Scott Snibbe shares a gentle Buddhist approach to self-forgiveness, letting go, establishing good habits, and rejoicing in all the good we’ve done. Move into the new year with your best intentions and best self.
[00:00:00] Scott Snibbe: During the first week of the year, gym memberships explode, yoga classes are packed, and grocery stores run out of brown rice and kale as people follow through on their New Year’s resolutions. You’ve likely already made some of your own New Year’s resolutions around food or exercise, or maybe even meditation. I’ve made my own already too, to try and be the best father and husband I can possibly be to my daughter and wife. Part of me feels great saying that, but as I share this, I also feel a little bit of guilt and shame in my resolution for not always living up fully to this ideal. You may feel the same in your resolution.
That’s why I wanted to share a gentle Buddhist approach to a process of self-forgiveness for letting go of any pain or regrets from the past and establishing new good habits. This self-forgiveness meditation is something that practicing Buddhists in the Tibetan tradition do at the end of each day to appreciate all the good we did and to forgive and let go of any pain we may have caused. Many Buddhist centers do an extended version of this practice at the end of the year to fully let go of the last year’s regrets, rejoice in all the good we did, and gently establish beneficial habits and plans for our future.
Today’s episode, our first of 2024, is a guided meditation on this practice of self-forgiveness and aspiring toward our best selves. This practice is specifically geared toward meditation practitioners who don’t consider themselves religious, or even for those of a different faith from Buddhism, like Christians or Muslims, who’d like to integrate meditation practice into their life. It’s a psychological approach that anyone with common sense and curiosity can practice, and it doesn’t require any belief.
The meditation combines forgiving and rejoicing. Forgiving ourselves for the things we regret, and rejoicing in the acts we feel proud of. In the English language version of this practice, people have started to call the steps of the meditation the four R’s, which is a catchy way to remember the steps.
Rejoicing is the first step. We begin by rejoicing in all of our own best qualities and good deeds, and the good qualities of people we know and admire. Then the second R is regret, where we sincerely regret anything we’ve done that hurt ourselves or others, without shame or guilt, we simply acknowledge that these actions caused pain. The third R is a remedy; this is where we go into a deeper meditation that harnesses the power of concentration and visualization to let go of any pain or guilt or shame to forgive ourselves. Then the last R is resolve, where we resolve not to do that harmful action again for whatever amount of time that’s achievable.
Once you know the practice, it’s easy to remember and to do it on the cushion, in bed, or even out on a walk at the end of the day. But right now, let’s do this practice together to review the previous year, let go of anything that’s causing us pain, and move into the new year with our best intentions and our best self.
First, settle yourself into a meditation posture. It’s possible to do this practice lying down or out on a walk, but an upright meditation posture generally enhances your ability to focus and to stabilize your mind. If you’re sitting in meditation, take your seat on a chair with your feet flat on the floor, or you can sit cross-legged on a cushion with your seat raised.
Either way, place your hands palms up in your lap, one atop the other, and leave a little space between your arms and torso. Straighten your spine, tilt down your head, half close your eyes, and release any muscle tension in your shoulders, face, arms, and back by letting your mind gently move to those parts of the body and release stress and tension.
In this first week of the new year, I can start with a motivation to make the most of another year on earth. I’m lucky to be alive, healthy enough to be able to sit in meditation and if I also have a place to live, friends, family, some savings, a job, then that makes me more fortunate than billions of other people on earth who don’t have such good fortune. There’s nothing better I could be doing with my time right now, going inward to more deeply understand myself and the causes of a happy, meaningful life.
I do this not only for my own well-being, but to be a great friend, family member, partner, employee, boss, teacher, student, and all the other roles I play in my interconnected, interdependence with humanity.
Through meditating, may I become more present and kind and helpful in everything I do.
Stabilizing the mind
Now let’s focus on the breath for a minute to stabilize our mind. Try and turn down the volume from all your five senses so that your mind goes inward. Also try and turn down your sixth sense, your mind’s mental activity. You don’t have to eliminate the activity, but see your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions from a distance, observing them without getting caught up with them.
Without needing to pull them close or push them away, realize that they each rise and diminish on their own, and you can gently put your attention back on your breath on your breath.
We begin our New Year’s practice by rejoicing.
Relax into the meditation and invite your mind to recollect, from the start of the year to the end, all of the things you did that you’re most proud of. The people you helped, the friends you made, the growth in your family and other relationships, the good work you accomplished, the causes you supported, compassionate conversations, conflicts you resolved, and the everyday kindness you shared as you were out in the world through smiles, hellos, and words of encouragement as you went about your day.
As you rejoice, you may gain a sense of a natural state below everyday agitation and frustration. That when you’re free from stress and trauma and pain, your mind, in its relaxed state, naturally moves toward its best nature: toward kindness, gentleness, humor, generosity, feeling content.
Then think about other people in the world, famous people, or people you’ve encountered in your own life, who demonstrate these good qualities, who advance in their own lives toward greater kindness, patience, and generosity. Be encouraged by their example.
Now move to consider what actions we regret from last year. There may be strong moments of conflict, craving, or aggression that you recall. Or daily habits and routines that don’t make you feel good.
Without feeling shame, or guilt, let yourself review the things you regret from the year. See if you can stay with this healthier sense of regret. That those actions caused some harm to yourself or to others, and that you’d rather not do them again.
Now we move to the remedy for our regrets. This is a deeper meditation with a visualization to help us let go of those things we regret. Of course, if there are ways of addressing some of the harm we did in real life, we should do that too. But the purpose here is to first forgive ourselves. to let go of lingering psychological pain from actions we regret.
To do this, imagine that a bright sphere of light appears above the crown of your head. Within your mind you can see it glowing and even feel a warmth coming off that sphere.
Imagine that the light of the sphere is infused with healing and forgiveness, being unconditionally loved. Then light starts to pour down from that orb into our body, liquid light.
As it penetrates the crown of our skull, we may even feel a tingling there. Then we feel the light pushing down our regrets and pains, as if they are a darkness being pushed down by that light.
Do this quietly for a minute until you picture your whole body filled with this light energy and you gradually release and let go all your regrets. Now for those actions that stand out among your regrets, imagine what you could have done instead.
Think of a better way of handling that situation, whether in thoughts, words, or deeds. Then picture yourself actually handling the situation that way.
Now, being gentle on yourself, think about the various things that you regret, and what’s a reasonable amount of time to refrain from them. Perhaps it’s only for a few minutes that we can refrain from some of our challenging behavior. If so, that’s okay.
This is more sustainable than a resolution for the whole year. But for other habits we’ve turned our back on for good, perhaps a year long or even a lifelong commitment is possible.
When we do this meditation on a daily basis, often it’s done right before we go to bed. So a skillful commitment is to say that I won’t commit these actions again until I wake up the next morning.
As we come out of the meditation, we can feel a balanced, healthy attitude toward last year and the coming one. We’ve forgiven ourselves in a way that lets us let go of shame and guilt.
We fully rejoiced in all the good we did last year. We did so much more good than our few challenging moments. We go into the new year knowing where we can improve our actions and words and thoughts, with a reasonable approach of small commitments, going day-by-day, rejoicing in the good, regretting where we fall short of our aspirations. Being gentle on ourselves and seeing the good in others.
Also, spending a little bit of time in meditation to deepen our understanding and control of our own minds to expand our happiness and strengthen our relationships to others.
Finally, we here at A Skeptic’s Path to Enlightenment Myself, our producer, Annie Nguyen, and our marketing manager, Isa Acebal, we all wish you a very happy new year, full of the true causes of happiness, and warm connection with those around you.