I created a problem this week when I said something to A friend that was thoughtless and judgmental. Of course I didn’t do it deliberately, but I said it and it quickly careened back at me like a boomerang. John Lennon wrote, “Instant karma’s going to get you.” It got me. It
landed in my gut, I felt small and vulnerable and I kept going over it in my mind.

I have to admit that at first, I tried to justify it. I was looking for a way out. If she hadn’t done what she did, I told myself, I wouldn’t have said what I did. She’s misinterpreting my meaning and she’s being
judgmental. She doesn’t understand me.

I kept backtracking and making excuses for what I said until I got to the truth that I didn’t like. Her part in it didn’t matter. That was for her to evaluate. My actions were all on me. I had spoken without thinking it through and I had hurt someone I loved. In order to make things right, I would have to swallow my pride, humble myself, apologize authentically without trying to justify what I did and hope she would forgive me.

Buddhist lama Bhante Dhammik says, “To apologize is to express one’s recognition and sorrow for having hurt another. Sometimes we
break one or another of our own guidelines that hurt or offend others. One way we can make amends for this is to express our contrition to the person we have hurt. Giving a sincere apology, without reservation or self-justification, is one of the highest forms of generosity.”

My friend was more than gracious. She told me that I had hurt her but since I had taken responsibility without reservation, she would
forgive me. I was relieved, but then came the really hard part – I had to forgive myself. I take pride in being kind and listening well. I consider myself an empathic person who cares about other people’s feelings. Those things are mostly true but I’m also a flawed human being who goes off the skids sometimes and doesn’t always do or say the right thing. This was hardly the first time I had hurt someone’s feelings and unfortunately, it will happen again. But the more aware I become of my mistakes, the more I’ll slow down and think before I speak.

I was lucky. My friend forgave me, she remained present so we could talk it through and I learned a lot. It doesn’t always go that but however it goes, the remedy is the same – shed the armor, admit to being a flawed human being and allow a friend to work it out in his or her own time. All that’s left to do is be patient, forgive ourselves and embrace mindfulness as a lifelong lesson.

I believe that the way we treat ourselves is how we treat other people. Outward blaming and shaming starts on the inside, the same place where it can be acknowledged and healed. In my experience, apologies are effective when we don’t make excuses for what we did or said. We don’t say, “Im sorry if I hurt you,”  Instead we say, “I’m sorry that I hurt you.” There are no double meanings there. When we don’t blame the person, when we remove judgments and shame, inner and outer, from the equation, we can find remorse, a loving way to refine our actions and move into
mindfulness. That allows us to find compassion for ourselves and forgiveness for what we did.

Just like meditation encourages us to notice when we are distracted and keep bringing ourselves back to our centers, so does a good
apology. When we say I’m sorry, and I don’t resent other people or beat myself up, when I refrain from making excuses and proving myself right, I can stop hurting others and forgive people who have harmed me, too.