Dharma talk by Mary Kullman
October 28, 2017
This afternoon’s talk is on Forgiveness. I will be covering 3 aspects of forgiveness: First, what it is, then pre-forgiveness and last, forgiving self and others. We begin by talking about what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not reconciliation, and very often the two words are confused. Reconciliation always involves two or more people, usually attempting to resolve an issue and ending in a mutual coming together or reconciling the differences.
Forgiveness does not mean that we refrain from taking action to protect others or ourselves from harm. It does not forget and does not condone the past. What is unjust, wrong or harmful is recognized.
Forgiveness does mean ‘Letting go.’It needs no one but you—whether it involves just yourself or another. It involves freeing yourself of the feelings of anger, betrayal, fear or shame, you have been carrying around, often for a very long time.
Forgiveness allows us to let go of that armor that we fool ourselves into believing is a protection. That armor, in reality, prevents us from being in the present.
Forgiveness means not pushing anyone or any part of ourselves out of our hearts. This means that even if it would be unhealthy to ever see someone again, we still find a way to hold him/her with kindness.
Often letting go can be confused and interpreted as pushing away the past. Resisting keeps us tied to that struggle. A clearer term might be “letting be,–the freedom of release. This may be experienced as a felt sense of release, an inner knowing that you have released the holding in your heart. It takes time and patience to come to this level of freedom. To get here we need to honor the depth of the situation with mindfulness and care.
Yes, forgiveness really does mean ‘letting go,’ but before that is possible, there are some pre-forgiveness things that need to happen. We must realize or recognize what actually happened and most importantly, get in touch with its hold on us. Either consciously or unconsciously it is held in the body, the feelings, the mind. It is absolutely necessary to honor the issue, the betrayal, the hurt, etc. in the past, before taking the next step of ‘letting go’.
It is a human instinct to armor and protect ourselves, usually with hatred, blame and even revenge. Forgiving and being free, needs to include honoring our grief and/or betrayal and hurt, or whatever is involved in the situation. Forgiveness is possible when you bring full compassionate presence, holding yourself with all your vulnerability.
It is so important to remember here that you are bigger than anything that happens to you. Remembering this helps us turn our hearts toward forgiveness, as we loosen identification with thoughts and feelings of anger. Slowly we reconnect to our heart space that is naturally open and caring.
With the help of meditation and sometimes therapy or other support, we can begin healing and eventually truly letting go. This letting go, is for our own well being, not for the other. (Although, when the forgiveness involves another, that person can benefit because part of the letting go involves letting go of revenge,.) However, you are the one being held back, experiencing the living in the past and missing out on the present. By self-forgiveness, you are freeing yourself.
So far, we have broadly defined forgiveness as well as the steps necessary in order to ready ourselves to actually practice forgiveness.
Now we focus on forgiving others and ourselves. Forgiving others and ourselves is the ground for healing ourselves. Without it our lives are chained and we are forced to repeat the suffering of the past without release.
An Example: Dialogue between 2 former prisoners of war—
“Have you forgiven your captors yet?”
“Well then, they still have you in prison, don’t they?”
When we are not open to forgiveness, we buy into the illusion that blame and hatred will heal our pain and that of others. We must find pathways to forgiveness; find a way to consciously release our heart from the prison of another’s transgressions. This is the only way to heal.
The practice of forgiveness takes time. You are never expected to ignore or cover pain. At times, this may include a long process of grief, anger, sadness, loss, pain. It’s about layers unfolding that see the hurt and sadness, over and over in the heart. In its own time, this evolves into the freedom of truly letting go.
When we think of forgiveness, it is usually others who come to mind. However, most importantly we must forgive ourselves for harm we may have caused others and ourselves. It is essential that we awaken forgiveness for ourselves. When we look closely at our lives, we can see hurt and sorrows that have led to our own unskillful acts.
First we need to recognize this and accept this in ourselves. We then need to hold that suffering we have caused with compassion, so that we can eventually extend forgiveness to ourselves. A release from the past is possible no matter how extreme the circumstances.
However, sometimes we are not ready to forgive. We must be forgiving of ourselves for not being ready to let go. Forgiveness is not to be forced or faked. At these times we simply set the intention to forgive, saying: “To the extent that I am ready, I offer you forgiveness”, allowing words and images to work gradually in their own way. Even though we cannot will forgiveness, we can be willing. By having the sincere intention to forgive, we have opened the door.
I think that bringing attention to forgiveness can be challenging because it requires one to really look deeply at situations that may have been hidden or forgotten, often by choice. In reality they have never been resolved or healed within. This can be quite unpleasant and painful.
However, the gift of this forgiveness process is that there is a peace and freedom often experienced that we had not realized was possible.
By forgiving others, and ourselves we let it be past. It is a moving on with the flow of life as we acknowledge what has happened and not allow ourselves to be limited or defined by it.
Forgiveness Meditation Process
Next we will take a little time reviewing a mindfulness practice that can be used to facilitate forgiveness of self and others.
Beginning with forgiveness of others, after you have settled in to calmness and concentration, you might say: “There are many ways that I have hurt and harmed others, have betrayed or abandoned them, caused them suffering knowingly or unknowingly, out or my pain, fear, anger and confusion.” Then let yourself envision or imagine this, and become aware of your feelings—sorrow, regret. Picture each person and to each one repeat: “In the ways I have hurt you out of my fear, pain, anger and confusion, I ask your forgiveness, may I be forgiven, I ask your forgiveness.”
Offering forgiveness for yourself is similar. You might say: “Just as I have harmed others, there are many ways in which I h have hurt and harmed myself. I have betrayed or abandoned myself many times in thought, word or deed, knowingly and unknowingly.” Then just as before, see, feel the ways you have hurt yourself. Feel the sorrow so you can release the burden. Repeat to yourself: “For the ways I have hurt myself thru action or inaction, out of fear, pain and confusion, I now extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness.”
Also, there are times it is necessary to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt or harmed you. Reflect on this: “There are many ways that I have been harmed by others, betrayed, abused or abandoned, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word or deed.” Let yourself picture, remember these times. Feel how you have carried this burden. See if you can release this by extending forgiveness whenever you heart is ready. Then you can repeat: “I now remember the one or many of the ways others have hurt of harmed me, wounded me out of their fear, pain, confusion and anger. I have carried this pain in my heart too long, To the extent that I am ready I offer you forgiveness. To those who have caused me harm, I offer forgiveness. I forgive you.”