A grudge against pain

Forgiveness ~ Wanting a yes but getting a no and being at peace with it

funny evil gray striped cat

Frederic Luskin describes forgiveness as an ability to be at peace with what is, with the vulnerability that is inherent in human life. It is to accept this moment in a way that allows the next moment a chance. He talks about not getting what we want, receiving a ‘no’. In other words, I wanted a healthy life but I got a ‘no’ ~ I am not leading a healthy life, I am in pain. To forgive is to be resilient when things do not turn out the way we desire.

I feel that there are several themes here that are very relevant to pain. You may have already considered this point. If you have pain, you are getting a ‘no’ because that is not what you want: “I want to live a pain-free life. I got a no”. How are you dealing with that no? You can make the choice to forgive.

The effects of pain often result in many no’s because of limitations and avoidance: exercise, work, social events. The challenge is to turn this around, and forgiveness is one way in which you can, because you have the choice. We all need to realise the choice we have and how they can result in success, happiness and living well.

~ acceptance is not the same as giving up

To accept where one is and acknowledge one’s capacity or tolerance is a key first step. This is not, I hasten to add, giving in by any means. Instead, it is simply accepting your current status or fitness, to enable moving onward in your chosen direction. The opposite is to resist, resulting in continued frustration, annoyance and upset that does not take you in your desired direction. To do this we need to be able to forgive in the sense of forgiveness described above.

When we forgive another person, we are actively creating the conditions to move onward in a positive direction. This does not mean we condone the perceived offence or suggest that it was acceptable. Instead we acknowledge that we can move on, talk about the issue in such a way as to breed healthy learning. This is the case for both parties. Continuing to hold resentment on the other hand is distinctly unhealthy. ‘Who is holding the burning coal?’ one may say. How many festering resentments exist? How does this inform the next moment or next relationship? How many people act out with their current partners as if they were the prior abusive or unloving partner?

So who do we forgive for our pain?

The answer depends on who or what you blame. The continuance of habitual thinking, both consciously and subconsciously, about the causation of one’s pain often leads to further frustration, annoyance and upset. All of these states make it more likely that we suffer more and hence we are not heading in the right direction. These hooks, as Pema Chodron describes, are what trigger repeated patterns of thinking and emotion. But, we can become increasingly aware and practice skills to let go of such hooks and ease our suffering. Pema recommends developing your awareness when the ‘hook’ happens, taking 3 breaths and practicing letting go. This simple practice works, and gets easier like all things we focus upon and do the best we can.

~ take 3 breaths and let go

The pain that we feel is ours. It emerges in me, felt in my body, perceived within the context of my life to this point and relevant to this moment and the situation I am in. Pain is all about protection and often ‘just in case’. When we have an injury, pain is a vital survival mechanism that motivates action to promote healing. However, pain is poorly related to the amount of tissue damage, instead representing a body or whole person state of protection. It changes the way we think, feel and act, which is useful in the acute scenario. This becomes less useful as time goes on, as healing progresses and as we try to resume normal activities. In many people, despite the healing, the protective state continues to kick in as the body systems detect possible danger, based on learning or what has happened before. Pain itself become the problem.

Whom or what we attribute the blame for your pain then becomes the subject of our forgiveness. Here are Luskin’s 9 steps:

  1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.
  2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.
  3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”
  4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.
  5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.
  6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.
  7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.
  8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.
  9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive


Finding peace is a skill. There are many reasons why life can be turbulent. Choosing to create the conditions for peace by being aware of your habits, or hooks, and letting go results in a happier existence. Together with the skills of wellbeing, such as acts of generosity, noticing positive emotions as they arise, learning to pay attention, and resilience to name a few, this forms a healthy way onward. We can enjoy the good times, appreciate each moment and face the inevitable challenges in life with insight, knowing that time will always pass like the water of a river. Forgiving is a way of finding peace by letting go.

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