When I was younger, I was very self-critical and hated making mistakes. When living from that place and projecting outward, I had a hard time extending acceptance, much less forgiveness to others who I viewed as having “messed up.” My immature notion of forgiveness meant that forgiving equaled condoning. To put it simply, this was a miserable way of being.
I spent the last three decades evolving my ideas and living my experiences of forgiveness and it has radically changed my life for the better. Forgiveness has been my path to freedom. There are many layers through which I have moved, but I will begin with the most dramatic shift--true story.
Two years after ending a very difficult relationship, I began to feel that I was literally making myself sick rehashing all the details of the relationship. Somehow, I remembered a visualization for forgiveness that I’d been given at least ten years earlier. I began trying to practice the visualization for completely self-serving reasons--to alleviate my own suffering and sure-to-come illness. I dedicated an entire summer to this practice. Every day over my lunch hour, I walked with fierce determination, sweating, and imagined. In the visualization (details in the “Resources” section), one step is to imagine the person in front of you and imagine putting your arms around them. Even in my mind I could not bring myself to do this, I was filled with so much resentment! I kept at it, committed to breaking through. I finally resorted to asking for help--”God, make me do this.” Nothing. One day, I felt the shift and my request changed. “God, make me willing to do this.” I am pretty sure this is where “thy will, not my will,” comes in. I was then able to continue on with the forgiveness practice and I kept it up for many weeks, every day.
At the end of that same summer after returning from vacation, my office said “some man” had been calling me every day for the time I was away. I couldn’t imagine, since I hadn’t dated anyone for a couple of years. The following weekend, a man who was a mutual friend of mine and the ex’s took me to dinner and a concert for my upcoming birthday. He reminded me that the ex was “just looking for love like everybody else.” I felt another giant boulder of animosity and blame fall off in that moment--my perspective shifted. On the following Monday, on my 40th birthday, I went to work. I had barely arrived when the phone rang and it was the ex, with whom I’d not spoken in two years! “Oh, my gosh, are you calling for my birthday”? “Oh, sorry, no, I forgot--I’m calling to make amends.” By the time we met, I received his amends, but I didn’t need them--I had utterly and completely forgiven him and myself. This felt like no small miracle.
A few years later I attended a graduate program in spiritual psychology. A large component of the practices I learned there focused on forgiveness with yet another layer to add. Our leaders taught that even though we may say we forgive someone, we can still be stuck with the unconscious judgments we’ve placed against ourselves for having them at all. I wrote thousands of these sentences and slowly let go of a lifetime of blame. An example (using that ex) would be, “I forgive myself for judging him as selfish. I forgive myself for judging myself as weak.” This may seem like a small addition, but I assure you, this practice is profound.
In 2003, I was introduced to loving-kindness or metta meditation. I have continued this practice to this day and without fail, it sets the tone for how I see, perceive and act alone and with others. (See the “Resources” section for a sample of the meditation). I begin with loving-kindness for myself and continue until I get to more and more challenging people in my life.
The last important layer came during a silent retreat in 2012. On the day the teachers talked about forgiveness, one teacher said to be clear that we forgive the perpetrator, not the act and to “make no mistake--forgiveness is not an invitation to have that person remain in your life.” This was another “aha” moment.
May you find the courage to forgive. May you know the peace and freedom forgiving brings.