I woke up on Thursday with the song “Amazing Grace” playing loudly in my head. I thought back to a dream I had where I was in a large shower room singing it at the top of my lungs:
AMAZING GRACE, HOW SWEET THE SOUND
THAT SAVED A WRETCH LIKE ME.
I ONCE WAS LOST BUT NOW I’M FOUND.
WAS BLIND BUT NOW I SEE.
Now, I am not a religious person and I have not heard this song in quite some time. I had a feeling of peace and clarity when I arose and it lasted throughout the day and into Friday. There was a lightness, an aliveness, like a mini awakening had occurred. Although I don’t think I can really describe what I was feeling in words, what I have written below is what came onto the paper Thursday morning.
We pile a bunch of expectations on ourselves; expectations about how we should be, what we should be doing, what we should have accomplished already. –Donna, you should be more enthusiastic, more compassionate. You should be getting up earlier, making more progress towards your dreams. And if we have a partner, we pile expectations on them, too. He shouldn’t be so negative. He shouldn’t be so opinionated. He should listen to me. He should always speak to me with kindness and respect.
It’s no wonder marriages get weighed down. It’s no wonder WE get weighed down. How can love exist when we are feeling angry and resentful towards our partner and probably hating ourselves for feeling that way? Love isn’t about trying to mould someone into who we think they ought to be nor is it trying to manipulate them into doing things they don’t want to do. Love is allowing, accepting.
Think of all the energy you use in mentally trying to change someone or yourself. Has it ever worked? Does judging or criticizing yourself or someone else ever bring about the change you want? I, for one, cannot think of any time in my life where this has worked. We can spend our lives arguing with reality and not being fully present or we can accept people as they are. Does that mean passively lying back and not doing anything? No, it means changing what we can and letting go of the rest. (Just like the serenity prayer says)
Grace is defined as a reprieve. It’s a pardon from punishment. I don’t think we need a God to give us grace, we can give it to ourselves and to our loved ones. It’s being generous and having a spirit of goodwill.
If your spouse is late again after you asked him to please be on time, you can allow yourself to get caught up in negativity and get angry with him or you can greet him with a hug and be thankful that he is safe and well. Of course, you may still want to speak with him later about how you feel when he is late. You can be vulnerable telling him that you worry about him and that when he is late, you feel you are not important to him. But in that moment, you have a CHOICE as to how to respond.
Many of us are simply reacting out of old stories that are running our lives. “He’s late again. Why can’t he be more considerate of my feelings? It must mean he doesn’t really care. I would never do that to him. Here I am waiting and worrying. He’s so thoughtless!” and so on.
There can be no grace if our minds are stuck in the past, if we are already expecting some kind of “failure” from ourselves or our loved one. Then we are not giving anyone a fair chance to begin again in the present. Grace is like saying–You know what? Just for now, I’m going to forget all your “mistakes” and all the ways I have felt hurt before and I’m simply going to respond to you in this moment. I’m going to see you as you are right now–a human being who is flawed and imperfect; a human being who sometimes suffers, sometimes acts unskillfully; a human being who is doing his best and trying to be happy, just like me.
We can give this beautiful gift of generosity to each other. We can see each other with fresh eyes every day, recognizing that we have both changed since the day before. We are changing, impermanent entities; not solid and fixed objects.
We can also give this grace to ourselves. We can imagine that we are here today with a clean slate. There is no past “me”. There is only this consciousness in this moment. I never did anything in the past nor can I do anything in the future. I can only act in this moment. Regret is a feeling that stems from thoughts like, “I should have done that. I shouldn’t have done that. I wish I had done that. I really screwed that up. Man, I’m a fool! Why didn’t I go for that?” And the second arrow is the shame of thinking we “messed up”. Here again there is a choice. We don’t have to hold on to these thoughts. Grace can purify us if we can only see that who we are right now, is absolutely okay.
This leads me to conclude that in reality, there is really nothing to forgive. Whatever unkind things we’ve done to ourselves and whatever ways we’ve reacted to someone else’s unskillful behaviour, those were only our past selves doing what they did. Grace can be like an eraser if we meet each moment with a beginner’s mind. We might be tempted to say, “But she hurt me. She betrayed me! Her actions caused my suffering!” The truth is we are the only ones who can cause our own suffering since we are in charge of our thoughts and therefore also our feelings.
Forgiveness can be necessary, too, though because we may not be in a place let go when feelings are still so strong. Forgiveness means looking back into the past and giving ourselves healing in order to move forward. Forgiveness can heal our hearts.
Grace is a special kind of forgiveness. Grace happens in the present. It happens moment by moment. Each new second is fresh and we begin again anew. What is there to forgive when the past is already gone? Grace is a lifting of all those heavy expectations. Grace carries aways the regret, the shame, the hurt, the disappointment and resentment and replaces them with love, peace, clarity and an open-hearted acceptance. With grace, the present again becomes filled with possibility, excitement, wonder and joy. With grace, there is true spaciousness for the moment to unfold exactly as it is.