The Freedom in Forgiveness

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Forgiveness means we stop feeding the ‘angry, fearful wolf’ inside of us.

In the Cherokee legend, a grandfather was speaking to his young grandson about what causes violence and cruelty in the world.  He tells the boy that, “in each human heart there are two wolves battling one another – one is fearful and angry, the other is understanding and kind”.  The young boys looks at his grandfather and asks, “which one will win?”.  And his grandfather smiles and says quietly, “which ever one we choose to feed”.

Forgiveness means we let go of blame.

It means that we do not push anyone or any part of ourselves out of our heart.

Forgiveness does not mean condoning bad behaviour or relinquishing healthy boundaries which keep us safe.  We can forgive a person and still think a behaviour is wrong – we can forgive a person and it doesn’t mean we have to be in a relationship with them if it’s not safe in some way.

Choosing to feed the compassionate wolf means stopping the war – stopping the blaming thoughts and punishing actions.  We have to do this again and again.  Whenever we notice the mind being caught by the angry or blaming stories we have to make a choice; to feed those thoughts and the fearful and angry wolf or to name the thoughts, step out of that story and to choose another way.

This takes tremendous courage and determination….but it is possible, whatever the circumstances.  We can look for inspiration to people like Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned for twenty seven years and on his release promoted reconciliation.  Or the captured Tibetan monks, imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese whose greatest fear was not that they would die or the pain but that they would stop having compassion for their torturers.

To forgive we need to really want to be free, to tap into our longing for wholeness, to be loving and free.

Joko Beck (Zen teacher) writes: “Our failure to know joy is a direct reflection of our inability to forgive”.

So how do we do it?

The central point of forgiveness practice is that we can’t forgive without first opening to our pain.  We need to validate and soothe the hurt that lies beneath the blame and anger.

So we need our mindfulness skills, our awareness to help us know what is there, to help us to know the hurt and we need self compassion skills to allow us to respond with tenderness.

Forgiveness requires self compassion…..we have to be able to meet our woundedness with soothing and care.

So forgiveness means  letting go of anger and resentment that isn’t serving us, may even be harming us. Because “anger and blame are like a poison that we drink, thinking that the other person will die”  “Or the hot coal we pick up to throw at the other person”.

So in my mind, forgiveness has little to do with traditional notions of whether the other person deserves it, it doesn’t matter if the other person doesn’t ‘get it’ or is no longer here to be told that we forgive them.   We can free ourselves from all these limiting factors by choosing to forgive in order to free ourselves from the suffering we cause ourselves with our ongoing fearful, angry and blaming thoughts about that person.

Forgiveness frees us.

But we can’t will forgiveness, we can only be willingto set an intention and to cultivate it through practice.  Tara Brach writes that “forgiveness seldom happens suddenly or irreversibly – it can take many rounds of intentional practice with our hurt or fear until our self compassion opens us to more acceptance and understanding”.

Here are two Forgiveness Practices:

Forgiving Others

  • bringing to mind someone else you have felt hurt by and who you would like to explore forgiving
  • contacting the pain this person has caused you – perhaps feeling it in your body.
  • offering yourself compassion for how you’ve suffered, perhaps saying “May I be safe….May I be peaceful….May I be kind to myself….May I accept myself as I am”
  • if it feels like you need to stay here, then doing so and continuing to give yourself compassion
  • if it feels right to forgive….seeing if you can now try to understand the forces that made this person act badly….
  • perhaps thinking about environmental factors….was he or she under stress, over tired or under financial stress at the time?
  • perhaps considering the factors that might have shaped this person’s personality….perhaps feelings of low self esteem, a difficult childhood, cultural factors.
  • Beginning to offer forgiveness to the other person, perhaps saying the phrase “May I allow you to be imperfect, May I allow you to make mistakes, May I allow you to be a learner still learning life’s lessons, May I begin to forgive you, and if not now, sometime in the future”
  • gently repeating….

Forgiving Ourselves

  • Now bringing to mind something that you’d like to forgive yourself for….again, something mild or moderate….perhaps with the person you used in the previous practice or another situation….perhaps this person didn’t bring out the best in you and you know it….finding a situation in which you feel some remorse for how you behaved
  • taking a few moments to consider how your actions impacted the other person….allowing yourself to feel your regret and remorse
  • and while opening to the truth of what you did or said…remembering that it’s only human to make mistakes…..
  • and maybe you notice some shame….and remembering that this is only human too….that we all feel shame sometimes
  • offering yourself some compassion for how you’ve suffered because of these feelings….“May I be free from fear….May I be free from shame….May I be kind to myself…..May I accept myself as I am”
  • And if it feels like you need to stay here, then doing that….continuing to give yourself compassion…..
  • now trying to understand some factors leading to your mistake….taking a moment to consider if there were any environmental factors impacting on you at that time….perhaps you were under a lot of stress?
  • Or perhaps certain aspects of your personality were triggered in an irrational way….old buttons pressed?
  • Now seeing if you can offer forgiveness to yourself, perhaps saying these phrases, ““May I allow you to be imperfect, May I allow you to make mistakes, May I allow you to be a learner still learning life’s lessons, May I begin to forgive you, and if not now, sometime in the future”.
  • Gently repeating…

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