The Practice of Moment-to-Moment Self-Forgiveness
by Jordan Myska Allen
I’m going to share with you a technique I believe is one of the most powerful mental technologies available to us for personal growth—and for deep, lasting peace.
What is it?
Simply put, you give yourself permission to have your reactions.
More often than not, the emotion we experience is secondary. For example, I get angry at myself for being angry—I made up some story that being angry isn’t a good thing, that people won’t like me if I’m angry, that I’m a bad person. Susan is frustrated that she’s afraid—she made up some story that she shouldn’t be afraid; she should be courageous like her father told her to be, strong like her mother. John is afraid of being frustrated, because he thinks if he’s frustrated he won’t be able to get anything done at work and he’ll lose his job.
In all of these cases, the characters aren’t allowing themselves to experience the first emotion, and are stuck in a reaction to that emotion. That’s fine! No need to have another emotion about that—feeling guilty for feeling angry about being angry is just ridiculous. What we strive to do instead is allow ourselves—give ourselves permission—to react in whatever way we do.
So I allow my self to be angry—even if people don’t like me and I’m a bad person. Susan allows herself to be afraid—even if she lets her father down and doesn’t live up to her mother’s good example. John allows himself to be frustrated—even if he doesn’t get anything done. Usually, in light of that true acceptance—when we allow ourselves to feel the contractions so fully we’re aware of them in our body (the hotness of anger, the tightness of frustration, the slump of sadness), the original emotion is recognized for being half true and half ridiculous, like almost all emotions are.
Treat Yourself with Kindness
If this all sounds a little heady, then think of it this way: Treat yourself with kindness. That’s what the whole idea comes down to. You treat yourself the same way a kind, wise, grandparent treats an upset child; you let the emotional self crawl into your accepting lap and you listen and embrace it in a way that accepts the emotional reality without justifying it.
The beauty of such a practice, and one reason it has such transformative potential, is that you can’t screw it up. At any moment that you think you’ve screwed it up, you accept that feeling. Can’t accept the feeling of screwing it up? Accept that sense of failure. Can’t accept that sense of failure? Accept that resistance. Every single moment you’re experiencing new emotion you get a chance to practice, and since the important thing is giving yourself space to feel what you’re feeling now, you can never miss an opportunity.
Of course like any technology, this idea can be misused. Even if you realize that you can’t screw it up (thinking you can is one way to misusing it, making yourself guilty instead of innocent), you might try to use this technique to excuse yourself from actions. Don’t do that. It’s a silly confusion of action and emotion, two completely different things. This technique is simply a way to get in touch with and accept what a person feels, not to prescribe some way of responding.
If you’re thinking about doing something harmful, for God’s sake I’m not saying to accept the action. Accept the emotion: desire, jealousy, anger, dejection, whatever—meaning open it up to awareness—and then use that acceptance as the open, grounded space from which you can choose against the harmful action. Usually when you truly accept the emotion, you will find that you don’t need to make it real in the world anymore. You don’t need to project it out—a way of hiding from the emotion, because you are not hiding it anymore. Guilt and fear burn away in the light of consciousness.
What are your reactions to this technique? Can you accept them? Share them? How often are you able to remember to do this? Can you see how it fits into so many different religious and spiritual traditions, practices, and essential beliefs?
Just Do It
It doesn’t matter what you call it—giving yourself permission, self-forgiveness, acceptance, witness consciousness, treating yourself with kindness—as long as you do it, you will feel incredible changes in yourself and your interactions with others.