I don’t know about you, but one of my biggest struggles is forgiving someone near and dear to me, especially when they are angry with me. I had an opportunity to practice forgiveness when a good friend of mine got really angry with me. Her reaction surprised me and seemed to come out of nowhere. Initially I was shocked at her response but once I had a chance to cool down and analyze the situation, I could see that I was partly responsible.
We were on a road trip together. I had never traveled with her before and by day ten of the trip we were both visibly tense. When we were having morning coffee. I could tell by her cold, silent demeanor that she was growing impatient with me. I asked her what was wrong and she brushed me off without discussing it. Later that same day, a rear tire blew out, and we pulled over to assess the situation. Relieved to be off the expressway, I muttered under my breath. “At least we weren’t on the freeway,” Apparently, I repeated this out loud one too many times.
She started shouting at me at the top of her lungs. “You’ve said that three times It’s no big deal, why are you so stressed?” and “you’re making the situation worse!” I froze, startled by her sudden outburst. I’d never seen her blow up like this before. I tried to talk to her, but it only seemed to aggravate the situation.
Furious, I stomped off to wander in a nearby CVS. I was tense all over, clamped jaw, shallow breathing, constricted muscles, chest wound up tight like a loaded spring. We didn’t talk all afternoon, and that evening we simply avoided one another as I plotted my revenge. I would fly home, leaving her stranded to make the nine-hour drive home alone. I would never talk to her again—all my Buddhist training flew out the window.
Thankfully, I have a wise Buddhist teacher whose advice I seek in difficult situations. I asked myself, what would Venerable Dhammananda say?
- Ask yourself if you have ever been in a similar situation and done the same thing?
- View the situation from the other person’s situation. Once we realize that the other person’s response is only human, we begin the process of forgiveness.
- Practice loving unconditionally, like a mother would love her child.
Number two is the most difficult for me to practice. Venerable Dhammananda suggests that we look within ourselves and take 30% responsibility in any given situation. This means, as in the case with my friend, that no matter how angry she was, no matter how attacked I felt, I was also partly responsible.
When I let go of clinging to my perception that I am right and she is wrong, I began to see how my comments affected her. As Buddhists we must be able to break the vicious cycle of anger. If I had responded in anger, I would have simply perpetuated our misery. I am not entirely sure what happened, but when I woke up the next morning, I decided to reach out and break the wall of silence. Exhausted, I realized how much I loved my friend and didn’t want to sacrifice our friendship by abandoning her. My whole body softened. I recognized that even though I wasn’t the one who became angry, my worrisome comments had in some way played a part. I apologized to her. She thanked me and we began the long drive home together.
If you want to hear Venerable Dhammananda talk about forgiveness, check out my recent conversation with her on Casual Buddhism. In my memoir, Finding Venerable Mother you can read about my struggles with anger and forgiveness. Buy it here.