A friend said to me “I am having a dilemma: in Buddhism, there is no confession, penance or absolution if you do something wrong. There is no external deity to help me atone for my sins…how do I atone for something that I have done wrong?”
Never mind that this conversation was taking place within the unhallowed walls of our local pub; she had my full attention because I just love any conversations that begin with “I have a dilemma…”.
“It hasn’t ever occurred to me to atone to an external source” I said, and then lapsed into silence while I considered my own approach to atonement.
“Yes, what do you do?” asked my friend, “you know, just for a five Hail Mary crime.” Pause. “Fuck! I’m not even Catholic! That’s how ingrained it is in our society!”
I love how a little conversation can launch a train of thought (and I love how a blog inspires me to share it). So what does Atone mean? At-one. At-one-with-Spirit. To atone is to become one with your higher spirit. It’s a good thing to aspire to. It means to make amends or reparation; to make a wrong thing right. Sometimes that wrong thing can be done to yourself, sometimes it can be to someone (or something) else. I have a direct, uncomplicated attitude to life – if I do wrong by somebody I try to fix it with the person. If I have done wrong to myself, I try to never do it again. Sometimes it’s a bit more complicated than that (damn you complications!), and I may seek solace or guidance from a higher source.
But I just don’t see the point of using God/dess as the atonement middle-man, of referring the wrong to the third umpire. How is that going to help the problem? And this idea of penance – don’t get me started. How is punishing yourself going to help the problem? It’s not, that’s what.
I was noted as a child for being extraordinarily resistant to apologising. For anything. Ever. I would rather sit in my room for half the day than apologise. “I am not sorry, so why should I apologise? You told me never to lie! He deserved it.” Apologies to my brother. So, now I am in my mid-30s I have had some considerable lessons in atonement, starting as I did with an apology handicap. And a big, rude mouth. Ha! So these are some of the things I have learned:
My Top Ten ways to Atone (in no particular order):
- Apologise! In a sincere, timely fashion.
- Recognise your wrong doing and own it. Fully.
- Go easy. You’re not perfect, and neither is anyone else. Beating yourself up unnecessarily is considered self-harm in my book.
- This is the hard bit – back up your apology with consistently honourable behaviour. If you spoke out of turn, if you lied, if you lost your temper, if you cheated, if you were unreliable – correct it. There is nothing more upsetting than a serial apologiser who never changes their behaviour!
- Sometimes you can’t atone in person. For lots of reasons, death and time feature strongly here. What I do here is an energetic atonement where I imagine the person is in front of me, and I apologise to them in the same way that I would if they were standing in front of me. Better actually, because we all know how nerve-racking an apology can be. Or is it just me?
- Never say “sorry, but…if you hadn’t have done such and such I wouldn’t have been forced to do this thing that I am now pretending to apologise for”. NO! See 2.
- Some things cannot be fixed. Some relationships cannot be repaired. Big lesson. Learn it and let it go. See 3.
- Use empathy, intuition and a light touch. Treat others like you would like to be treated. Or, if this applies to you, treat yourself like you treat others. See 3.
- Don’t get angry if the offended person does not accept your apology. Try 5 to clear the situation energetically and then try again.
- Letters can be good.