In the early years of my marriage, when conflict arose, my husband would see that I was upset and say to me, “I’m sorry you got your feelings hurt.” In my naivety I thought he was truly sorry for what he had said or done that wounded my tender heart. We are vulnerable to those we love, yes? At some point it occurred to me that he never said, “I was wrong to have said that and I am sorry I hurt you.” He wasn’t apologizing at all. An apology is about taking responsibility for your own attitudes and/or behaviors. As I came to learn, he was seldom able to recognize when he was inflicting hurt on others. He felt their hurt was due to being weak mentally and emotionally.
I am grateful for those experiences, as difficult as they were, because I learned valuable lessons that made me more aware of my own attitudes and actions. I came to understand that I am capable of wounding another person and that I am responsible for that behavior, even when it is not my intention to do so.
In Sanskrit, the word for inflicting harm or doing violence to another is himsa. Yoga philosophy teaches us to live without doing harm or violence, to embrace ahimsa.
Recognizing my own attitudes and behaviors is, of course, a process. Awareness is the key to knowing when I have done harm and when I haven’t. Awareness is also the key to making amends in loving and honest ways. A supervising manager that I worked for years ago taught me a priceless lesson for life. I wasted precious hours and days trying to fix an error I had made because I did not want to admit to her that I had made a mistake. I never figured it out and ended up having to go to her with it. I was embarrassed by the mistake and by having to admit how long I had been trying to fix it. She had me close the door and sit down. My heart was pounding. She looked at me and quietly said, “Catherine, I don’t expect you to know everything. You have wasted valuable time on this. In the future, just come to me and ask for help. Now, let me show you what needs to be done.” At the end of our meeting, I thanked her and apologized for not coming to her sooner. I walked out feeling free to be wrong!
Saying “I messed up” is powerful. In personal relationships, more is at stake. So finding this level of self-awareness and honesty is even more powerful. That experience from my youth made me very aware of how I take responsibility, how I apologize when I have injured another. Which would you rather hear:
“I know my words were hurtful to you and I will be more gentle in the future. I am not always kind when my emotions are running high.”
“You are so sensitive and you get your feelings hurt so easily; I am sorry your feelings are hurt.”
Which one releases you to deal with your own hurt and let it heal? Which one shows that I am taking responsibility and am willing to learn and grow in the way I relate to others?
Enlightenment does not mean it is impossible to hurt me. Enlightenment doesn’t mean I will never again wound another person. Enlightenment means that true awareness will enable us to deal with any harm done honestly, lovingly, and compassionately.
May you be blessed with gentle awareness and the ability to speak your truth with love and compassion for yourself and others.