Let’s take this a little deeper.
Let’s look for the innocence.
This was a hard one for me in the forgiveness work I’ve been engaged in over the past year.
To protect others and not cause more harm, I’ll give you the general outlines to describe what I’ve been working with:
I worked for a spiritual organization for 14 years and when I decided to leave due to integrity issues last year, they didn’t pay me the $5,800 in back vacation pay and consulting fees they owed me. They said they only way I could be paid was to sign away that 14 years of my life—to never publicly claim I had worked there. And to top it off, they still won’t talk with me and tell me why. I went from being the most valued employee to this.***
For the first half-year, all I could do was suffer.
- I judged them as wrong and bad and lived in fear.
- I went over and over the situation in my mind to try to make sense of it and see my part, learn my lessons…
- I mostly saw their guilt and wrongdoing. 🙁
Then I found some work to help me with the F-Word, forgiveness.
And I saw how I was keeping my own suffering going by splitting off and separating myself from them:
- I was good one, the wronged-one, the victim.
- They were the bad ones, the wrong-ers, the perpetrators.
- End. Of. Story.
As you can imagine, this view was not helping me find freedom or a way to move forward in my life!
So I decided to look for their innocence—and I found it.
I saw how they were not doing this to me on purpose. They were living out their own separation and splitting, their own fear, their own attempt to be happy. I just happened to be affected by the wake of their huge ocean waves.
When I looked deeper, I could imagine the suffering underneath their actions, what might be causing them to treat me this way…
And over time, my heart unfolded, becoming bigger and wider and more available to Love.
Do I agree with their actions? No.
But I no longer judge them as bad or wrong because I can see underneath the rocky waves to the ocean of Oneness that connects us:
- the ocean of innocence,
- the ocean of groundlessness,
- the ocean of Love.
And I invite you to do the same.
Whether you are working with forgiving yourself or an “other,” you can always look for the innocence underneath the actions.
You can see that underneath it all, there is an innocent, small childlike place that is just trying to be happy, to feel OK, even to survive.
We can’t force anything. We can’t force our hearts or the heart of the “other” to unfold. It has its own timing and process of growth.
But we can look for the innocence. And notice how our body, heart, and mind respond.
Make this practice your own. Forgiveness is usually a long process, and it can’t be rushed.
I found that I needed to fully feel my own suffering before I was willing to see their suffering and innocence.
And after that, I needed to keep turning my perspective toward innocence, toward a willingness to see with fresh eyes. Every time the feeling of being wronged arose, I tried to reorient to the Oneness with an intention or prayer.
May I see their innocence.
Open my mind to a deeper truth.
I am willing to see Love. Show me.
I let my heart yearn for this opening.
Research shows that those who practice forgiveness—and it is a lifelong practice—are healthier and happier.
In one Stanford University experiment, people reported fewer backaches, headaches, muscle pains, stomach upsets, and other common physical signs of stress. They also reported higher levels of optimism, hope, and self-confidence.
In a study at University College of London, they found that those who didn’t practice forgiveness suffer from a 55% higher risk of serious heart disease.
The negative emotions of injustice, anger, bitterness, vengeance, unfairness, and more cause biochemical changes in your body that damage your physical health.
And setting the physical health risks aside, who wants to live in the constant state of negativity that unforgiveness creates?
Contrary to popular belief, we are not stuck here just because something “bad” happened that we had little or no control over. We have a choice—a choice to do our own work and practice forgiveness, over and over and over again.
Forgiveness is an act of the heart, a movement to let go of the pain, the resentment, the outrage.
And as Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield says so simply: Letting go begins with letting be.
That’s why the first step is to stay with our suffering—we let it be, we acknowledge it, we allow it, without judging, but with gentle holding and compassion. (You can read more on that in the 2nd part of this series.)
By opening to the pain we are trying to push away, we clear a space for something new, fresh, and alive to awaken in our hearts, for a return to Love.
Forgiveness is about accepting what happened (letting it be) and finding a way to release it so that you can live now, regardless of what happened in the past.
- It’s about releasing the attempt to control the outcome and letting your heart and your life unfold in the present.
- It’s about allowing healing without knowing or controlling how that will happen or look.
- It’s a return to an open body, heart, and mind, softened by the healing power of Love.
One last practice, this one from Rob Eller-Isaacs, one of our ministers at Unity Church Unitarian in St. Paul, Minnesota.
I invite you to close your eyes again and bring your grievance to mind, heart, and body once more.
- Think about it, and then sense and feel how it affects you.
- Let these things be as they are, without trying to change them, opening to the truth of your feelings and sensations in the moment.
- If you have a sense of your or the other’s innocence, bring that to body, heart, and mind—if not, no worries.
Now place one hand on your Heart Center and one on your Belly Center, below your belly button. Let them be kind, loving, allowing hands. Accepting you just as you are, like a loving mother would.
And repeat silently:
- I forgive myself.
- I forgive you. (Perhaps this is said to a part of yourself.)
- We begin again in Love.
- [Repeat this 3x]
And say it once outloud as if we were saying it all together, to feel the solidarity and possibility in this common intention for our lives:
- I forgive myself.
- I forgive you.
- We begin again in Love.
I end with a quote from Jack Kornfield that encourages us to take on the sacred work of forgiveness:
If only we could help each other build temples of forgiveness
instead of prisons. We can. In our own hearts.
** Jack Kornfield quotes from The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace
*** Note: On August 8th, 2017, I received financial payment in full without having to sign my affiliation away, after over a year of spiritual work on my own. (With support of friends and teachers!) It happened after I had fully released any expectation of payment and had focused on my own work and ways I could make amends.