Taking a photo is a 99% internal process. It’s what I do with myself that counts the most.
Making amends has long been known to be a powerful way to accelerate emotional healing. But the result of this understanding is that many people think that saying or doing something is all you have to do to find freedom again.
While this can be true, the problem is that the internal has to be in alignment with the external. If I focus on the doing, I may miss the essence of making amends, which is a shift of seeing.
The mind can even become obsessed with “checking off” amends as a “technique” for finding freedom. While the intention is good, it can become a shallow exercise if done with the motive to “fix myself” or “get out of trouble.”
If I did something wrong, my parents would force me to say “I’m sorry” or to make amends somehow. I remember one time when I was about 7 years old, I stole a spool of cash-register paper tape from the grocery store. I wanted to use it to make a “number line” like we did at school.
When my mom found out, she sent me back to the store to make amends and to give the paper tape back, which I did. But it didn’t really “fix” my internal experience. I even lied to the cashier saying that “I found this” instead of admitting that I stole it. I accomplished only the most superficial aspect of making amends, nothing deeper. And it filled me with shame.
Because I was forced to make amends, my internal experience was not fully engaged in the process. I “checked off” the amends but missed out on the true feeling of freedom.
If I had truly admitted my wrongdoing to the cashier, it would have been a much more freeing experience for me. The external is important.
But it only happens for real when it comes from within me. When I get to a place where I genuinely want to do it, even though it’s hard, then my amends free me. There’s something genuinely transformative about that kind of alignment.
Ironically, even without parents around, I can end up forcing myself to make amends. And the result is the same. Forced amends are not very fulfilling. I can walk away from forced amends feeling bad (even if I was the only one forcing me).
I don’t like forcing myself. And I don’t like the results of the external-amends-only approach. It ticks a box, but it doesn’t allow true freedom to emerge. If I do some pre-work before I make amends, the whole thing changes.
For example, if I were age 7 again now, I could first write down my motives and beliefs connected with stealing the paper tape:
I want it.
I need it for school.
No one is using it.
If I ask, they will say no.
Then, I could question these thoughts using The Work of Byron Katie and come to some interesting conclusions. For example, “I don’t want it” could be as true for me because “We already have the paper tape at school and I could use it anytime.”
And the turnaround, “I don’t need it for school,” is also true: this is just me obsessing about a project that I liked beyond what was asked for in school. Also, yes the paper tape is being used at the store: it was under the till waiting to be used when the other rolls got used up. And finally, I have no idea if they might say yes or no if I asked to have it. Maybe I could even work out a way to buy it.
I’m glossing my work here, but these turnarounds are starting to shift my perspective on a visceral level. Of course, if I were doing this work more formally, I would go through the process much more slowly and thoroughly using the four questions and turnarounds of The Work.
I make another list:
I’m a bad person for taking that paper tape.
I should have asked for it.
I should have known better.
I did a terrible thing.
When I question these thoughts, I find turnarounds like, “I’m not a bad person for taking that tape.” I find understanding for myself instead.
What really happened was: I liked the number line project at school, I wanted to do it at home, I saw the paper tape right there under the till, I didn’t have the courage to ask for it, so I did the easiest thing: I took it. Was it right? No. But does it mean I’m a bad person? No. I was just believing my thoughts and saw no other way to act in that situation. I see better options now.
I also find turnarounds like, “I shouldn’t have asked for it.” In retrospect, it was good that I didn’t ask for it. Ever since, I rarely have even thought of stealing. There’s nothing like learning through experience!
As I continue finding turnarounds such as, “I shouldn’t have known better” and “I didn’t do a terrible thing,” my self-blame starts to soften. I see that I’m basically a good person who did something I would not do again. I’m not blaming or attacking myself. I can see my innocence.
When I have truly seen my innocence, the effect is a kind of self-forgiveness. And when I see all the turnarounds to what I was believing, I find many more options to get what I wanted without stealing in that situation.
With this change of perspective, I am already feeling free. I have done the internal preparation work for making amends. Many times this kind of inner work is enough. I may not even need to make external amends. Since my perspective has shifted, my behavior naturally shifts as well.
I call these “spontaneous amends” where I am not trying to make it right, but I am spontaneously and naturally making it right. It is effortless because I see differently.
In some cases, it feels right to do some external actions to make it right. After doing my internal work when I am in a more understanding frame of mind, I can then go back to the store, admit that I stole the paper tape without self-blame. I still see my innocence even while admitting my guilt, and the two balance each other nicely. I can take full responsibility without shaming myself. That’s when amends feel good.
The external act of making amends is the last step. If I rush it or force myself, I risk doing lip service to the process of making amends instead of delivering the real thing.
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Further reading: Spontaneous Amends–My Favorite