Forgiveness in Three Directions
“If you want to see the brave, look for those who can forgive”
as written in the Bhagavad Gita
Forgiveness has been on my mind a lot during the month of December. Forgiveness is taught by all world religions as a foundation for living a peaceful life and moving on after injury or betrayal. Rarely do we learn what forgiveness really is and more often than not it seems we are taught that forgiveness is a decision and once decided on it happens more or less spontaneously. What I have since learned is that forgiveness is a softening of our heart, a way to honor the pain felt and a recognition that although we may have wished for things to have turned out differently, we won’t close our heart off to another. Forgiveness is one of greatest gifts of spiritual life because it enables us to be released from the sorrows of the past. Although it can arise spontaneously it more often is cultivated through prayer and meditation. Through the power of forgiveness we can transform our lives and move into our future with more love and joy.
To be able to forgive, we must be clear what forgiveness really means:
It does not justify or condone harmful actions. You can do whatever is necessary to prevent further harm. Forgiveness does not mean you have to seek those that have caused you harm. You may choose never to see them again. Forgiveness is simply an act of the heart. A way to let go of the pain, resentment and the burdens we have carried for too long. It’s an easing of the heart. An acknowledgement that no matter how much you condemn the suffering by another you will not put them out of your heart.
“If we could read the secret histories of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
For most of us forgiveness is a process. Forgiveness can take years and often goes through stages. Grief, anger, sorrow, confusion, pain. In the end, forgiveness comes as a relief. A softening of the heart. Forgiveness is fundamentally for our own sake. A way forward without holding the pain of the past.
To release the pain of the past allows your heart to move forward in this world in a free and unencumbered way. Fundamentally the act of forgiveness is for yourself. It may be for the damage done to you and others. Or it may be for the pain you carried too long. Either way, it’s an act of courage.
Forgiveness is best practiced in three parts. Be compassionate with yourself as you practice the three parts. Sometimes it comes naturally, sometimes the meditation brings up its opposite. We end up bringing to the surface all the anger and pain we may stile carrying. It shows us where there is still some work of the heart to be done. Trust yourself through this.
Start with asking for forgiveness from others. Move into forgiving yourself. Then move into forgiving another.
Go gently into the practice of forgiveness. There isn’t need to be judging yourself or to struggle. It’s a practice that can be done hundreds of times and little by little it will free you from the past and open your heart and let you move forward in your life.
I want to share with you an ancient buddhist prayer of forgiveness taught to me by Jack Kornfiled:
In all the ways that I have harmed others, abandoned them and betrayed them, both knowingly and unknowingly I ask for their forgiveness.
In all the ways that I have harmed myself, betrayed myself and abandoned myself, both knowingly and unknowingly, I forgive myself.
In the many ways others have hurt or harmed me, betrayed and abandoned me, out of their own fear and confusion, pain and anger, knowingly and unknowingly and to the extend that I am ready, I offer them forgiveness. I carried this pain in my heart too long. To you who have harmed me, I now offer you my forgiveness. I forgive you. I release you. I forgive you.
Forgiveness is a practice. I remember my meditation teacher telling me to practice this forgiveness meditation each night for 108 days and then I might be ready to start moving into the direction of forgiveness. His instruction showed me that forgiveness is a commitment and a devotion, not a one time process. Be kind with yourself as you move into forgiveness, be faithful to it and the gift for the commitment will be a gentler heart and a more joyful outlook.