Forgiveness: Making Way for Your Spiritual Magnificence to Bloom »
By Barbara Doern Drew and Walter Drew
» Please enjoy a meditation on forgiveness by Jack Kornfield and a guided forgiveness practice by Charles Filmore at the bottom of this online exclusive.
Nature’s gardens are always rife with pithy lessons about personal growth, and last spring we received one about forgiveness from our giant Oriental poppies. In the process of ultimately revealing their brilliant orange and coral flowers, they must burst through their protective pods, which serve a purpose only to a certain point in their evolution and then they must expand beyond them.
Dr. Barry Heermann, author of “Noble Purpose,” refers to this “sheathed” state as the “bounded self.” He describes how when we are infants, we relate to life from the pure essence and unlimited potential of our “essential self,” in which such qualities as love, trust, joy, spontaneity, creativity, and openness naturally abound. However, as life unfolds, for most of us painful and challenging things begin to happen, and to protect ourselves and survive we begin to develop a “hard, outer veneer, especially into adolescence, perfecting it throughout adulthood.” While understandable, the end result of this impermeable facade is a diminishment of the valuable life energy that can assist us in accessing and living from what he calls our “noble purpose,” unique for each of us.
So, you may wonder, how does all this relate to forgiveness, which has been put forth as a critical spiritual practice for millennia, in all the main spiritual philosophies and religions of the world? Simply stated, when we refuse to forgive, we are like an Oriental poppy that never breaks free from its limiting “pod” and so we never fully express our innate, unbounded magnificence.
Dr. Ernest Holmes, in the Science of Mind article “Our Need for Forgiveness,” says, “Life intends and wants to give us every good thing, but when the circuit is stopped at any point it is retarded at every point. … Everything moves in circles. This is the way of life, and what we refuse to give, we refuse to accept. Nothing is more important than that we learn how to forgive both ourselves and others.”
Misconceptions About Forgiveness
If forgiveness is so essential to the full functioning of ourselves, why do so many of us hesitate to engage in it, or perhaps only dip our toe in its waters but do not fully immerse ourselves in the process? There are many reasons, and some of them are based on “misconceptions” about forgiveness. Four of these are discussed by Dr. Frederick Luskin, director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects, and then summarized in the Institute of Noetic Sciences “Conscious Aging” facilitators guidelines:
- Forgiving an offense means that you condone the offense.
- Forgiveness means you have to reconcile with someone who treated you badly.
- Forgiveness depends on whether or not the abuser or lying person apologizes, wants you back, or changes his or her ways.
- Forgiveness means that we forget what has happened to us.
None of these is true, says Luskin, and he stresses that forgiveness is really about us, not the other person. “Forgiveness is primarily for creating your peace of mind. It is to create healing in your life and return you to a state in which you can live and be capable again of love and trust. … [It] can neither be compelled nor stopped by another.” He emphasizes that painful events can actually be life-enhancing experiences when we grieve and learn from them.
Another critical reason to practice forgiveness is that not doing so has a direct impact on our health. Naturopathic physician Dr. James Rouse, in his article “Choosing Healthy Forgiveness,” points out, “Unresolved anger and bitterness are toxic emotions. Holding on to painful emotions can eventually lead to health problems including depression, insomnia, and stress. Prolonged anger greatly increases the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, and angina.” In contrast, he says, “forgiveness heals. Forgiving others isn’t about them; it’s about us, loving and caring for ourselves enough to move from bitterness to owning our happiness.”
Elements of Forgiveness
Ron Pevny, author of “Conscious Living, Conscious Aging,” describes what he terms the “elements” of forgiveness: (1) uncovering and feeling what happened, (2) committing to forgive, (3) humanizing the offender, (4) honestly looking at your role in relation to the hurtful situation, and (5) forgiving and continuing to forgive.
While all of the elements are essential to the process, we have found the third one to be especially powerful in our own forgiveness work. Pevny explains, “Try to separate the hurtful act from the person who did it. … What might the other person have been experiencing internally and externally? In what ways has he been wounded, and how did he carry that wounding into his relationship with you?”
Barbara had a painful childhood incident involving her father that she had worked to resolve for decades. She describes, “In 2014, when we were taking practitioner training, the issue surfaced yet again. Soon after, unexpectedly at a conference a minister did an unconventional affirmative prayer process in which I became my father and she became me, and the two of us had a heartfelt dialogue. Though my father had died in 2000, this role reversal significantly shifted my perspective about and my relationship with him. When I returned home, synchronistically the next week’s class theme was forgiveness! For the succeeding two weeks, I forgave both my father and myself 70 times each day and feel that the healing work is now complete, which has cleared me on many levels to do the creative work in front of me at this time.”
In alignment with Pevny’s fifth element, Dr. Martin Luther King states, “We must develop and maintain [italics ours] the capacity to forgive. The one who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.”
Walter understands the importance of an ongoing forgiveness practice. “A few years ago,” he shares, “at a nephew’s rehearsal dinner I made an inappropriate toast to my brother and sister-in-law. Within in a week, I had sent them a letter of apology asking for their forgiveness, which I received.
“The more difficult part was forgiving myself. I ran through the usual cursory excuses like, ‘Well, I was just trying to be funny, we all make mistakes, I will never make a toast again,’ etc. The truth was that I needed to examine the deeper underlying causes of my behavior, which months of self-reflection revealed more clearly. With this new understanding I was able to forgive myself, though I still shudder at times with the memory and wish I could take it all back. And then I start the forgiveness process all over again.”
According to Pevny, “Self-forgiveness depends upon our willingness to carefully examine our choices and actions and, in many cases, acknowledge that we did the best we could with the awareness we had at the time. … The biggest catalysts for our growth are often (perhaps mostly) what we learn from our mistakes, weaknesses, and poor choices. …
“It is also worth noting that in the bigger picture—the soul’s eye view of our lives—things are often not what they seem. What may seem to be mistakes or poor choices from the perspective of our ego and culture may be (from our soul’s perspective) what needs to happen to move us forward on our unique life paths. Rather than forgiveness, what may be needed in such situations is honoring ourselves for making difficult yet important choices.”
A Greater Impact
There is a larger sphere beyond our personal work and immediate relationships that is impacted by our forgiveness work. Azim Khamisa, who 21 years ago made the choice to forgive his son’s killer rather than seek revenge, states in his April 2016 online newsletter, “One is not able to perform at their zenith if they are mired in resentment and guilt. You cannot be out in the world giving 100 percent of yourself if you are hindered by these negative emotions. It is important that we are all out there fully if we are going to shift our world from so much anger, hostility, hatred, resentment, war and violence—things we experience in the media and our world on a daily basis.”
We are all being called to the great work of “unbinding” and freeing ourselves so that the “good” that wants to immerse our entire planet can do so. Are you ready to make a conscious choice to examine areas where you are holding on to old wounds and grievances? Some helpful questions to ask yourself are, With whom do you need to make amends? What harm have you done to others? What relationships need repairing—with your parents, other family members, someone in your workplace or spiritual community? Have you extended forgiveness to yourself?
The practice of forgiveness is a necessary component of a life well lived. We all make mistakes in our human endeavors, yet we also have the innate capacity to forgive others and ourselves so that we can function at our optimal spiritual and human potential, expressing our vibrant brilliance like the Oriental poppies. The freedom afforded by forgiveness opens the portals of inner and outer peace. Incorporating forgiveness into our spiritual practice is good for our hearts, our minds, our health, our spirits and the world.
A Forgiveness Meditation by Jack Kornfield
Jack Kornfield, author and cofounder of the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California, offers the following healing forgiveness meditation in the Institute of Noetic Sciences “Conscious Aging” facilitators guide.
It covers the three essential areas of forgiveness: asking forgiveness of others for ways we have wounded them, forgiving ourselves, and forgiving those who have hurt or harmed us. It begins with an exercise where we relax and breathe into our heart and feel all the barriers we have erected and the emotions we have experienced as a result of not having forgiven ourselves and/or others. Then he says:
There are many ways that you have hurt and harmed others, have betrayed or abandoned them, caused them suffering, knowingly or unknowingly, out of your pain, fear, anger, and confusion. Let yourself remember and visualize the ways you have hurt others. See and feel the pain you have caused out of your own fear and confusion. Feel your own sorrow and regret. Sense that you can finally release this burden and ask for forgiveness. Picture each memory that still burdens your heart, and then to each person associated with that memory repeat the following: I ask for your forgiveness, I ask for your forgiveness.
Next, you repeat the exercise with a focus on yourself, ending with these words: “For the ways I have hurt myself through action or inaction, out of fear, pain and confusion, I now extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness. I forgive myself, I forgive myself.”
Finally, you turn your attention to those who have wounded you in some way and do the steps of the exercise again, ending with: “I now remember the many ways others have hurt or harmed me, wounded me, out of fear, pain, confusion and anger. I have carried this pain in my heart too long. To the extent that I am ready, I offer them forgiveness. To those who have caused me harm, I offer my forgiveness, I forgive you.”
Kornfield encourages us to be gentle and forgiving toward ourselves if we are not yet ready to let go and move on—this is very deep lifetime work. He acknowledges that forgiveness cannot be forced or artificial; however it can be practiced, with a gradual effect over time.
A Forgiveness Practice by Charles Fillmore
Unity founder Charles Fillmore, in the pamphlet “A Sure Remedy” (Unity Publications), offers this comprehensive forgiveness practice:
“Here is a mental treatment that is guaranteed to cure every ill that flesh is heir to: Sit for half an hour every night and mentally forgive everyone against whom you have any ill will or antipathy. If you fear or if you are prejudiced against even an animal, mentally ask forgiveness of it and send it thoughts of love. If you have accused anyone of injustice, if you have discussed anyone unkindly, if you have criticized or gossiped about anyone, withdraw your words by asking him, in the silence, to forgive you. If you have had a falling out with friends or relatives, if you are at law or engaged in contention with anyone, do everything in your power to end the separation. See all things and all persons as they really are—pure Spirit—and send them your strongest thoughts of love. Do not go to bed any night feeling that you have an enemy in the world.”