Week 27: The Liberating Process of Forgiveness
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“All forgiveness is ultimately self-forgiveness. It’s a radical form of self-acceptance. It’s a way to set down old pain. It’s a way of not keeping ourselves out of our own hearts.”
– Frank Ostaseski
Within relationship, we all injure, and we are all injured. In order to recover from either, we must touch the pain, and only then can we begin to move forward. For this reason — facing pain is difficult — many of us continue to labor under the weight of old injuries — whether we inflicted them on others, or whether they were inflicted on us.
This was the topic of this week’s exploration of forgiveness, in which we discussed ways we might begin to set down the painful, hot coal of resentment and move forward, liberated, into our life.
Forgiveness unfolds for each of us differently, and for some of us, not at all. As with all complex matters of the heart, the forgiveness process is sometimes halting and non-linear. Still, we find that there is some common territory we visit as we work our way through:
- Telling our story. Desmond Tutu says that “When we give voice to our hurt, it loses its stranglehold on our lives and our identities.” Sharing the facts of the situation is the first step toward reclaiming what was taken from us. This act of courage, when generously witnessed, is often what gives us the strength to begin to turn toward our pain rather than continuing to resist it.
- Opening to our pain and our grief. Once we feel ready, we can begin to gently open to the pain that we’ve long resisted or denied. Knowing that this opening must be approached with tenderness and often in tiny bits over time. Exploring just the edges of the pain at first to keep from further injuring ourselves.
- Self-Compassion. As we open to long-held pain, we must hold ourselves in our most tender awareness. We practice the skills we have been cultivating throughout the course, allowing our hearts to melt with sympathy for this suffering, whether of the initial insult or all of the downstream pain that may have arisen (shame, etc.). We go easy. “Just get over it!” doesn’t enter our vocabulary. We remain slow learners.
- Wisdom: The wisdom inherent in forgiveness arises when we are able to hold our story in more spacious awareness. Our small story makes way for a larger story and a broader perspective. We see that what happened — as personal as our pain feels — was also the result of many interdependent causes and conditions. “My story” becomes “our story” as we begin to see the common humanity between ourselves and the person who hurt us. Jack Kornfield describes this beautifully when he says, “There is an undying capacity for love and freedom that is untouched by what happens to you. And to come back to this, to know its true nature, is the invitation of the work of forgiveness.”
- Intention to forgive: Simply aspiring to forgive is where we begin. “May I begin to forgive myself (or another) for what I (they) did, wittingly or unwittingly, to have caused me pain.” In time, we may choose to consciously grant forgiveness. Too, forgiveness may simply find us. One day, we simply notice that we’re no longer holding the burden of this injury.
- Renewing or releasing the relationship: This is a personal, conscious choice we must each make. Whatever we decide, we commit ourselves to not repeat the same mistake another time, or, to the best of our ability, mindfully, compassionately tending to our needs and agreements in the renewed relationship.
- FORMAL PRACTICE: As experienced MSC practitioners doing what best supports your specific needs, we encourage more of the same! If the topic of forgiveness is calling to you, you may wish to work with Tara Brach’s Guided Heart Forgiveness.
- Journaling exercise: Telling a Different Story. If you would like to explore working with forgiveness of a past situation, we encourage you to give this exercise a try.
- If you wish for a preview of Tuesday’s class, we’ll be exploring self-forgiveness and requesting forgiveness of others. Feel free if you wish to read chapter 8 of The Book of Forgiving. Click through to read the full chapter.
- This week’s video recording. Password is f0rgiv3N3ss
- Self-Forgiveness informal practice by Chris Germer
- 12 principles of Forgiveness: Jack Kornfield (13 minutes)
- The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness (long version of the talk above)
- Tara Brach’s Guided Heart Forgiveness guided meditation; a poignant offering for those who wish to both offer forgiveness and receive forgiveness. An excellent practice for general forgiveness “maintenance” or for a specific incident that you’re still carrying.
- The Real Risk of Forgiveness–And Why It’s Worth It by Sarah Montana, TEDxLincolnSquare. Sarah’s brother and mother were murdered by a family acquaintance. This is the engaging story of how she found her way to forgiveness (no shortcuts around grief), and why it was worth it to her.
But we can plant something new
In the burnt ground
In time we will harvest a new story of who we are
Build a relationship that is tempered by the fire of our history
You are a person who has hurt me
I am a person who could hurt you
And knowing those truths we choose to make something new
Forgiveness is my back bent to clear away the dead tangle of hurt and recrimination
And make a space, a field fit for planting
When I stand to survey this place I can choose to invite
you in to sow seeds for a different harvest
Or I can choose to let you go
And let that field lie fallow
– Desmond Tutu
May your practice and commitment serve to enliven, strengthen, and deepen your experience of this one precious life.
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