How to Say I’m Sorry

Begin_AnewLast monday was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. I was reflective as I delivered my kids’ fancy shoes to their dad’s house for synagogue. What better time to reflect on… not just apologies but Beginning Anew. It’s not the first time I’ve heard of this ritual but most recently from Thay. The ritual, which can be done as often as you please, really is incredibly powerful in that it not only acknowledges any hurt and suffering that you may have caused but also plants the seeds of love. Another thing I love about it is its specificity. For me, the blanket… “I’m sorry for everything and anything I may have done in the past year to hurt you.” has always rung empty. Sorry for what???

Instead, this ritual asks you to take responsibility for your own suffering. And, it asks you to be assertive in expressing the hurt inside of yourself.

After hearing about it, I committed to doing Step 1 with my kids every week! It’s amazing to watch their little faces light up!!!

I don’t think I could do a better job of describing it so here’s how Thich Naht Hanh desribes it in his own words:

As human beings, we all make mistakes. Our unskillful thoughts, words, and actions cause harm to ourselves and those around us. Often, when we hurt others or are hurt by them, because of our pride we make no effort to reconcile or renew our relationships. Without reconciliation, we cannot deepen our understanding and we only cause more suffering.
Our practice is to renew our relationships on a regular basis. Every week we have time to go to concerts, cinema, shopping, and many other activities, but we rarely find the time to renew our relationships with the people who are close to us, our family members, friends, and colleagues.

The practice of Beginning Anew is a practice of reconciliation. Beginning Anew can be practiced between two people or as a group. As one person speaks, the other person practices deep listening without interrupting, allowing the first person to speak from the depths of her heart.

In Beginning Anew we have three steps: sharing appreciation, expressing regret, and expressing hurt and difficulties. In the first step, sharing appreciation, we practice to recognize and acknowledge the positive attributes of the other person. Every one of us has both wholesome and unwholesome seeds. When we express our appreciation for the other person’s positive qualities, we give him the opportunity to recognize the positive qualities in our own consciousness.

For instance, perhaps our son is very kind and hardworking. He studies well and often helps us out. But once in a while he makes a mistake, and we correct him strongly right away. Yet because we have not told him how much we appreciate him, when we correct him, he hears only our criticism and blame. In this situation our relationship will be difficult. To improve the situation, we practice sharing our appreciation. If our son is doing well in school, we compliment him. We practice in the same way with our partner, husband, wife, friends, and other people in our life. We can share our appreciation with each other at any time.

The second step of Beginning Anew is expressing regret. We take this opportunity to share with the other person our regrets for the things we have done or said that might have caused him pain. This requires humility and the willingness to let go of our own pain and pride.

In the third step of Beginning Anew, we express our own hurt with mindful, loving speech, without blaming or criticizing. We speak in such a way that the other person can listen and receive our words. If we blame and condemn the other person, his heart will close and he will not be able to hear us. We ask the other person to help us to understand why he has spoken as he has, acted as he has to cause us so much pain. Perhaps at a later time he can share with us so that we can understand more deeply. If a strong emotion arises in us while we are expressing our suffering, we should simply stop and come back to our breathing until the emotion subsides. The other person can support us by following his breathing until we are ready to continue.

We can enjoy practicing Beginning Anew with our partner, our family, or our colleagues regularly. By doing this practice we will prevent small misunderstandings from accumulating. Rather, we will take care of them as they arise. At the same time, we cultivate our awareness and appreciation for the positive qualities our loved ones bring to our life. With understanding, all things become possible.

Gut Yontiff to my Jewish friends but I’m all for not waiting a whole year for the next, “I’m sorry.” How do you reconnect or make amends? Do you have rituals or tools in your family that help build your relationship bridges?

Practical Mommy is Ria Sharon. Click the links for Practical Mommy’s recommendations for travel car seats, affordable and fun diaper bags (skip hop bag), and the best-selling crib brand, Da Vinci Crib.