The family members sat around the council fire and each person spoke in turn, regarding the fate of the young man sitting restlessly outside. He had murdered his friend, the son of the grieving family who now pronounced the death sentence in revenge. But Old Grandfather spoke up, “Will killing him feed our people? Let us look at this matter carefully” The family deliberated through the night, then they called the young man to his fate. They told him that the tepee and the horses that belonged to the dead man now belonged to him; that he was now their son and he was to take the place of the man he killed. He became a devoted son and by the time he died, he was known by all the tribes as the model of a loving son.
This is a true story that happened in the late nineteenth century in a Native American tribe as it was told to Gary Zukav by Brown Bear. Our own stories may not be as dramatic, but we all have experiences where we had to forgive to lighten the burden of not forgiving. For when we do not forgive, our energy is tied up to the thing we are not able to forgive and our creativity is hindered. Every time we hold on to a grudge, it is like putting a brick into a sack that we carry on our own backs. After a while it becomes too unbearable for us, even though the perpetrators of our hurts may be walking around lightly. And just as we become tired, achy and grumpy from carrying around a heavy load, not forgiving the past can cause us physical, mental and emotional dis-ease. It is essential to forgive for our health and well-being. Not only do we need to forgive others but also ourselves. For all the times we have been angry at ourselves for not doing the right thing, for failing, for all the ways we feel disappointment in unmet goals etc.
Forgiveness is a choice, one which we would be wise to make, for in every circumstance no matter how difficult or justified, the willingness to determine our own freedom from suffering is ours to initiate. So how do we go about forgiving? First we must understand what it means. Many of us do not forgive because we misunderstand what it truly means.
- Forgiveness does not mean that we condone what was done.
- It does not mean that we forget what was done. We need to remember so that we do not let it happen again.
- It does not mean that we have to reconcile with the person we are forgiving. We do not have to remain in contact with the person who has hurt us and can continue to hurt us.
- Forgiveness does not depend on an apology from the perpetrator or that they change their ways, otherwise they will continue to hold power over us indefinitely.
- Forgiveness is recognizing the suffering of the past, the understanding of what brought about the act of the perpetrator. This is usually ignorance. Someone who has not healed their own pain, and consciously or unconsciously acts in the same way to hurt another.
- Forgiveness is recognizing that we are sharing in the burden of the cosmic pain. We can choose to meet our pain with joy.
- Forgiveness is about creating peace of mind for ourselves where we can heal the past and begin to trust others and ourselves again.
- Without forgiveness we perpetuate the illusion that grudges can heal our pain or change the past for the better.
Forgiveness takes courage, clarity and compassion, it does not come easily nor does it happen quickly. Some people say forgive and forget, but it is not so superficial. It is a process that goes through many stages. We will be going through grief over our losses, anger, and sadness over our pain. When we eventually make the choice to forgive, we release the clutches of the past and let love enter our hearts again. We soften our bodies, our minds and our emotions. It is a process that we have to do over and over again until we can truly let go and become free of suffering. Here are some steps to take:
- Have clarity as to what about the situation is not okay.
- Ask yourself what needs to happen for you to feel okay again.
- Give that to the hurt part of yourself by visualization, whether it is acknowledgment of being hurt, to feel loved, to be told that you are now safe and protected etc.
- Look for ways to get what you want, through acts of kindness to yourself and others, where love and beauty surround you, rather than playing out your grievance stories.
- Remember that forgiveness is about your peace of mind, nobody else has to know about it.
- Take charge of your reaction to what happened. It is about empowering yourself. Blame and grievance dis-empowers us by making others responsible for our feelings.
- Let go of expectations of others and how they should behave so that you could be happy.
- Recognize that your pain now is not caused by what happened in the past whether it was recent or long ago. It is the thoughts, the hurt feelings and physical holding about the past that you are now engaged in, that is the source of your suffering.
- When disturbing thoughts and feelings arise, breathe, feel your weight on the seat or on the ground if you are standing and become aware of your body. Relax your body and come into the present moment. Say to yourself, “let it go, let it go.”
- Bless yourself, bless those who hurt you and let the past be a learning experience.
- If you are unable to forgive, ask yourself what investment you have in holding on to the grievance.
- Remember that this process takes a long time, for every hurt that we have ever experienced in this life or in past lives, have a ripple effect on the pain we experience in any given circumstance.
- Be patient with yourself and continue to do these suggestions over and over again.