior hardships. Our resiliency, in the face of profound suffering, is amazing.

My Affirmation Today: Love and compassion is where I lay down my sword, my sorrows, and my burdens, so that my Spirit can be at peace.

In joy and gratitude,


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