Cultivating a Relationship with the Divine: Fifth Pillar-Forgiveness

Cultivating a Relationship with the Divine: Forgiveness the Fifth Pillar of Joy

Forgiveness, what does it really mean? Why is it so misunderstood and how does it become so complicated?

The concept of forgiveness (even though it is a practice not just a concept) has been passed down and around as something we should do when we are hurt by someone else. Most western raised people, even if they are not church-going folks, know that it says in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others who trespass against us.”

I am not a theologian, I am a psychologist. Over the years in my practice, clients have wept and have been angry, feeling trapped by what appears to be a mandate. If I don’t forgive my spouse for the affair, or if I don’t forgive the person who murdered my son, or it I don’t forgive my mother for her abuse or if I don’t forgive the man that raped me, then I am bad and I am not going to be forgiven for my angry out burst or whatever my trespass is.” Clients express hurt, confusion, and fear over what they see as a mandate. A mandate interferes with their sense of free will. Forgiveness becomes a complicated process and opens the door for shame to enter the picture. Clients express feelings of not being good enough to be loved by God or some have expressed that God hates them because of how bad their life has turned out. This whole idea of of a loving God gets lost in a shame spiral that continues to haunt my client’s ability to feel any connection to the Divine.

So, what to do about it and where do we go if this is our idea of the Divine and what we feel we are mandated to do? Forgiveness is the fifth pillar of Joy in the Book of Joy by the Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu. If forgiveness is a pillar of Joy, there must be something absolutely freeing about it that allows us to feel free and whole. Joy is such a personal experience of well-being, contentment, and intra-connectedness with all beings. If forgiveness helps us feel joy, then we must find a way to get away from the feeling that we should forgive to a place where we feel the freedom to choose to forgive. In order to do this, we must free ourselves from the shame that comes up around this complex word. Just how in the world do we do that?

Above, I stated that forgiveness is a practice, not just a concept. Practice, which is what we are working on with this series on Cultivating a Relationship with the Divine, is just that, practice. Practice is something we do daily. What if daily you chose a comfortable safe spot to sit? What if when you sit you focus on your breathing, allowing yourself to slowly breath in and breath out? Then imagine the person who has hurt you, sitting across from you. Just notice what comes up. You might want to spit on them or slap them. Just notice and keep breathing. As you, breath, say, “I release you to your highest good.” You could also say, “I let go of the torment you cause me by what you have done to me. You are free of my anger. I forgive you.” The last sentence may be too much to ask of yourself at first.

Yes, at first this practice may nauseate you. That feeling of nausea is an affect that is called dismell. Dismell is a raw feeling that when triggered by true visceral pain, that makes your biological body want to throw up. Just keep breathing. Allow yourself to come to this safe place and sit for 5 minutes a day while practicing this exercise. Just notice what it is like for you and maybe journal your experience of this sitting place. Do this practice for 30 days and see if anything changes. If so, record the changes and see if you want to continue to sit as practice forgiveness. If nothing has changed, keep practicing until something does.

Let’s go back to the blog on August 10 on Shame and the Dance of Compassion. Remember that in the simplest forms shame is the interruption of positive emotion, feeling or situation. When we are hurt by someone else, we have been vulnerable enough to trust them and let them in in some way. Then when we are hurt by them we feel “stupid” for letting them in. We often blame ourselves for what they did to us loosing site of the fact that we did not cause the hurt to happen. The shame compass shows us that we will attack self, attack other, withdraw or avoid when we experience shame. Shame burns within us bringing up old hurts, old messages, and displays a collage of past situations that feel similar. Our emotions become raw and full of irrational thoughts and sometimes irrational actions, leading us down a very destructive path. I imagine there are many reasons forgiveness is important, but what if the only reason that forgiveness seems to be mandated is for our own good. The lack of forgiveness can be very destructive, destroying our joy, happiness and even our health. Thus, forgiveness of those who have hurt us is a necessary practice for us to heal. It doesn’t matter much about the perpetrator. It is important that you heal and to heal you must find a place of forgiveness, a soft spot where you can let go. This practice is not a one shot try. This practice of forgiveness is a daily practice. Many people and many situations will sit across from you when you are creating space as a daily practice of forgiveness. I believe if you do the above practice you will find an inner freedom to let go and be less haunted. However, the research tells us that breath work and mediation are proven effective tools for reducing our stress, reducing our blood pressure and for inner peace. Thus, his practice will help you in subtle ways that you may not be able to articulate in your journal. Give it a try. It won’t harm you. And I would like to know your outcome, if you are so inclined to privately email me:

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