Image / Joseph Belanger
"To approach forgiveness is to close in on the nature of the hurt itself, the only remedy being, as we approach its raw center, to reimagine our relationship to it."
- David Whyte, Consolations
In the introductory post to this series, we were invited to consider the relationship between joy and forgiveness, and to spend some time considering and cultivating our willingness to work with forgiveness through the guided meditation offered there. The second post in the series looked at how resentment and forgiveness influence our lives, and gave us the preparatory steps needed before engaging in today's full forgiveness practice. So if you're here, you've spent some time in contemplation and preparatory action, and you're now ready to engage in the Forgive for Good practice.* Great work! Already, you have grown and changed in your relationship to your grievance, and today's practice will continue to assist you in growing and freeing yourself as you work with it and begin applying it to larger troubles than the one you're working with right now.
"To forgive is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt, to mature."
- David Whyte, Consolations
The process of forgiveness requires that we learn to take things less personally, take responsibility for our feelings, and learn to tell our story from the perspective of a hero or survivor rather than a victim. The following 9-Step process will walk us through exactly how to do all that. Let's begin:
Step 1: Being able to say what happened. We cannot forgive what has not been acknowledged. Be clear about what it is you are forgiving. Tell one or two trusted people what happened and how it made you feel, as it will help you to know that you're not alone. Keep your story telling limited to those 1-2 people, however, so that you don't fall into the trap of endlessly repeating or reliving your hurt.
Step 2: Decide to forgive. You decide to heal, you decide to feel better, you decide to end your suffering, and you decide to be a hero rather than a victim. You alone determine when and how you respond to what life brings you. You are worth it.
Step 3: Understand what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is the experience of peace, moment to moment. Understanding that life has hurt, and being hurt doesn't mean you cannot find peace. You have the power to determine how long, and to what degree, you stay in pain. Forgiveness does not mean condoning bad behavior, and it does not mean reconciliation. It is for you and you alone. Peace is your goal, and forgiveness is the path to peace.
Step 4: Understand that your suffering comes from the past, not the present. The feelings that are causing you suffering, isolation and pain come from past events, and are not an accurate depiction of the present moment reality of your life.
Step 5: Use PERT liberally. Apply the Positive Emotion Refocusing Technique (PERT) to your experience of painful or uncomfortable feelings, every time they come up.
Step 6: Change your expectations. Whenever you're upset, you have tried to force something that couldn't be made possible. Develop the habit of not expecting things and people to behave the way you want all the time. When you expect others to be different than they are, you're going to be disappointed. When you expect situations to unfold differently than they do, you're going to be disappointed. Practice allowing and holding things lightly. In these moments, you might say to yourself:
"I really wanted ___________, but they chose ______________. I can't force anyone to do anything they don't want to do."
"In this situation, I didn't get something I wanted."
This allows you to acknowledge your desires and your feelings, while recognizing the reality and helping you to soften the grip of your expectations over time.
Step 7: Name the positive intention. In this particular situation, seek answers to these questions:
What you were seeking that you didn't get? What was the positive intention behind your expectations?
For example, if we were looking for love from a particular person, then our positive intention is to find love. Knowing this, we can hold our positive intention, forgive this particular situation where someone couldn't love us, and keep our heart open to the next situation, where things may happen differently. If we were seeking safety, or assistance, or connection, we can recognize that not all people or situations can give us those things. And we can remain open to seeking and finding those people and situations that can help us meet our positive intention.
Step 8: Notice the gifts life IS giving you. When we recognize that nobody has to like us, love us, or even be kind to us, we can begin to recognize that when we are loved and when we are treated kindly, it's a gift. We can begin to notice and appreciate all of the kindness and love that we have experienced in our past, and all the kindness and love that is being extended to us today. If we were betrayed, we might begin to notice all of the people who have been loyal to us and considerate of us throughout our lives. We notice these people, these moments. We feel them. And we cherish them.
"We reimagine ourselves in light of our maturity and we reimagine the past in the light of our new identity, we allow ourselves to be gifted by a story larger than the story that first hurt us and left us bereft."
- David Whyte, Consolations
Step 9: Change your story. Tell your story from the perspective of a hero or survivor, rather than a victim. Tell the story of what you learned, what you did to cope, all of the ways you grew, and the ways that you found to get your needs met. When you do that, you tell the story of forgiveness: the story of someone who has learned to take things less personally, who takes responsibility for how they feel, as one who is growing and learning, surviving.
To those of you doing this work, I offer you my gratitude and wish you consistency in your practice. And joy in the doing!
Dana Wyss Healing Arts
Breathe deeply, practice often, be well.
* For more information on Dr. Frederic Luskin's work, including the research supporting this process, or to order any of his books and guided audio programs, check out: http://learningtoforgive.com/