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Are you ready to forgive Lance Armstrong for doping or Charlie Sheen for ranting or the Boston marathon bombers? Perhaps you can forgive Lance but not the bombers. Perhaps it’s not that we can’t forgive as much as we don’t want to forgive.
|From m bui via Flickr|
In a nationwide Gallup poll, 94% of Americans surveyed said they aspire to forgiveness, but only 48% said they usually tried to forgive. This represents a huge disconnect between what we say we want to do and what we actually do. Why is this? Do we see it as a weakness to be forgiving?
All month long I’ve been focused on the issue of forgiveness. It’s been the spiritual practice of the month at the Center for Spiritual Living. This focus has given me the opportunity to examine more closely my beliefs about forgiveness and see what’s working and not working for me. One of the first things I discovered about myself is that I forgave some but not others.
This month-long forgiveness practice has taught me, however, that true forgiveness has nothing to do with others and everything to do with myself. While it benefits both giver and receiver, it is a colossal gift we give ourselves. The only true benefit I can get from forgiving is if I use it across the board, without the judgment call of who deserves it. Why is that?
It’s because, as a metaphysician, I know what I give will be returned to me. If I give out a loving feeling or thought of forgiveness to the universe, that is what will be returned to me. It doesn’t matter if it is deserved by another, returned by them or if they are even aware of my forgiveness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should forgive someone and then be close to them and set ourselves up for possible pain again. But forgiveness is really about the letting go part, letting go of the anger, pain, self-pity, angst, fear, etc. And letting go frees us, heals us, keeps us safe, etc.
There have been studies that correlate the ability to forgive with less stress and better health, both of which have compelling implications for us seniors. As we age, we could be accelerating the process by harboring the anger and resentment that goes along with the inability to forgive. Additional research has shown that, including stress and health issues, the ability to forgive impacts happiness and the overall sense of well being.
Once we see the value of forgiveness in its truest sense, how do we go about changing the way we think and act relative to it? How do we break the habit of involving judgments when choosing to forgive or not? Well, it starts with forgiving yourself.
What do you need to forgive yourself for? Journaling works well for finding answers to this question, and affirmations such as “I forgive myself for judging others” is an example of what you might say to yourself when you see yourself headed back into old habits.
There are a couple of pieces of good news about changing your forgiveness paradigm. First, you don’t have to forget in order to forgive and, secondly, forgiveness can be taught with positive results. Because I love the spreadsheet approach, in the past, I have made a little list of who, what, and what I was going to do about it in order to change:
- Who wasn’t I forgiving
- A SHORT description of why I wasn’t forgiving them
- What has not forgiving cost me in each case
- What I was going to do to change my outlook:
Others have used writing letters, letters that never get sent, to work through the forgiving process, and, as mentioned previously, many prefer journaling to examine the issues and make positive changes over time. Speaking of time, making changes around forgiveness (or any major behavior modification) takes time, so don't be hard on yourself if you find the process takes longer than you anticipated. Remember that you’re forgiving, not for ‘them’ but for yourself.
One of the main methods I use to change my way of thinking regarding forgiveness - or anything – is to see the other person as an extension of myself. It may sound corny but I can look down at my hand and see it attached to me, the same way the person I’m not forgiving could be. Would I be hateful and cruel to my hand? Would I cut it off because it made me mad or was disrespectful? Of course not. We are all one within this universe so to do harm to another would just do harm to me.
Another visualization I use is to put the other person in my heart. I close my eyes and sit quietly. I watch my heart open and make room for a smaller version of that person. So, when feelings of anger arise, I gently place them in my heart where they are surrounded by my love, good feelings and forgiveness. I often have to do this exercise several times in order to shift my thinking.
These are powerful visualizations that have worked for me. I’ll bet there’s a version of one of these that would work for you. I think you’ll agree it’s worth it to change your mind about forgiveness if you need to. In my opinion, it’s not a weakness to forgive but a fortifying action of acceptance and love. While I mourn the loss of lives and injury in Boston recently, this situation gives us an excellent opportunity for all of us to practice unconditional forgiveness.
Unconditional Forgiveness by Mary Hayes Grieco is the book used by our Center in our month-long practice. I highly recommend it as a powerful tool to work through the process of forgiveness, especially for those stubborn situations where letting go of anger and hurt aren't budging.
Final thought: As senior citizens, we are the role models for our families and for our community. We are the ones looked to for good behavior, open thinking, acceptance and non-judgmental mentality. Forgiving is a cornerstone of this way of being in the world and a valuable asset that will bring you and others comfort and joy.