There is an old Buddhist lesson concerning two monks who were traveling and came to a muddy stream.
There they observed a woman who was hesitant to cross, apparently concerned about soiling her clothing. The older monk approached the woman, bowed, and then picked her up and carried her across the stream. He set her down, bowed again, and he and his younger companion continued on their way.
That evening, while they were eating their rice, the younger monk said, “I don’t understand. As monks, we are to have no contact with women, yet you picked that woman up and carried her in your arms!”
The older monk said, “I put the woman down on this side of the stream. You are still carrying her.”
That’s how we are. We cling to thoughts and ideas, worrying them and twisting them around inside our heads, causing all sorts of turmoil and accomplishing nothing in the way of our journey toward spirituality.
To me, spirituality is about things of the human spirit: understanding, compassion, forgiveness, love, willingness to contribute our efforts to help others, humility (at which I fear I’m not all that skillful) and things of that sort. Compassion and forgiveness are especially important, because clinging to resentments causes us so much unhappiness.
Compassion is seeing things from another person’s point of view and being willing to do what we can to alleviate their suffering. It’s a vital component of spiritual practice and progress. Forgiveness is compassion toward ourselves. It’s not about “freeing” the other person from anything, but about freeing ourselves of the unhappiness that is caused by being resentful.
We sometimes carry things along with us after the reality has changed, like the young monk. In our very human way, we often blow it up in our minds until it forms a barrier to our understanding of a situation’s reality, and it assuredly blocks our spiritual growth. Forgiveness does not involve condoning a wrongful act. It is simply choosing to accept reality and move on with our own lives.
Acceptance and forgiveness don’t mean that we have to invite the person to dinner, but only that we need to learn to put down our own burden after we have crossed the stream.