We all make mistakes, large and small. In the midst of our lives, we flounder. We let emotions and/or unconscious baggage dictate our words or actions, and in the process sometimes cause people we love, care about, or respect pain. This is a fact of life and relationship, so the question is not will this happen, the question is what to do when it does happen.
There are some who might argue that most of the time when someone acts in a hurtful way it’s typically out of anger, their own pain, addiction, or simply carelessness. It wasn’t sadistic or intended to hurt, so why rub it in? And besides, it’s over and done — it’s in the past — why not just “move on?”
And yet every spiritual and religious tradition includes the importance of apology, forgiveness, and making amends. In Judaism, one of the holiest days of the year is the day of atonement. Catholics confess their sins to a priest to receive guidance and forgiveness. In the 12 step program, making amends to people you have harmed is one of the steps. Part of the practice of karma yoga is about right actions, and dealing ethically with others, and includes trying to right the wrongs we have done.
Normally, when we think about apologies and making amends we think about it in terms of providing healing for the injured party, and there’s no question it can be a gift. A sincere apology can be medicine for a wounded heart.
But making amends can be equally healing and important for the person who has committed the wrong-doing. Tara Brach, a psychologist and Buddhist practitioner, writes of the importance of this act in order for there to be healing for both parties.
“Self-forgiveness,” she writes, “ is often not even possible, and certainly cannot be complete, until we have in some way made amends to those we’ve injured. Making amends is not for the sake of satisfying an external standard of morality. Rather, it is an expression of our belonging to the world and to our own hearts. The urge to make amends arises when we have had the courage to face the reality of our impact on others. It arises when our hearts yearn to relieve their suffering or when we dedicate ourselves to not causing further suffering.”
She goes on to say that, “as we intentionally take responsibility for our actions, the harsh grip of…