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Forgiveness isn't about letting someone "off the hook." The first and most powerful objection we encounter in ourselves is the mistaken idea that to forgive means looking the other way while somebody "gets away" with something. We see forgiveness as an undeserved get-out-of-jail-free card. That seems wrong somehow, because we can't stand the idea of saying "That's okay" about behavior that clearly is not. The misunderstanding lies in the belief that forgiving someone is the same thing as excusing the offense. It isn't. In fact, the purpose of forgiveness is not to deliver anything at all to the one who caused us harm but to benefit ourselves by letting go of toxic attachment to the past and to our pain. So long as we hang on to feelings of outrage, injustice, and desire for payback, we keep the offense alive and the wounds fresh. And in the process, we remain vulnerable to all the negative physical and psychological effects of runaway anger and fear. Think of it this way: somebody makes a choice that causes you harm and pain. That person is not a monster, just a flawed human being like everyone else. Once the offense has occurred, there is no longer anything you can do about it. The wrongdoing happened, period. But from that moment forward, what happens is your choice. Will you cling to the offense and its effects, keeping it alive and even making matters worse for yourself? Or will you let go of the need for "justice" and for answers to vague and useless questions like "Why me?" If you take the first path, you'll trigger a chronic cascade of cortisol and adrenaline in your body, neurochemicals that have proven to adversely affect everything from brain function to blood pressure to immune system vitality, increasing the risk of all sorts of illness. Essentially, you're choosing to respond to your pain by piling on even more. Not the wisest move. This is what is meant by the old proverb "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." It's impossible to hang on to judgment without harming yourself. Forgiveness is the way out of this trap. Without making any excuses for the other person's bad behavior, and without shielding them from the consequences of their actions, you have the power to say, "I no longer hold this against you.

I am moving on." When the clerk drops your eggs on the ground, you help her clean up the mess, ask for new eggs and let her know that it's not a big deal. After making it clear that you'd like them replaced you smile and tell her to have a good day. She feels better and goes on with her work. When your boyfriend calls about cancelling plans, you ask if you should join him, and when the answer is no, wish him luck. You then call him later than night to find out how the evening went, and explain that he should give you a bit more time when cancelling. Imagine the difference when you whip out a clever, interesting statement that can make someone laugh or smile instead of just being kind of a jerk, even if it was called for. This isn't just a tool for meeting new people. Your current boyfriend, friends, and family will all be much happier to spend time with you when they know that you won't blow a gasket every time something goes wrong. It's part of being a social wallflower - you don't know what to say or when to say it. But, when you get into that mind-set and start worrying about what you have to say, you end up projecting a lot more than you think. Consider two guys sitting alone at a party. One of them is hunched over on the bottom step with his face buried in his phone, trying his hardest to avoid eye contact with the rest of the room. The other one is lounging on a recliner, watching a movie and occasionally smiling as people walk by. Who do you think gets labelled as the loner? Here's another example: Two women are sitting in a meeting listening to a presentation by a visiting executive who is interested in starting a new program at their firm. He asks for questions. One woman has been slouched in her chair, tapping her pen for the last twenty minutes and the other sitting upright, taking notes and making constant eye contact. Both women have questions, but the second will almost certainly be chosen first. Even if you are paying perfect attention and have something interesting to add to the conversation, how you present yourself can have as great an impact on someone as what you say. People projectimpressionsonto the people they meet constantly and the result is a sort of unspoken conversation.

We'll go into this a lot more later when we discuss body language and physical cues, but right now the goal is to avoid being unfriendly in the way you sit, stand or move around other people. This technique is important not just because it will allow you to generate a more direct impression on the people you meet but because you'll be able to sit and listen to someone without having to actually say anything. They'll see that you're upright, leaning forward, occasionally moving your hands and nodding along and they'll know you're involved. Eye movements, smiles, head gestures and posture all tell a story about your reactions to the story and will help you to showcase your empathy clearly as the story develops. Suppose you're taking a seven hundred fifty-mile plane trip and your friend drives you twenty miles to the airport. When he drops you off at the terminal, he says, "Have a safe trip." Rarely do you tell him to have a safe trip back home, but, ironically, your friend is three times more likely to die in a car crash on his return trip than you are on your plane trip.27 While driving a car is more dangerous than flying, phobias about driving are rare, while flying phobias are ubiquitous. Images of plane crashes more easily come to mind given the attention that the media gives to them. In 1986 the number of Americans traveling to Europe dropped sharply because of a few publicized plane hijackings. However, Americans living in cities were in greater danger by staying home. Just consider the effects that the hijackings on 9/11 had on the travel industry in the United States. People stayed closer to home, driving instead of flying, which actually increased their risk of death. When parents were asked what worried them most about their children, high on the list was abduction, an event that has only a one in seven hundred thousand chance of occurring! Parents were much less worried about their children dying in a car crash, which is well over one hundred times more likely than abduction.28 Why? Abduction cases are given considerable attention by the media, while car crashes are not. In the mid 1980s, rumors were spread that seventy thousand children had been abducted around the country. It turned out that the figure referred to runaways and children taken by parents involved in custody battles. In fact, the FBI recorded only seven abduction cases by strangers nationwide at that time.29 But sensational stories get airtime, distorting our evaluation of the risk. As we saw earlier, the beliefs we set are often linked to media coverage. A major reason for this influence is availability. Consider, for example, what happened when George Bush (senior) became president and declared in his first televised address that "the gravest domestic threat facing our nation today is drugs." In the next few weeks the number of drug stories on network newscasts tripled.

A survey conducted by the New York Times and CBS two months into the media barrage indicated that 64 percent of people thought that drugs were the country's greatest problem. The number was only 20 percent five months earlier.30 Research demonstrates that public opinion is linked to media coverage. In one study, the number of stories that included the words drug crisis was analyzed, along with changes in public opinion, over a ten-year period. Drugs were sometimes ranked as the country's most important problem by only one in twenty Americans, while at other times nearly two out of three thought it was our most pressing issue. It turned out that the variations in public opinion could be explained by changes in the media coverage.31 Why is that? When the media plays up drug stories, they more readily come to mind--they're more available to us. And so, our beliefs can easily be manipulated by politicians, or any other special interest group, the media decides to cover--with long-reaching effects. If the breath seems an exceedingly dull thing to observe over and over, you may rest assured of one thing: you have ceased to observe the process with true mindfulness. Mindfulness is never boring. Look again. Don't assume that you know what breath is. Don't take it for granted that you have already seen everything there is to see. If you do, you are conceptualizing the process. You are not observing its living reality. When you are clearly mindful of the breath or of anything else, it is never boring. Mindfulness looks at everything with the eyes of a child, with a sense of wonder. Mindfulness sees every moment as if it were the first and the only moment in the universe. So look again. Look at your state of boredom mindfully. What is boredom?

Where is boredom? What does it feel like? What are its mental components? Does it have any physical feeling? What does it do to your thought process? Take a fresh look at boredom, as if you have never experienced that state before. States of fear sometimes arise during meditation for no discernible reason. It is a common phenomenon, and there can be a number of causes. You may be experiencing the effect of something repressed long ago. Remember, thoughts arise first in the unconscious. The emotional contents of a thought complex often leak through into your conscious awareness long before the thought itself surfaces. If you sit through the fear, the memory itself may bubble up to a point where you can endure it. Or you may be dealing directly with the fear that we all fear: "fear of the unknown." At some point in your meditation career you will be struck with the seriousness of what you are actually doing. You are tearing down the wall of illusion you have always used to explain life to yourself and to shield yourself from the intense flame of reality. You are about to meet ultimate truth face to face. That is scary. But it has to be dealt with eventually. Go ahead and dive right in. Forgiveness isn't a sign of weakness or an invitation to further offense. This fear appears to be rooted in the ancient human impulse to deal out judgment and retribution for personal or familial offenses.