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40k for 40 days

February 21: Day 36

Day 36 - Forgiveness and Gratitude, Secret Ingredients for Inner and Outer Peace

Not only can the practice of forgiveness and gratitude lead to improved physical, mental, and emotional health, but I will investigate over the course of my cycle today and post reflection, how they are also the secret ingredients to Peace.

Building on from the Cultivation of Impartiality and Common humanity from day 35 (check out yesterday's blog folks, as it relates to today's as a follow-up). Today I want to look deeper into Forgiveness and Gratitude and explore how I have benefited from a journey into both in my life and also explore areas where I may need to revisit, along with my 40k+.

I have started to introduce new skills and practices in 'relating to others' when it comes to my inner and outer program for peace and share some reflections but I think that it is also important to state that both of these skills and acts today, very much relate to Self-Compassion as well. The more I practice them and constantly go back to them, the more joy, space, and balance I create in my life, this is for sure, and not up for debate anymore. I did go into forgiveness a little bit on Day 17 of these 40 Days but I return for good reason.

Forgiveness and Gratitude are gifts that I give myself and yes, they often relate to others but they are something I carry out. They are choices that someone can not take away from me or make for me.

Zoning in for a little bit on forgiveness now and coming back to gratitude in a wee while. It is an act of releasing and letting go of hurt, anger, or resentment. Carrying around hurt and any of these other afflictive mental states can only hurt me and it certainly has. It doesn't necessarily hurt the person or people who cause the hurt, but it definitely hurts me. A well-known advocate for forgiveness from back home in Ireland, and a man who went on his own journey of forgiveness after being shot and blinded as a boy on the way home from school, Richard Moore, often talks about the analogy of drinking poison and expecting the person who hurt us to become ill or even die, when in reality, drinking poison will only hurt the person drinking it.

Forgiveness is not forgetting, condoning, saying something is ok in any way or going down the route of reconciliation (Reconciliation can sometimes happen alongside forgiveness but it's not a requirement or even safe or possible in many circumstances of hurt). It is also not a weakness and allowing yourself to be treated like a doormat or feel like one has to stay in a hurtful relationship. It is a release one makes to gain more capacity, energy, strength, and focus. On a personal level, it was a big game changer for me when I started to really embark on my new understanding of the journey of Peace through skills like forgiveness, just before I became a father for the first time, 6 years ago.

I really wanted to be in the best place I could be. This to me, meant physically, emotionally and in relationship to myself and those around me, so I could focus my energy and clarity on my new most important role, being a parent. I was guided and I took advice on board, by starting slowly and exercising the muscles and skills required to practice forgiveness in a way that would be long-lasting and not just a quick fix.

Just like with Common Humanity and impartiality, I started with people who I felt had caused me to hurt in a way that was not so deep. So people who caused offense to me or I felt had insulted me and I gradually built up to those who I felt had created greater harm or hurt. It was almost like this challenge I am still on now, I did not go out on day one and cycle 100 K's and this would have been short-lived and maybe put the whole project in jeopardy, despite its ambitions. I began learning how to release, let go, and practice things that I recognized that I needed to let go. I followed a fairly clear strategy (which I will share with you) and slowly began to believe in this and connect with it more, gain the confidence required to take vulnerable steps, and weigh up the benefits of taking these steps.

In some cases, I chose to let the person or people know and in some cases, I chose not to or I was not ready to communicate, and that was fine as it was not about them, even though it involved them. The responses from those who I let know, varied, from light responses and smiles to more emotionally engaging conversations with plenty of tears.

During this daily movement, I have taken the opportunity to look back on how this journey affected me and those around me and I've been reflecting on the power of forgiveness and what I did receive at the time but also now. Space, clarity, much-needed energy, and agency over my own emotions and directions, and now thinking back, I remember feeling a surge of really good physical health around this same time too.

I am also checking in today with work that is still required and self-inquiry into any recent harm or hurt that I feel that has taken place since the journey began for me. It is really interesting for me because it does feel like there is still work to be done for sure and more gifts I can give myself by releasing unneeded and unwanted emotions through forgiveness. I think it warrants sharing that in some cases that come to mind, the same people may be involved but with different examples of hurt being caused, so just because I have engaged with forgiveness for past hurt or harm, that does not mean that I have a lifetime of immunity to being hurt again. The work continues but the difference is, that I have done it before and I am familiar with the strategies but also the benefits as an extra motivation. A bit like this cycling challenge again, the more I have done and practiced, the easier it becomes and the more benefits I can receive from doing it.

Staying with the benefits, I feel that this is a key component, and focussing on the potential gift of having less anger and resentment in my body, my mind, and my life, was a huge one for me. Recognizing also that I have harmed and harm others through my mistakes and sometimes due to my lack of focus. Being self-righteous about this will not serve me or others well. When I make mistakes and hurt or offend others I tend to really appreciate when they decide to forgive, as I now know that it is assisting them by releasing them from resentment and it also allows for space for relationships to grow if there is a desire for that. Cultivating Humility and Common Humanity and recognizing our own imperfections certainly assist when it comes to recognizing other people's imperfections and mistakes as a human thing. I would also repeat that there is power in attempting to detach people's actions from the person themself. I certainly appreciate it when I mess up from time to time if people are able to see beyond my action or words.

Finally, I would say another big help to me was recognizing that 'Just like Me', other's around me can become distorted or afflicted and cause harm. I am not looking for justification as this is not so helpful but more, for trying to understand what could cause or what might have been going on for the person who caused harm to me. I look to the likes of the 8 worldly concerns again from self-compassion. If they can distract and distort reality for me, I know they might be playing a part in causing others to cause harm.

Forgiveness is also a way and a motivation to see things more clearly, with less fog in our mind and judgements as well as a way of releasing potentially harmful mental states like anger, rage, or hate. When I engaged in the process of forgiveness, my reality and perspective were a whole lot more clear with a wider rather than narrower perspective. I find that every now and again, checking myself against the eight worldly concerns/Dharmas (the likes of Material Gain/Loss, Blame/Praise, Status/Insignificance, and Pain/Pleasure). I try to see if any of my identified hurt might somehow be connected to one of these and might even be preventing me from releasing and letting go. For example, if someone blamed me for something that I was not responsible for and this challenged my status somehow. Well, if I find myself being gripped in somehow with my status or avoiding being blamed at every cost, then, this will have even more of an impact on me and probably, act as an obstacle, as opposed to the same thing happening to someone else who was not being gripped or distorted by blame and status in the same moment.

Looking to others who have chosen to forgive and who have benefited greatly can be another big motivator. As I cycled today, I tried to bring to mind examples in my own life of people who have chosen to go down this route and those who could greatly benefit if they were able to, just like Richard Moore (although it is an extreme case), who went on to create a successful organization that I collaborate with today, called Children in Crossfire. They work with thousands of children and Educators in both in Ireland, the UK, and East Africa to assist them in navigating the worlds they enter. I feel inspired to keep going at this thing we are calling forgiveness!

To Gratitude now. Both Gratitude and Forgiveness are inextricably linked and powerful in their own right too.

Gratitude can be seen in many different ways and definitions and to me, it's not so important to find the perfect definition, as long as people are benefitting from the magic ingredient in their lives. But, to give it a definition to work off, it is an appreciation of the benefits we receive from others and the world around us.

The person or people around us don't even need to know that they are benefitting us for us to reap the rewards of gratitude, nor, do the need to intend to give benefit in order for us to receive and feel it. We can be grateful for the things that happen to us and also grateful for the things that could have happened to us but didn't. I feel this benefit more so over the past 40 days while cycling daily and almost falling or crashing or hitting into other cars or bikes, but not doing so. I really am able to feel the benefit of what didn't happen and have a great sense of gratitude for that.

Similarly, if I think about some of the hurt that may have happened in my life and the lessons, strategies, and benefits that may have come from these experiences, I don't think for a second that I need to thank those who created the harm, hurt or difficult situations but I can still feel a sense of gratitude and recognize that there I may have benefitted from these challenging situations. I say to myself, 'I have faced that, I have grown, and it has made me the person I am and assisted in getting me to this point in my life and I have immense gratitude for all of that'. I hope that you can see why I mention gratitude being an act of self-compassion but that it also relates to others, directly and indirectly.

Everyone knows somebody else in their lives who may appear to have everything they want need or desire in the world but may still not be happy or content. Without being able to feel gratitude for the things that we have, regardless of the commodity, I feel that we will struggle to be happy and content in ourselves. We may still feel the need for more and be constantly looking for more. Hence the label, the secret ingredient of a compassionate weapon for happiness.

I feel very fortunate to have been able to experience a very different reality when working and living in various different parts so the world, in the global north and south. I came across many amazing examples of folks and communities who lived with modest means and less economic wealth but expressed and lived with a huge amount of gratitude for what they had and who they were. I have also witnessed and felt the opposite and it is very clear the missing component. I also feel very grateful that I don't have to look too far for such examples of people who live with gratitude within my own family here in Spain. I am grateful for this and it is infectious and contagious and one such infection that I invite.

Gratitude is something that we can keep cultivating to an endless degree, despite any adversities that we may face and I am fully convinced, does lead to more joy, happiness, and contentment. So to me, it is a no-brainer not to practice it every day, just like the practice of breathing correctly!

To sum up this cycle and reflection, I am grateful to have spent time today to refocus on both of these skills, choices, and acts and assessed some of the main strategies towards achieving them, which I will leave you with now.

Summary of steps and strategies for Cultivating Forgiveness:

Attempt to........

  • Separate the Action from the Actor
  • Examine and try to understand the main causes and conditions
  • Recognize Common Humanity with those who have caused harm
  • Cultivate gratitude for what I have received

In Cultivating Gratitude

  • Focus on what I have received and benefited from
  • Focus on what I have learned through my experiences
  • Focus on what others have not done (but could have)
  • Engage in gratitude practices as often as we can (eg. Having a Journal to record our daily reasons to be grateful)
  • Recognition of Interdependence (Ubuntu – I am because we are – Southern African Practice) or check out any of Martin Luther King Jr's powerful speeches about our interdependence.

As a bonus practice for today's blog, simply click on the link below and sit back, open your ears, eyes, and sense of gratitude, and enjoy.


Shane O’Connor



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