It’s not always easy to forgive someone who’s hurt us. Often what keeps us stuck is the unconscious idea that forgiving someone means letting them off the hook and we can be afraid that if we let it go, they might do whatever they did again.
From a spiritual perspective, forgiveness plays a big part in releasing ourselves from the psychic weight of even the most traumatic events in our past. We can forgive and still hold firm and loving boundaries that keep away those who, as writer Maya Angelou would say, didn’t know any better at the time that they hurt us and who still might not have learned how to treat others with respect. You can forgive someone you haven’t seen for years and may never actually see again.
The spiritual importance of forgiveness has now been given the stamp of medical approval. A recent book, Embitterment: Societal, psychological, and clinical perspectives, details how bitterness actually continues to generate harm in our bodies. The book details studies that link bitterness and anger to higher blood pressure and heart rate, which can have lethal consequences.
So what do you do if you know that you should forgive, but you are still struggling to find a way to actually do it?
Start by hanging on to the idea that you are doing it for you, so that you can set yourself free. Life is such that none of us get through it either without hurting someone or being hurt. Many of us have had to deal with the worst kind of things that people can deal out to each other, but it’s also surprising how many adults are still genuinely suffering from a cross word said to them in childhood, or nursing a heartbreak that dates back to a romance from their teenage years. These kind of wounds can run deep in us even when the person who did them might struggle to remember our names.
Here is a 21 day mini-programme which is an adaptation of a Buddhist meditation on compassion and forgiveness that many just help you find the release you need.
To begin with, take your journal and make a note in it of how strong you feel a resistance to forgiving whoever it is, with 10 being absolutely no way ever to zero meaning, consider them totally forgiven.
Set aside half an hour each day and find a quiet place where you can sit peacefully and where you won’t be disturbed.
For the first 14 days, as you are sitting peacefully, conjure up an image in your mind of someone or something that it’s easy to feel an outpouring of compassion for. Whatever that is, it’s going to be very individual to you. It might be a baby trying to take his or her first steps or a beautiful wild animal taking care of its young. Anything that leaves you free to open your heart and release a floodgate of compassion, which is actually a very lovely thing to experience all in itself. Enjoy that feeling, and gradually begin to extend outwards to all living things.
You can start with those you feel it easy to be compassionate towards and then sneak in a few things that you might not find it so easy to feel that floodgate for. Again, that’s going to be individual to you. Maybe you just don’t like snakes or traffic wardens. But all you need to do is remind yourself that every living thing is just trying to muddle its way through life as best it can. If you find that chanting mantras helps you, you can softly repeat, ‘May all be well and free’ as you do this.
For the last seven days, you’re going to work at bringing that person you can’t forgive into this flowing stream of compassion. At first, just bring them onto the very edge of your attention after you’ve got a good strong stream of compassion flowing through you so that they stay at a safe distance, and gradually bring them closer until they are standing in front of you. Right now, you’re not even trying to forgive them. You’re just bringing them in to that stream of compassion and seeing what happens as you do that. You may notice that their image in your mind changes. They might shrink in size, or their expression or stance might change as you see them differently.
At the end of each meditation, make a note of where you’re at one the scale of the resistance you feel towards forgiving them. You should see it begin to gradually decrease to the point where you can finally let them go. Then you can place the past gently and firmly in the past and move on to a whole and healthier future.
Loads of love,
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