“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” (Nelson Mandela)
In Buddha Is As Buddha Does: The Ten Original Practices for Enlightened Living (2007), Lama Surya Das describes three kinds of generosity that he learned from Buddhist teachings. The first kind is giving away material things, such as food, clothes, medicine, and money. A level higher is the giving of gifts of the spirit, such as encouragement, inspiration, love, protection, or hope. Above that is helping others to help themselves. At this level of generosity, you share yourself, build relationships, walk the talk, and serve as an example.
I believe that the highest form of generosity is being able to forgive. So often, ego, misunderstanding, pain, blame, and anger get in the way. Years may pass, and old hurts deepen and take root in our hearts and minds. Overcoming these very human emotions to get to a place of letting go, of releasing yourself and the other person(s), is not easy. But to anyone following a spiritual path, it’s vital for the soul’s growth to forgive.
When I was 14, my mother broke my trust in a profound way. The repercussions from a decision she made affected me for years. I know my mother loved me, and I can thank her for many gifts she gave me: a love of the ocean, cats, travel and books. But for years, I could not forgive her. I once explained her behavior to a therapist by saying, “I know she did the best that she could.” (That’s the standard line we use in an attempt to excuse the wrong.) To my surprise, she said, “No, she didn’t.” NO, SHE DIDN’T. Wow. That doesn’t mean she hurt me on purpose, but it does mean that she made a choice and the choice was harmful to me, and she could have chosen differently.
My mother died when I was 20, so the issue was never resolved between us. In my family, we didn’t really discuss emotional issues. (Even when she was dying of cancer, no one talked about it.) There were several obvious signs that I was traumatized, one of which was that I didn’t let myself be vunerable to my mother ever again. I was kind; I helped care for her during her illness; and I was a “good” daughter, who didn’t act out or rebel openly. But she had lost me emotionally. My father told me years later that she regretted what happened, but she never told me this.