Learning how to forgive is the ultimate spiritual practice and one of the most challenging things we need to face as we journey through life. It’s a process that grows our hearts and souls in a very deep way.
Life gives us many opportunities to forgive and ask ourselves, who do I choose to be in this situation and in my life? Do I choose to be hardened and angry with a closed-off heart, or do I choose to be compassionate and loving?
Forgiveness enables us to release hurt from the past and transform difficult emotions in the present.
The process of forgiveness enables us to transform toxic emotions that we carry around in relation to both others and ourselves.
There are significant misunderstandings and confusion about what it means to forgive.
It doesn’t mean that others are not held accountable for their behaviour.
It means we take responsibility for releasing the effect these experiences have on our physical and emotional well-being.
We make forgiveness about our own peace of mind and not the other person.
The first and probably the most important step in learning how to forgive others, and ourselves is to make the choice—to decide we are ready to let go of holding onto the toxic feelings.
When we choose to forgive, we take a giant step in reclaiming our lives and releasing the energy around anger, resentment, and bitterness. I say choose because that’s what forgiveness is—a choice. People who remain in a state of anger and resentment are either not ready to make the choice or aren’t aware they have one to make.
When we choose to forgive, it’s important to understand that forgiveness is a process that takes time. It often requires that we reaffirm our intention on a continual and regular basis. We are also not saying that what happened or the way that we were treated was acceptable. Rather we are saying that we are ready to release the toxic hold that the anger and resentment have on us.
While the process of forgiveness often involves a number of steps that are by no means linear, it always begins with the intention or desire to forgive.
I have read a number of books about forgiveness, and have engaged in many practices. There are processes that include any number of steps, ranging from just a few all the way up to twenty. Twenty steps seemed overwhelming to me, so I decided to condense everything I’ve read and practiced into six steps.
I used the fourfold path described in The Book of Forgiving written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, MPHO Tutu, as the foundation. I modified their process to meet my own needs and to blend together a human and spiritual perspective on forgiveness.
The Tutus’ book includes many beautiful and powerful rituals and practices that support the process of forgiveness, but the idea that we “grant forgiveness” didn’t resonate with my own spiritual views, so I modified them and came up with the following six steps:
The Six Steps of Forgiveness
1. Share your story
It’s important to openly and honestly share your unedited story with someone you trust. If you don’t feel you can do that with another person, it is also effective to write it in your journal or a notebook that you can subsequently destroy or use in the creation of a releasing ritual.
2. Be mindful of your feelings
Allowing yourself to feel what you feel is important for transforming your feelings of anger and resentment. We apply the practice of mindfulness to become aware of our feelings and create space for them without judgment.
3. Develop a 360-degree perspective
During this part of the process, we get curious about the other person’s perspective and what their story is. We begin to cultivate empathy as we expand our view of the situation and can see that this other person, like us, is human, imperfect, and may have acted out of hurt or pain in their own life.
4. Shift from victim consciousness to seeing the divine plan
From a spiritual perspective, we realize that every experience in our life has been created as an opportunity for us to fulfill our Soul’s purpose and for growth. From this perspective, people didn’t do things to us, these situations and people happened for us.
5. Create a new relationship or release it altogether
Every relationship and/or person comes into our life for a reason. There are times we are meant to change ourselves in the relationship and there are other times we’re meant to go our separate ways.
6. Forgiveness practice.
Forgiveness and the transformation of feelings is a process that involves both an intellectual as well as an energetic shift.
Spending time in a formal meditation practice focused on forgiveness creates an opportunity for us to heal at a deeper level that includes the body, mind, and Soul.
This process recognizes the fact that while we are spiritual beings, we are also human beings. It provides a structure and process for forgiveness that begins with telling our story and feeling the hurt and pain that the person or situation triggered in us.
If we jump too quickly to developing a broader 360-degree perspective before we’ve told our story or felt our feelings, we run the risk of not fully forgiving.
When we bypass the story and emotions, there’s a big risk of denying and turning away from how we’re feeling because it feels so uncomfortable. If we jump to forgiveness without first feeling the hurt and telling our story, we are bypassing a vital step in the process and we will stay stuck in the hurt.
We don’t transform hurt by turning our back on it; we transform it by being with it and allowing ourselves to feel it fully.
Perhaps one of the most profound expressions of forgiveness happens when people develop an awareness that to free our Souls and the things that are weighing us down, we need to forgive others.
The following is a Hawaiian forgiveness practice called Ho’oponopono that you can do at bedtime (or anytime) as you drift off to sleep. It involves 4 simple statements that you repeat. I know from personal experience and from the clients that I coach, that this practice works. Research has also validated its effectiveness as shared in Psychology Today.
The journey of forgiveness is the ultimate spiritual practice. When we can come to a place where we notice our heart is open we truly have experienced the miracle of grace.
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