positively present picks: january 23, 2015
positively present picks: january 30, 2015

you are free: 4 lessons from meditating on forgiveness

Forgive

 

A little over a week ago, I attended an all-day meditation retreat led by Tara Brach. I'd signed up it months ago and it seemed like a fun idea, a great way to really see how mindful I could be, but as the day grew near, I started to worry. Would I be able to sit still all day? Would I be able to survive without looking at my phone? Would I be able to handle my own thoughts for hours and hours at a time? Though I strive to be positive and present in my daily life, meditation is an entirely different level of presence — and one I wasn't entirely sure I was ready to tackle for an entire day. 

I was uneasy about the experience (as I often am when I try new things), but I tried to go into it with an open heart and mind. And I'm glad I did. The day-long experience ended up being wonderful for me. It was a challenge, for sure, but one that left me feeling inspired and introspective. I took countless pages of notes, sat still for long periods at a time (something I really couldn't have imagined doing before the retreat), and looked at my phone very little. The meditation leader, Tara, touched on so many thought-provoking topics that I knew I'd have a hard time writing this post. It was such an enlightening experience that I want to share every little bit of it.

Since this probably won't be the last post I write about the experience (and it probably won't be the last time I attend a session hosted by Tara), I've decided to focus on one of the topics that resonated with me the most: forgiveness. This particular meditation session focused on emotional healing so it's no suprise that this topic came up. It's a concept I'm obviously familiar with (who isn't?), but I learned some very important lessons about forgiveness while listening to Tara speak, including...

 

FORGIVING IS UNNATURAL. 

When Tara spoke of forgiveness, she reminded us that it's not necessarily a natural thing. To paraphrase what she said, "In some way, we all feel separate from other people. We've all be hurt; we've all been wronged. In an effort to protect ourselves from pain, we put down those who have hurt us. It is a survival instinct. It's natural to want not to forgive, to aim to protect ourselves, but blaming others causes us pain and holds us back from love." It's natural to avoid things that have caused us pain, which makes it feel unnatural to forgive. But when we forgive (even if we don't forget), we open up space in our hearts and minds for love. This might sound cheesy, but it's the truth. The more you forgive, the more you love. And the more you love, the more you create a more positive, present life for yourself. To forgive you might have to resist the human instinct for protection. I like to think of it like this: when you forgive, you're choosing connection over protection. The more you can connect with others (even those who have wronged you), the more you can create a more peaceful and loving environment for yourself. (Keep in mind that the connection has to be healthy for you. If forgiving will bring you pain or put you in unhealthy situations, take a look at the next point.)

 

FORGIVING IS NOT ALWAYS POSSIBLE. 

Tara said something along the lines of: "You can't will forgiveness, but you can be willing. The intention to forgive can open your heart. When you forgive, you are free." Forgiveness doesn't always come easily. Some things feel as if they are unforgivable. A great many of those things feel unforgivable because we don't even open ourselves up to the possibility of forgiving. We shut it down quickly, making it not even an option. If we at least try to be open to the notion of forgiving someone who has wronged us, we might find that forgiveness is, in fact possible. However, Tara raised a great point when she mentioned that sometimes we aren't ready for forgiveness. Sometimes, particularly in highly traumatic situations, we're not in a place where forgiveness in a healthy option for us. I like to think that, even in the most traumatic situations, forgiveness will come in time because true forgiveness is the best path to freedom from pain. However, I think it's important to be okay with not being ready for forgiveness, to know that forgiveness isn't always possible in the present moment. 

 

FORGIVING IS OPENING UP TO FEELING.

One of my favorite things that Tara said while talking about forgiveness was this: "What would you have to feel if you let go of the idea that the other person is wrong?" She asked the audience to shout out answers to this question and some of them were: powerlessness, anxiety, blame, loneliness, guilt, regret. As I sat in my chair listening to these answers, I could really relate to them. But then I also started to realize how negative these were. Yes, the idea of removing blame and then having to experience these emotions is incredibly difficult to imagine, but what about some of the more positive emotions that we might have to feel, like love and empathy? Wouldn't those be particularly difficult to feel toward someone we'd been unable to forgive? As I thought about it, I realized that, as difficult as it would be to experience these emotions, both the good and the bad, it's perhaps even more difficult to avoid experiencing them. Forgiveness is about feeling, which is maybe why it's so hard to do sometimes. But the more we feel (negative and positive), the more we learn about others and about ourselves and with that knowledge we can do so much. 

 

FORGIVING DOES NOT MEAN CONDONING. 

Toward the end of her talk on forgiveness, Tara said (to paraphrase): "We often feel as though, if we let go of blame, something bad will happen. Forgiveness is not about condoning bad behavior. Forgiveness frees your heart, but it doesn't mean you can't still protect yourself. When you forgive, you become bigger than the victimization." One of the things, I think, that holds us back from forgiving others is believing that if we forgive them, we are admitting that what they have done to us is okay. But that's not what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is to stop feeling hurt about something that was done to you. It doesn't mean that what was done was right. It doesn't mean that you will ever have the same relationship you had. Forgiveness is much more about changing how you feel inside you than it is about changing what's happening outside with others. As Tara put it, "When you forgive, you are free." Forgiveness is often mistaken for something that sets someone else free, but it's actually about setting yourself free, which is one of the most positive things you can do for yourself when you've been hurt.  

 

Forgiveness can be a complex topic because the acts and people you might need to forgive can vary so widely. However, the underlying notion of freeing yourself through forgiveness — no matter how you've been wronged — is the same. As I sat meditating on forgiveness after Tara's talk, thinking about those I wanted to forgive and those I wanted to forgive me, I reached a deep and clear understanding about how important forgiving others is and how truly amazing it feels to simply forgive. It is a release unlike anything, filled only with the possibility for love and peace. 

Tara encouraged us to imagining forgiving those who have hurt us and asking for forgiveness from those we'd hurt. It was quite therapeutic to do this, to simply think the words "I forgive you," even if I knew I would never say them aloud. Give it a try if you can. Think of those you need to forgive (perhaps even yourself) and say to yourself: "I forgive you, __________ for  __________." It's a simple sentence but it can bring you a sense of peace and understanding that you might not have experienced before. This isn't to say that forgiveness will remove all pain, but I personally found attempting it to be incredibly freeing, lifting just a little bit of weight from the heaviness of the human heart. 

 

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Comments

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Hi Dani,
Congratultions for making it through the retreat, sounds like it would be a challenge for most people!

Great lessons about forgiveness. I never really thought about the unnaturalness of forgiveness before, but it makes sense - I definitely notice myself close down when I feel angered or hurt by someone. That protective instinct is strong!

I will use that phrase: "I forgive you, __________ for __________." . Seems like a powerful release. Thanks for sharing.

Thank you so much for sharing your interesting experience. Your tips about forgiveness were new to me and definitely I will devote some time to work on it. I am looking forward to hearing more about the retreat in your next articles;-)

Wow that is so awesome, I too get nervous about trying new things It's nice to hear that I'm not the only one that feels that way. Although, I know i am not, but it's still good to hear. So glad you enjoyed, beautyjunkkie.com

I find it amazing how your thoughts, articles, and quotes always seem very timely for me. Despite the sound of the word, finding *peace* is not as easy as it sounds, and takes hard work. I lost my father in October, and though I told him some time before he passed that I forgave him, and I do mostly, I am finding places inside that still need to let go of the blame, and complete the forgiveness of him. I know it cannot help him now as he is gone, but I know it will help me, and in turn everyone who loves me.

Furthermore, there is one person, mostly, who I wish could forgive me as well, but I fear it will take a very long time. That is the one that hurts the most. I know I can't will them to do it, nor rush, and it is here I am not feeling time as my friend.

All I can say, is I wish forgiveness for everyone. I will never forget one quote that I heard in a movie, that truly pertains here. I believe it was from the movie Ghosts of Mississippi, and I might be paraphrasing here, but it rings so true for me. Though it mentions hate, it applies to forgiveness just the same. It said something like, "when you hate someone, the only one that suffers is you, because either the ones you hate don't know, or don't care." So, in this case, I would replace hate with "don't forgive," as those concepts live in the same ballpark. That is so true, that it hurts you the holder, the most. It brings you negativity inside, which can bring so many other things, like other bad emotions, bad health, and the list goes on. It is definitely unhealthy.

But knowing something to be true, like the need to forgive, is easier to know, but harder to do. I am sure we all know this. Gosh, this takes so much work and time. Nevertheless it is what I dream of, for myself, and really for anyone. I am sure, in my heart of hearts, that lack of forgiveness (not pertaining to me) is what brought my brother cancer and still resides within him. I can't explain it, I just know it to be true.

This post is so eloquently written. It is so very true. Mind you, I am needing just as much work as anyone, but I only wanted to add one other thing in this, that I hope to be helpful, and that I think sometimes does help me forgive others. It is one other quote. This one is SO strong for me, it is in my top five of all time. It is what I endeavor to live by. It is, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies (or anyone really), we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility,” by Longfellow. It says what my heart tells me to be true, that by embracing understanding, it can help lead to forgiveness. If we understand, like say for me, why my father did some of what he did, then it lessens the pain, takes away the fact that my mind can make what he did personal, and makes it easier to forgive. We all need to know that most people who hurt us, mostly the people we love, do it because of something in them, not something in ourselves. That understanding for me, does help lessen the pain, and lessen the blame.

Your article made me cry. It hit so many nerves. Mostly, because of my own personal battles with it, but also because I wish there were a way I could spread forgiveness like wildfire, and let people see what I see...and even sometimes, myself.

Thank you for writing this. I so wish I could go to a retreat like you mentioned.
Thank you for sending your positive messages and reaching hearts. I wish with all my heart you reach as many hearts as possible. I believe in what you do here. If anything I say, or quote or whatever, helps in any post you make or anything like that, please feel free to use. I don't necessarily credit myself for those wisdoms I mention here. I can carry them and learn from them, but I credit those who taught me, like my mother, and those authors I read, and persons I listen to or pay heed. We all have much to offer each other as humans...and my only wish is for betterment for anyone. I am still learning like anyone else.

I cannot thank you enough. Likewise for everyone that stops here and reads your post and lets it make a difference, I thank you too. We can make a difference in this world, even if only in small shifts.

Thank you for making a difference in my life every time I read this site. I look forward to the more you have to say about this, and all the other things you talk about.

Warmth and Gratitude,
Kat :@

AJ - It was definitely a challenge, but very much worth it. I'm glad you enjoyed reading the article and I hope it helps you with forgiveness in your own life.

Somi - You're welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed reading this one and I'm looking forward to sharing more in the future.

Erin - You're definitely not alone. Trying new things is always tough for me, but I almost always get something positive out of them. I hope this inspired you to give something new a chance!

Kat - Thank you for your wonderful and heartfelt comment. You've made so many wonderful points and I thank you so much for sharing your insights on this topic as well as your own personal experiences. Forgiveness is no easy task and so much goes into making it possible, but it's so great to hear your thoughts on the topic and how you're striving for forgiveness in your own life.

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