To forgive we often need to change our perception of the past so that we can live more fully in the present. Even when we hold all the tools for this, a process can help guide us– a meditation, a ceremony, or structure. Below is one possibility. It is neither perfect nor universal; I invite you to forgive it.
- Check in with yourself. Know exactly how you are interpreting/storying what happened and be able to articulate what is missing for you. Even if we can only move from thinking “He/she/ myself is a scolly-wagin-bafoon” to “I’m thinking he/she/myself is a scolly-wagin-bafoon” then we have stepped towards empowerment. We have separated our thought from Truth. We have separated our self (who believes his/her thoughts to be the Truth) from our higher self (who is aware of our interpretation of the Truth: our thoughts on the matter: our truth.).
- Find objectivity. Close your eyes. Human memory is deceptive; our brain creates memories to fill in holes in what we observe. When we retrieve memories we can’t tell what was seen and what we created. Listen to the words in your head. Now, take a deep breath and look for any part of this you can let go of on the grounds of accuracy. What did we really hear the other person say? What is their normal pattern of behavior, or might it have been a fluke? What (if anything) are we adding to the story? What, if anything, are we omitting? If we can find something, this is a chance to unload weight: maybe you feel a little lighter, maybe a lot lighter, maybe no different.
- Empathize. Breathe in. Forgiveness begins when we can see the event from another’s perspective (even if that other is a past self). What needs were most important to them at the time? What piece of their background or culture led them to make this choice? What distress were they in? What were they hoping for? When we experience life less personally, we open the door to understanding.
- Focus on your choice. Forgiveness rests in finding our freedom. Not freedom from grief, or from the results of our past actions, but freedom from victimhood. Most of the relationships we are in, we choose to be in. While we don’t choose our co-workers, we do choose our jobs. We choose our partners, our roommates and the relationships we keep with family. Almost always there are several other factors in play. That choice is often complex and multifaceted, yet we choose to stay in relationships because staying seems better than leaving. Remind yourselves why you choose to stay.
We are able to cultivate gratitude– a powerful ally. Our perspective can shift. We are not a victim of forces beyond our control, but are making the heroic choice to grow and prosper through conflict/adversity. To do so we may have to seek a wider lens, and release unenforceable (or enforceable!) expectations we have for others/life.
4.) Focus on your choice (cont.)
We may have had essentially no choice in a past event that deeply affected us, and the powerful choice that remains is our attitude and perspective with regards to that past event. We cannot choose whether or not that event happened to us in our lives; we can choose what the repercussions and ripples of that event are. If instead we choose to focus on the choice that we didn’t have in the past, we likely miss the choices we can make in the present.
Similarly, we may be focusing on the choice we did have and how our decision caused great harm to ourselves and/or others. This process again ignores that the decision is made, that there no longer exists the choice to choose otherwise. We may feel mourning, trauma, loss and sadness around that decision; and none of those emotions change the past. They may, however, color the past and affect our ability to focus on our choices in the present. Instead of focusing on that past choice (which is no longer a choice… it is something chosen), we can start here to focus on our present choices… how we allow that choice to continue to affect our being.
The table below helps us work through some common struggles by labeling the expectations that are holding us back from recognizing the choices we are continuing to make in the moment. We can also frame this table with the ideas of choice, strategy, possibility and attachment. In the first box, our struggle is based on our attachment to a situation looking a certain way. We believe that our needs can only get met in a ‘single’ way. In the second box (the expectation) we label our attachment to a particular strategy, and begin to realize how the choice to embrace that strategy is not in service to our needs. By letting go of this attachment to a certain strategy (expectation) we arrive at the ability to choose different. In looking through the fields of possible choices, we eventually settle on a new course of action, and move forward choosing differently in hopes that the outcome will similarly be different.
This is what that process looks like in action:
|Our struggle||The Expectation
we let go of
we may find
|My friend/girlfriend/ partner/spouse has never appreciated me.||This person will be everything to me.
It will continue like this forever
|Despite their flaws, I choose to stay with him/her because…
I wonder what s/he believes that expresses itself that way?
|I dislike my company’s policy on______, and I don’t have time to change it.||I will have enough time to do all the things I want.||I value my time doing other things, I choose to not challenge this because I enjoying teaching working/playing/etc.|
|I received this feedback/demand/challenge from my coworker/manager/boss||Others will share my vision for my growth (which may mean little to none, or be domain specific)
|What tiny bit of the feedback excites me?|
|I would like to_____ but my parents “won’t allow” it. (i.e. If I do this will stop paying for my college, kick me out of my house, disown me)||Others will view fairness the same as me.||My parents support and membership in my family means a tremendous amount to me, maintaining that is my choice.|
|Our struggle||The Expectation
we let go of
we may find
|My application to a job/a certain school has been challenged/ rejected.||Things will go according to plan||I am an ambitious person, I chose to apply for competitive positions, because I strive for challenge, with challenge comes risk of failure; still, I choose challenge|
|My friend/girlfriend/partner/spouse has left me.||All things will last.
Life can be free of pain
|My life is full of close relationships, I choose to open my heart to others, to grow close, knowing that we are all impermanent and will one day part: to me the journey is worth it.|
If we can see this pain as a natural part of larger path that we have elected to be on, we begin to move past helplessness. Once we do, two paths open up: acceptance and/or change:
- Acceptance, while this is challenging/painful, this is part of a path I chose because it brings beauty to my life. This piece is a natural part of that which I accept willingly. I am connected to the needs my choice serves.
- Change. What are other choices? If you cannot find acceptance or enjoyment in this choice (perhaps only obligation), look closely and you will find that you are creating suffering for yourself and others. If you realize the choice you are making is largely driven by fear, pain, or guilt, we may feel stuck, trapped, or locked in to this direction. If so, our choice is to forgive ourselves (and/or, potentially, to sit well for the time being with our mourning/trauma). Ask, what do I regret that has brought me to this point? Imagine for a moment you were able to forgive yourself, how would your path change?
Note: the table highlights some choices … the actual options number the stars. If your list of options is less than 12, keep on going!
- Relax. If you have a simple stress management technique that works, use it. Adrenaline causes our brain to focus on the problem [fight / flight / freeze response / lizard brain thinking]. It leaves us ill prepared to problem solve it or seek creative solutions.
- Remember that humans are flawed creatures, and others’ flaws may require your humble forbearance to support. Sometimes, we make mistakes that require others’ patience; this is the gift and challenge of community. We do not need to ‘accept’ any particular flaw of another; we can support growth by challenging them cleanly and often.
Remember that forgiveness is for you and not anyone else. If you have found a space of peace or gratitude, put down this manual and go share that with others. If you still feel some resentment, notice it. Remind yourself that forgiveness is a process and a journey. You are where you are on that path.