Beyond forgiveness – the yoga of atonement



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Today is Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the year to those of the Jewish faith which calls for reflection, repentance and atonement.

As I thought about this day and what it means, I was struck by the idea that the desire to make amends or reparation for wrong-doing to another is, at the heart of things, a process of recognition that we are not separate.

Repentance requires from the transgressor an identification with and a validation of the pain of the victim. Sin is an act of separation, but both repentance and forgiveness unite. Thus, atonement can be understood as At-one-ment, a fundamentally yogic practice.

The Jewish prayers said today enumerate the many forms of sin that might need to be confessed. One of the first of which is described as having “hardened our hearts“. The hardening of our hearts may sometimes start as a desire to protect ourselves, yet the armored heart ultimately functions to inhibit our ability to feel another’s pain.

Once our vulnerability is secured beneath the shell of a hardened heart, our compassion becomes hidden alongside it. The hardened heart is disconnected from the other and becomes consumed with the ego of its individuality which need not be affected by the suffering of another.

The hardened heart belongs to both victim and transgressor and in many relationships both parties play both roles, in turns or simultaneously. But there is a cure for this evil malady, it is the practice of unconditional love.

As my yoga teacher Shiva Das would say “it’s easy to love when it’s easy to love”. But it is when it is least easy to love, that it may be the most powerful and the most important to do so. This is a rigorous spiritual practice, it requires faith, humility and discipline.

The revelation I had today was that true liberation from my own suffering was possible through the healing power of love. In order to be free, we must reject the illusion that we are a wounded child and remember the divinity within us that connects us with infinite, benevolent power.

By choosing to love precisely at the moment that it would seem impossible to do so, by loving the person who seems least deserving of our love, we transcend the role of victim. We are able to view the transgressor and ourselves and the similarities between us with compassion.

The division between us falls away and we see that we are both struggling and striving in our perfectly imperfect ways to understand what we are being asked to learn. In this moment of Namaste, all things are possible.

Today I celebrate a deeper understanding of how “Love is the Strongest Medicine”. Even as we feel broken by others, we can heal and grow by consciously going beyond forgiveness and striving to love those who hurt us.

Perhaps the true loves of our life are the people who challenge us the most to love them unconditionally. It is not an easy path. But when we succeed, how sweet the reward. When my heart is fully focussed on giving love, there is no space to fear or recollect it’s absence. In this moment, love will give us a God’s eye view of the situation and miracles can truly occur.

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