Today is the first day of the month of Elul, the final month of the Hebrew year. Traditionally Elul is devoted to forgiveness. We arise each morning and, with the exception of Shabbat, we blow the shofar, the ram’s horn, calling ourselves to attend to reality and forgive both self and other for maintaining the illusion that we are self and other.
At the heart of the notion of forgiveness is the idea that we can be hurt, and that somehow we can end this hurt by forgiving the one who hurt us. This may be true, but if it is I have no idea how to do it. When I think about someone who has hurt me I naturally think about the hurt that was done and, rather than let it go, replay it a few times just to maintain the negativity I feel toward the doer.
Every time we tell the story of being hurt, we maintain the story of the hurter and the hurtee, looking for sympathy for the latter (us) and anger toward the former. So one way to forgive is to stop telling and retelling the story.
This is not the same as forgetting. Every time I try to forget something I have to remember what it is I wish to forget which undermines the whole notion of forgetting in the first place. So forget forgetting, and simply catch yourself whenever you are retelling your tale of woe, and say, “Whoa! I don’t have to waste my time with this again.” And stop telling the story.
But there is more to forgiveness than silence. In addition to not retelling the drama, you have to understand the true nature of the actors.
If someone accidently steps on your toe you are in physical pain, but the pain passes, and because you realize there was no intent to cause harm, no lasting suffering accrues. It is otherwise if you imagine that the person stepping on your toe is doing so on purpose. Then all kinds of secondary emotions arise: anger, revenge, fear, etc. But what if no one intentionally sets out to hurt you?
I think that most of the people who hurt me do so mindlessly. They are not concerned with me, and do what they do in pursuit of what they desire. I am just collateral damage. When I remember this, the hurt I feel passes like a that of a stepped-on toe. Of course there are rare cases when someone is out to get you, but even then if I look closely I discover that they are imprisoned in a mindset that makes their actions almost uncontrollable. They are prisoners of their passions and act as one possessed. And what is true of the other is true of you and me as well.
Knowing this is the key to living without lingering emotional baggage. Elul is a month for putting down the baggage of suffering. To help with this I have written and will gladly share my Elul journal. Email me and I will send it to you as a Word doc.