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Updated: Dec 6, 2018

Forgiveness is not forgetting, excusing, tolerating, minimizing - it is also not reconciling. What really is forgiveness? Is it a noun or verb? It can mean widely different things to different people. Dictionary definition: To grant a pardon. To cancel a debt. To cease to feel resentment against. The definition for the purpose of this blog: Forgiveness is an internal act of letting go. If the forgiveness is for someone else - it is still an internal operation, but you may choose whether or not to keep it private. Forgiveness is a choice. It is a process, not a single action; and it cannot be forced. Forgiveness is releasing hope for a better past.

Forgiveness is one of the greatest forms of release. We worry we will lose the story of the pain if we forgive. It’s true. You can no longer lay claim to the drama of the pain of the story. That’s the point – you are no longer carrying the weight. You can still recall the events. Nothing can change what happened in the past. We can change how we feel about it, we can move forward. Sometimes we don’t want to change how we feel. Sometimes we want to hold on to the resentment and pain. We use the pain as a battle cry. We use the pain to justify and manipulate. We clench the resentment, grow bitter walls and refuse to allow change.

“Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies." ~Nelson Mandela

“I could never forgive myself.” What do people really mean when they say that? ‘I’ll never let myself get over the pain.’ The question is - does continuing to live in your own hell by refusing to forgive yourself - does that serve anyone? We avoid forgiveness and hold on to guilt and shame out of an immature or faulty belief that continued suffering is a way to make amends or prove our regret. The big question is: Are you willing to let your life move forward? Not everyone is, and that is ok, you are not required to do a single thing.

If your suffering and self blame is at 15 on a scale of only 1-10, would you be willing and able to allow yourself some forgiveness, to potentially reduce the suffering and blame to a 5 on a scale of 1-10? Does your continued pain and suffering and resentment change the status of the offense? Does it change the experience of the victim? This is not an act of letting yourself off the hook or creating excuses. The value in reducing blame and suffering is that it allows you to be a more viable, living human being - and opens the door for you to continue to live your life fully. If you are buried in your own shame and guilt, you are not available to contribute to our world. If you want to make up for your crimes or deeds - clean up your act, forgive yourself, and figure out how to move forward and make a positive impact on the world and the people around you.

“At the end of life, the wish to be forgiven is ultimately the chief desire of almost every human being. In refusing to wait; in extending forgiveness to others now; we begin the long journey of becoming the person who will be large enough, able enough and generous enough to receive, at the very end, that absolution ourselves.” David Whyte, Poet

Forgiveness is something you can learn to do. How do you begin? Gently. Start by writing a letter or journal entry. Write out all your feelings of anger, hurt, shame. Offer your full awareness to your own feelings. Express and experience your full sadness or anger. Accept that what happened cannot be changed, it is in the past. Remind yourself forgiveness is possible. Ask yourself if you are ready to forgive. If you are not, consider going back to the letter - write more details, express more emotion, honor your pain, give yourself time. If you are ready to forgive, create some quiet time in your day, at least 5 - 10 minutes of private, undisturbed time. Sit somewhere comfortable with your eyes closed. Place a hand over your heart. Connect to your heart and acknowledge all you have been through related to this occurrence. Breathe deeply into the heart and express the lessons learned and healthy commitments moving forward. Ask your heart if it is ready to release the pain, shame, suffering and thoughts of revenge. Now imagine a beautiful, large hot air balloon.

Look at the colors of the balloon, notice the wicker of the basket. Imagine putting in all the pain, all the parts of the story into the balloon basket. Put in anything you no longer want to carry, empty your body of any unpleasant emotion or judgement. When you have emptied every speck of dust into the basket, begin to release the sand bags one by one. Watch the hot air balloon rise skyward and begin to drift away out over the horizon. Watch it until it disappears. Then, imagine the heart growing larger, stretching to fill your entire rib cage. Imagine it growing beyond the hurt, growing strong regardless of the past. Growing strong because you are spending time in relationship with yourself. Growing strong because you are giving a gift to yourself, a gift of releasing the past. Imagine your heart is free, floating, lighthearted and warm. Sit quietly for a few final moments, observing your warm, glowing heart.

Forgiveness Prayer

If I have harmed anyone, in any way, either knowingly or unknowingly

through my own confusions, I ask forgiveness.

If anyone has harmed me, in any way, either knowingly or unknowingly

through their own confusions, I forgive them.

And if there is a situation I am not yet ready to forgive,

I forgive myself for that.

For all the ways that I harm myself, negate, doubt,

belittle myself, judge or be unkind to myself

through my own confusions, I forgive myself.

~Buddhist Prayer~

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