This writing on how to forgive is part of a larger exploration on the act of forgiveness that I’m working on. I’m presenting the finer points in a condensed format here to help others in their process because this type of healing is extremely important. In fact, I feel it’s the ground floor of personal healing and probably one of, if not the largest of obstacles preventing us from experiencing peace and happiness.
Why to Forgive
There are many reasons why we arrive at the place where the question of forgiveness draws our attention. If we consider the religious aspect, one of Jesus’ most famous addresses from the Sermon on the Mount suggests turning the other cheek when our enemy smites us. This would seem to be an instant act of forgiveness, and the reward for this is a place in heaven. For the sake of argument, interpret heaven as peace and happiness. Forgiveness is a release of anxiety; a release of anger; a release of frustration. When our thoughts about an event continually consume us and we cannot find peace with them, there’s likely an act of forgiveness that needs to take place.
When we can forgive others, freedom from attachment to their actions offloads a heavy burden that we carry. Once we forgive ourselves and our need to be right; our need to be understood; our need for attention and acknowledgment; our comparison to others; these things let go of their importance in our lives. To forgive is the release of needing to understand why a person has wronged us and why we allowed it to happen. Forgiveness is allowing ourselves to be imperfect. Forgiveness is the letting go of the “why” things happen and choosing freedom from the effects.
To remember and integrate an event into our compendium of experiences is to acquire wisdom. It informs us on how to best navigate future events. This is wisdom growing like a light upon the darkness within. Once we’ve forgiven, we feel less heavy. Our stress decreases as well as the density of feelings like anger, guilt, grief, and fear. This is not a rational release that we can think away because dense emotions have a way of holding themselves in our bodies. Remember that the mental, emotional, and physical are all one, only broken up into separate concepts by those who need to explore them individually, but they’re all the sum total of who we are. So it makes sense that if our emotions are afflicted, so are our thought processes and physical being. When was the last time that you were sick and felt happy about it? You don’t because your emotional nature reflects the physical. When the body is sick, our emotions follow along, as well as our ability to think clearly. When we forgive, we do so from the physical, the mental, and the emotional parts of ourselves. This then builds spiritual nourishment.
The Colours Exercise
Imagine that you’re in a classroom and you’re one of 5 kids. There’s a box with 10 crayons in it, and the teacher asks each of you to draw a picture of a beautiful beach, with cliffs, and trees on the cliffs, and clouds in the sky. Here’s the kicker: you each get two crayons to do it with, and you can’t trade crayons or paper. Now, if you’re like me, I’m thinking about a tan coloured sandy beach, a sunset where the sky is pink and gold, with reflections of an orangey sun in the clouds and across the deep blue water. The trees are brown trunked, with green foliage with flecks of yellow on the tips, and some light green ferns to fill in space. That may or may not be your picture but I’m kind of artsy so that’s what pops into my head. And let’s say that you get your two crayons and they’re red and blue. The boy next to you got the black and the green. The girl on the other side of you got orange and yellow. You’re probably wondering how each of you is going to get that picture out of your head and onto the paper with just two colours to represent all of nature. You begin colouring, possibly starting with an outline, or maybe even blocking in certain parts like the ocean, knowing that the ocean isn’t red, but what else can you do? You make attempts to blend colours, maybe even drawing unique patterns like checkers or stripes to make the drawing more fun and less real. You may even start adding in funny looking animals or a race car to show how absurd this is. You look over, and the kid next to you hasn’t even started because he can’t adjust his thinking to how to draw a black sky. On the other side of you, the girl is struggling to draw orange trees that probably don’t look anything like the trees you’ve seen. You notice that some kids aren’t even drawing nature but circles and squares. Nothing is making sense. But you understand how difficult this art exercise has been so you’re content acknowledging the struggles the other kids are going through.
Now let’s take it a step further. Let’s say that each colour represents an aspect of what you might have as a childhood attribute that you’re born into.
- Red = Parents who are loving and capable of expressing this to you boldly and passionately.
- Orange = Good friendships with others with lots of exploration and creativity.
- Yellow = Parents who are intelligent and do everything possible to ensure a great education.
- Green = Good income from parents to afford healthy food, clothing.
- Blue = Parents who communicate with you and really know and understand you.
- Indigo = Teachers who are inspiring and do more than have you memorize information.
- Violet = Parents who guide you to learning spiritual values.
- Brown = A loving extended family that visits frequently, supporting connectedness.
- Black = Broader perspective from travel to other cultures to see how they differ from yours.
- Grey = Parents who avoid dogma and embrace a holistic view of the world.
Looking back at the crayons you have, it’s safe to say that you’re colouring your life with two crayons, if you’re fortunate. Few, if any people are drawing with a full set of crayons, and some don’t have any crayons at all. This doesn’t stop you from colouring and living your life, but it sure has an impact on how you colour and live your life. Now consider what your limitations are going to be. How will you express a green sky? When you show your drawing to others, some are going to support your red sky and blue trees and some are going to criticize you for your choices. But it was all you could do. You have a choice how to take in other’s drawings with the colours they have to work with.
You see, people are not fully developed. Imagine what it would be like if you grew to be an adult with all of the colours and associated attributes from the above colour chart. How might your world be? Now consider the colours you did get and see what you’ve made of them. Now consider what two colours another person may have gotten, and all of the colours they didn’t get. Acknowledge how much improvisation is required, how much searching is necessary to either colour without those colours or try to acquire those colours in unique ways to fill in the spectrum. You start to understand how your actions and the actions of others are dictated by the use of or lack of certain attributes in their lives.
I bring this all up because it will help to develop a compassion for why people make the decisions in their lives that they do. These same people are the ones who affect your life by hurting you, mistreating you, endangering you, and controlling you. In fact, you are one of these people to someone else. You’re doing the best you can with the colours you’re given.
Techniques for Forgiveness
The following techniques require for you to take a moment and make a conscious decision about what you are about to do. If you’re going to forgive yourself for something you’ve done, or if you’re going to forgive someone else for something they’ve done to you, you need to be clear about that. Intention is one of the most powerful tools that we have to direct our focus and energy toward an outcome. We frequently don’t realize that we set goals and can sometimes picture their outcomes, but the drive for them starts deep within your body. This drive is similar to that momentum you gather when you’re going to lift something that you know is really heavy. You take a moment, plant your feet, and muster up your strength to do the heavy lifting, and when you’re ready, you lift. That’s intention. It’s the preparedness and focus that wells up within in you that you then direct into your task. Keep this in mind when embarking on forgiveness because it will make the process more powerful and effective.
Sensory Immersion Exercise
The preliminary to the following techniques is to understand the importance of being consumed in the memory of the experience you’re working on. Bring up the emotions that are lodged within yourself that require release. Remember what you did; who was involved; where it was; how the story took place. Engage all of your senses. Let the colours be vivid. Let any smells come to life. Let all the sounds and what’s being come to awareness. Let any tastes in your mouth be experienced. Let any physical feelings be expressed. Notice in your body where you feel any sensations.
Our self opinion can often seem like the most debilitating force in the universe. We have many reasons to believe we’re not good enough, and unfortunately, anyone who’s selling a product or concept knows this. The science of psychology has inadvertently been perfecting the art of advertising for years. We’re born into a world that immediately shows us our imperfections, but what we experience more often than support is ridicule. It’s perpetuated by our parents, our peers, our teachers, and product advertising. Product advertising works as well as it does because we’re always trying to perfect ourselves. It’s part of human nature and the reason why we choose life in the first place; to perfect ourselves. What we often miss out on is the lessons of self forgiveness that we need to hold our chins up in the face of imperfection. The truth is that many people don’t forgive us for our imperfections. In fact, many people ridicule us for them. We learn to ridicule ourselves as a result. What we end up with is a thousand reasons why we don’t deserve peace and happiness in our lives. The truth is that we do.
Do the colours exercise and acknowledge the truth of the situation. Then look at where you place yourself in the world. Are you really expected to be perfect? Not at all. It really doesn’t matter what you have or what you “think” you have done or not done. Anything can be forgiven.
Mirror Gazing Technique
Looking at yourself in the mirror gives you a complete physical picture of who you are. What can you see in the mirror that shows you that you need to forgive yourself? Look at your clothes. What memories do they hold? The current state of your hair, what does it tell you about where you’ve been in your life and what direction you’re heading? Look at your eyes. Do they look tired or distant? If so, what brought them to this state? Look at your face? Are you wearing or not wearing makeup? Do you have scars or blemishes that bring back specific memories. The key thing to observe when doing this self observation is what brings up an emotion? If you don’t have any feelings or memories with each of these observation points, keep moving along until one of them triggers an emotional response. That’s when you know you’ve hit upon something that needs to be further explored. Once you find something that elicits a memory within you, let the memory fully come to life so that you can see each point as clearly as possible. Do the Sensory Immersion exercise. Once you’re fully in the moment, acknowledge the fact that you’re imperfect. Say to yourself, “I’m imperfect. That’s why I’m here on Earth, to work toward perfection.” Always acknowledge that if you were perfect, you wouldn’t need to have this growing experience on Earth. Be okay with the fact that you’re not perfect and that you set up these conditions so that you could learn. Now give yourself permission to love yourself. You need this permission because up until this point, you’ve not allowed yourself permission to make mistakes. Say to yourself, “I give myself permission to forgive myself.” Keep saying this until you feel the tension of the emotion release. Once you feel the release, you’ve given yourself permission to forgive. Now, say to yourself in the mirror, “I forgive you for _______________.” Fill in the blank with what it is you’re forgiving yourself for. The more specific you make it, the more powerful it will be. If you have trouble forming the words, that’s okay. Instead, let the feeling well up in your chest so that you’re saying the words directly from your heart. That also will make the words, “I forgive you”, more powerful. Look yourself directly in the eyes. Let your gaze penetrate down deeply into your inner self. Once you feel the release, don’t be afraid to give yourself a big hug. Don’t be afraid to cry and let it all out. Always remember that you’re an infinite being and this is just a small passage of time in a great journey.
When someone does something hurtful, we have a choice on how we respond. Most people will have an emotional reaction which is based on a number of factors including previous experience with this type of hurtful act or the person committing the act, or even beliefs and judgements about what is right and wrong about this act. These emotional reactions will not be based in reason because of the layers by which the reactions pass through the brain to be processed. It will first be detected by the 5 senses, translated chemically and electrically by the brain and run through filters of previous experiences that dictate the reaction based on previous reactions, i.e.; learned behaviour. If the neocortex has any say in reasoning with the action, it will most likely be after the limbic brain has determined that this action threatens our survival and emotional stability and formulated our reaction to it. The way to mitigate the reaction is to step away from the situation first and foremost, so that we can regroup.
Recovery from an event might go like this. Run the situation through the colours process so that you can get some objectivity about it. Once you can see that people do hurtful things because they aren’t colouring with a full set of crayons, you observe that their limitation is what was perpetrated against you. Their action contains energy that you can feel. This energy will have power over you for as long as you choose to be a victim of their poor colouring. You can be the victim of a heinous crime that takes place in a matter of 5 minutes, but if you don’t forgive the perpetrator, that crime and its energy can subsist for years. Do you really want someone to do one hurtful act that will continue to affect you for the rest of your life? Don’t give your power over to the perpetrator for the rest of your life. Take your power back and forgive that person and be free of years of agony and anguish. No, it’s not fair that it happened to you, but life isn’t fair, it’s a school. You’re here to learn, and the greatest power be to those who choose the hardest, most advanced lessons, and pass by learning the art of forgiveness and keeping their power.
Breaking Bonds Technique
When someone has done something that you’re finding hard let go of, it’s important to get the emotions involved to be present and your memory of the event to be engaged. Do the Sensory Immersion exercise. Picture yourself standing there with the person in front of you. Notice what they’re wearing, how they look, what posture they’re holding. Make a strong mental note that this person is not perfect. They are playing out a role in your life to teach you something that you need to learn and this contract was made long before this moment. This is part of you’re striving to perfection that you’re being taught the art of forgiveness which will make you a stronger and more peaceful person. Acknowledge that what they’ve done to you was actually done in love, decided upon long before they took the body that they’re in, and it must’ve been difficult to agree to do something as hurtful as this, but this was the agreement. The more love and compassion you can bring up inside you, the stronger and more powerful the release will be. If you find it hard to bring up love for someone that has hurt you, turn that love inward to yourself and feel how important it is for you to have the self esteem that you need to do this forgiveness work. Feel the love and caring for yourself that will bring you to a state of healing this situation and what it will be like to release the hurt you’ve carried for so long.
Now, take a moment and see the connections that bind you to this other person. Because of the hurt they’ve caused you, an energetic connection has been established that tied you to this person. Your hurt and their guilt (or lack of) is, up until this point, without resolve. Forgiveness is the resolution of the event. Your self love is the catalyst for this happening. Try to see how important it is for the other person that they have self love like this. Try to see that if they did have self love like this, they wouldn’t hurt people in the way that they’ve hurt you because they would know that like you, your self love turns into love and compassion for others. When you can embody this information, you are ready to let go of the bonds that are holding you together and allow for you to separate. See the bonds clearly. They may be chains, steel braided cable, vines, ropes, and there may even be shackles. See where and how they’re connected to your body and theirs. There are frequently connections at the heart, the head, the hands, the feet, and the hips. Notice how many there and how strong they appear. Once you’re done with this evaluation, it’s time to sever the bonds. You can visualize this a number of ways. Giants scissors, a torch, a saber or sword, a chainsaw; these all work. Or, come up with your own; whatever you think is necessary to cut those bonds. As each bond is severed, say out loud, “I release this bond with love, respect and forgiveness” and feel the connection to this other individual slowly slipping away. When all the bonds are severed, imagine that the other person turns and walks away from you, out in the distance, until they disappear over the horizon. Take a nice deep breath, releasing the energy on the outbreath, now, and forever.
As stated above, we’re not perfect. There are reasons why we do things that are beyond the scope of this article. The important thing is that we do not limit our growth by enforcing penance upon ourselves. We need to continue to do what we can to uplift our spirits. In my opinion, if we choose to do penance upon ourselves, choose something constructive like helping others not do the same thing that we’ve done. Be a guide rather than a martyr. We serve only ourselves when we don’t move past our mistakes, learn from them, and share our learning. I stated above that there is nothing that can’t be forgiven. It doesn’t mean that we forget. It means that we don’t continue to inflict others with our wrongdoings, but we equally don’t inflict others with our self loathing. No one gains in that situation. We need to forgive ourselves just as much as we need the forgiveness of others. I can’t say that it needs to come first.
Some say that you can’t truly love others until you love yourself. Forgiveness is not the same way. Others can forgive you and move on in spite of your self forgiveness so don’t think that your absolution is required by others. In the same way, you can forgive yourself even if someone else hasn’t forgiven you.
Universal Forgiveness Technique
There’s something that I call the universal law of consciousness. When you ask for forgiveness for something from the universe, the universe will respond by offering it to you. Even if you’ve wronged someone else, you can ask for forgiveness from that person via the universe. This is because the universe seeks balance for everything that has caused an imbalance via emotional charge. When a situation creates an energetic condition by releasing large amounts of emotion, the universe seeks to reconcile that release by harmonizing the effects via the tools it has available to it, namely mental/emotional energy. This is similar to the concept of karma popularized from eastern philosophical beliefs. This doesn’t mean “an eye for an eye” but rather that energetically charged events by their universal nature seek absolution. Because of this, if you want forgiveness that is not granted by another, the other is deceased, or the other is non-communicable for some reason, you can ask the universe to forgive you. This is similar to asking God for forgiveness. I will not distinguish between the two because not only is it impossible, it’s not important. The fact is that if you truly seek reconciliation from a place of love for self and love for other, it will be granted.
Start by closing your eyes and taking a deep breath, breathing all the way down to your feet. Feel each breath relax you until you are less aware of your surroundings than you are of you breath flowing in and out of your body. Now imagine yourself in a beautiful location that comes from your imagination. Pick something that is tranquil and relaxing and entirely in nature. Use all of your senses to be fully enveloped in the location. Notice what it smells like, the sounds of other creatures and the environment, and feel the location’s atmosphere on your body. Now pick a location to sit down if you’re not already. Imagine another seating place in front of you. Now imagine that you close your eyes in this imaginary environment and when you open them, the person from which you seek forgiveness is sitting in front of you. If your forgiveness is from a large group, pick one representative from that group to be seated in front of you. If it’s something from the animal kingdom or something from Mother Earth, let the representative design itself in the way that it wants to, and don’t worry… The universe will always make appropriate accommodations. Now that the other being is in front of you, center your attention in your heart area. Bring to mind something that you love or have loved. This can be another person, but what I find to be incredibly effective is an animal that you loved because these types of relationships are so powerfully unconditional, especially on the animal’s part. The important thing is to generate as much love energy as possible. When you’ve generated as much as you can, direct that love energy to the being from which you are seeking forgiveness. See it centered within them, connecting both of you in a deep embrace of love light. Say to them, “I’m sorry for _______________.” Fill this in with as much detail as you can recall so that it’s plain for the universe to understand. This has to not have any conditions, and cannot have any, “I wouldn’t have done _______________ if it wasn’t for…” This needs to be simple with no excuses, simply, “I’m sorry for _______________. Please forgive me.” Now send as much of your apology and request for absolution with as much fervor as you can and then sit back and allow that other to accept your apology and allow yourself to receive the forgiveness that the other being sends to you. Take it in and hold it deep within your heart. When you’ve felt the transfer, thank the other being and the universe for allowing this to happen and see them depart. When you’re ready, open your eyes and let the weight you’ve been carrying fall from your shoulders. Take a deep breath and on the exhale, let go of the past event forever. If for any reason, the other being doesn’t forgive you, review the section on forgiving yourself, because that is what is standing in your way.
Forgiveness is complex and I understand that I’ve been brief. As noted earlier, I’m working on a much more complete picture of why we don’t forgive, what’s happening in the brain physiologically, and further exploration of techniques to help us. In the meantime, feel free to contact me if you have questions or would like to schedule an appointment so that I can assist you in your healing process.