By now, we are probably convinced that forgiveness is a good idea. But then how do we do it? How do we let go of the anger and resentment and fear? How do we mean it? Here is the good news. We don’t have to mean it, at least not right away. All we have to do is be willing to mean it. Or even to consider the possibility that one day we might be willing to mean it.
Some years back I went through a very difficult time. The details are not important, but what is important is that I blamed someone for causing me so much stress and anguish that I thought I was going to die of it. I’ll call this person Fred. I blamed Fred for everything that seemed wrong with my life at that time, which was a lot. I hated Fred. I wanted bad things to happen to him. I fantasized about terrible things I’m too ashamed to describe. I felt no mercy. I wanted vengeance.
Over time, life settled down and went on. But my fury still burned brightly. I still thought about it and talked about it. Until finally, I was tired of it. Tired and bored. I groaned and rolled my eyes every time I heard myself telling the story again. And again. And AGAIN. Goodness knows how my friends stood me. I couldn’t stand myself.
I knew that my unforgiveness was costing me my well being – physically, emotionally, spiritually. I began to want to change. I thought I could just decide to forgive and be done with it. That didn’t work. I read books on forgiveness. I did workbooks on forgiveness. But I was stuck. I obsessively and repeatedly revisited all the wrongs I thought I had suffered at the hands of Fred, like watching news accounts of some horrible crime or natural disaster over and over. It was an addiction – a habit I couldn’t stop.
My brain was in a rut. A rut worn so deep from driving over it a gazillion times, that I couldn’t steer out of it. I needed to start building a new path. My brain needed a new habit. So this is what I did.
Every time I thought about Fred, at the very instant I began to repeat my habitual pattern, I substituted a new thought before the emotions started churning. Before I was hooked. “God bless Fred and please help me mean it.” Let me be clear. I did not mean it. Not for a second. I did not mean the “God bless Fred” part, and sometimes I didn’t even mean the “please help me mean it” part.
But the point really wasn’t to mean it. At least not yet. The point was to break the habit. To get out of the rut. And perhaps to ask for help.
So I prayed this prayer over and over. At the beginning, sometimes several times an hour. Many times a day. And over weeks and months, very slowly, the blame loosened its grip. My heart began to soften. My feelings didn’t boil when a thought about Fred crossed my mind. The thoughts didn’t come so often. By then, the prayer had become a habit, so that when a thought of Fred popped up, the blessing was automatically triggered. Sometimes I hardly noticed it. And finally one day I said it and gasped in amazement. I really did mean it. I really, truly wished Fred well. It was a miracle.
This is a technique you can use, too, when you find yourself past the point where you have honored your feelings, when you find that unforgiveness is becoming a heart hardening habit. You don’t have to use the same words. Choose words that will mean something to you. Keep it short and simple. The important thing is to break your habit of closing your heart with judgment and blame, and to substitute a habit of opening your heart, allowing forgiveness to flow naturally and freely.
It’s worth the effort.
10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There) is a program to help us develop habits to grow a joyful spirit. Many of us sabotage our happiness by habits that we might not even be aware of. Identifying and changing these habits can build a reservoir of well-being to enhance our happy times and sustain us during challenging times.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
God Bless That Ol’ @#&!
Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)
Yes, breaking the habit of the hatred is key. I never did the 'god bless" thing. I could never bring myself to wish that on her. But I did teach myself to break the habit of my hatred for her and that took a lot, believe me.ReplyDelete
Importance story, Galen. Forgiveness is a very tough decision for us to make. After all, that means we lose the straw man that accepted all the blame for whatever went wrong. In most situations, both parties share at least some blame (Maybe not with Fred..that must have been a doozy!).ReplyDelete
Forgiving others means we must accept some responsibility for our actions, or at least our response.
Your story is a powerful testimony to the grip anger can have on us and how liberating it is to finally let it go.
Thank you for sharing!ReplyDelete
There are several people who were in my life last year who aren't this year. The sudden/unexpected loss of their friendship hurt (still does) very much, but I saw that they didn't understand what they were doing & I couldn't communicate it so they would understand. When that door closed the letting go was hardest.
They'd colored so many aspects of my life, that I couldn't go anywhere or do anything without thinking of them and experiencing the pain/sorrow all over again...as you say, several times every day. It wasn't so much anger as hurt & deep sorrow.
Another friend took me to see the movie, "Eat, Pray, Love." (she practically dragged me there, as I wasn't wanting to do things I'd previously enjoyed), and there's one thing I took away from that film. The character is learning to let go, and whenever a certain person comes to her mind, she consciously chooses to think thoughts of Light and Love towards that person.
Decided I was tired of being hurt by my own thought processes and that it was no longer an option. So whenever those friends would come to mind, I would say inside my head, "I send you Light (understanding/clarity) and Love, and freedom."
A year later, I'm better (not thinking of them constantly) but still cry over those losses once in a while. Your testimony is really helpful, and is a good reminder of breaking harmful thought patterns. Thank you for sharing! (:
Anger is like depression, once you're in it, it's hard to let go of it. You're body is so used to that feeling, that when you're NOT feeling those feelings, you feel you should. Yes, so breaking that habit is important.ReplyDelete
I had a friend that was going through a very nasty divorce. All she talked about was that divorced. Her bitterness and anger consumed her. She's not the same person she used to be. I don't think she'll ever forgive her ex but she needs to LET GO! She's gotten better since, but you know it still lingers.
Beautiful post. Thank you, Galen. Sometimes that forgiveness must be directed toward ourselves, for 'errors' we believe we made and cannot undo. We cannot move on in our lives until we can let go and forgive ourselves.ReplyDelete
"My brain needed a new habit" - that really says it all for me. For us rationalists, neuroscience is the key to gaining a better understanding of thoughts behavior etc.
I totally agree...when we decide to FORGIVE [whether we feel like or not] and vocalize it we have taken the first step in obedience and then the next step becomes easier to activate what we have decided to now believe (that I've FORGIVEN the person),miracles happen! Lovely post.Thank you so much for sharing!;)ReplyDelete
Roberta--Breaking the habit is the key, no matter what technique you use, so I'm glad you were able to do that. Thanks for commenting.ReplyDelete
Bob--You are so right. Forgiving Fred made me see my part in the escalation of our difficulties. I didn't like that very much! But it was an important part of letting go. Thank you for your comment.
Nan--"I send you Light...." What a lovely phrase. It serves the same purpose. Thank you for sharing your story. I have had to let go of some lost friendships in the last couple of years. I'm still sad about it. Thanks for sharing your story and your insight.
ryoko--Nice to see hear from you. I'm sorry about your friend. She sounds like me back then! I hope she can find her way to true peace. Thanks for commenting.
restoring--Yes, underneath most all of our unforgiveness towards others is unforgiveness towards ourselves. And that can be the hardest of all. Thanks for your comment.
Riley--When I really understood how much of my experience of life was based on those brain habits, I was very motivated to take a conscious approach to develop habits that would serve my well being. Science confirms what we already know when we look deep inside. Thanks for your comment.
Sparkylaurie--Yes, even just a tiny bit of willingess to take that first step can lead to miracles! Thanks for your comment.
I can really relate to this. When I was younger, it was so difficult to forgive but as I get older, I realize that they were doing what they did to teach me something.
I like to share here a simple meditation by Susan Piver, an authorized Shambhala meditation teacher, in mp3 format http://www.susanpiver.com/audio/03%20Maitri_Full.mp3 -- I find it helps in calming me down and having a loving heart. Give it a try!
good words and great prayer...yes I think sometimes it takes some discipline to break the habit of the trial and the recital of it...hurts can be so deep...ReplyDelete
I have someone I am working on forgiving and I am sure I have done it and then another layer emerges out of the blue...
just a few days ago I was turned down for a job because of this person - I had a little cry and then worked on release again - it is such loving work and I know one day it too will be true
Thanks for your good words
It's not easy to forgive someone once we set it in motion to be angry and blame them for our pain.
It is wise though to find a way as you did to at least minimize the effects of anger and resentment.
Nice Post! They were welcome thoughts for the day.ReplyDelete
Galen my strategy included writing a letter, I wrote and wrote, I wrote the anger away only to find how hurt and broken I was. I processed the hurts and turned it all over to God. I burned the letter and let the smoke take away my hurt, my anger and my hatred and I felt free afterwards. It wasn't a matter of one or two days, this was a process that took some time but it was time well spent!ReplyDelete
I also learned on my healing journey that I had to forgive myself first and foremost, how can I forgive anyone else if I can't first forgive myself? I was stuck until I learned that I cannot give away what I do not first possess, forgiveness being right up there.
Thanks for this thought provoking post, it's so good for me to revisit where I once was. I see how much I have to be grateful for in my life!
Enjoy your week!
Galen - It's funny but I wrote a post about something similar recently http://www.everydaygyaan.com/2011/08/if-you-eat-well.html - I was looking for an answer and you gave me one! Thank you...I still have a long way to go, but I know I'll get to the 'wishing Fred well' stage.ReplyDelete
Inspiring--Thanks for the meditation link. I am going through the Shambhala training this year and really getting so much benefit from it. Thanks for your comment.ReplyDelete
Patricia--I appreciate your recognition that this is a spiral process, not linear. Or as you say, a layered process. We continue to work with our hurt places and revisit forgiveness. Thanks for commenting.
Justin--Your observation that it gets harder with time is a good reminder that when we can start shifting to forgiveness earlier, before we have dug in so deeply and invested so much energy, it is easier. Not easy, but easier.
Anonymous--Thanks for stopping by and commenting.ReplyDelete
darlin--That's also a great technique. And it is nice to look back and appreciate our progress. Thanks for your comment.
Corinne--I will check out your post right away. Thanks for commenting.
Thank you for sharing your story. Without forgiveness we can let things consume us. Wonderful way to let go and forgive that you used.ReplyDelete
When people do terrible things to us I always remember and feel bad for them, because bad things to catch up with you. in the long run the person the hurt another does pay a larger price. So I just feel bad for them, forgive them and do walk way.
Blessing to you and i am glad you are the person you are now.
I've had my own Fred, and it's exhausting, isn't it?! Glad you've let go -- as have I.ReplyDelete
Acknowledging our humanity, and the humanity of others is healing.
Getting in to your mind that you are willing to forgive I believe, starts the healing process. Sometimes or maybe often, this 'process' can take a while for 'full forgiveness' however letting the act of forgiveness to commence is a step forward. Thank you.
be good to yourself
I just left a comment, but I wasn't certain if it came through. I apologize if this is a repeat. I just wanted to let you know though that I thought this was an amazingly insightful post. It is so true that we may not be able to jump all the way to complete forgiveness, but if we start with just taking steps in the right direction and are committed to forgiving, we can always get there. I loved your message in this post and what you said about not really having to totally mean what you were saying in the beginning. I think that is such an amazing insight and really allows us to see that it is okay to work toward forgiveness.
So important: we break the habit by making a new one: one of blessing and prayer. When we get rid of one thing we have to replace it with another.ReplyDelete
I like how you started a new habit. Your prayer eventually helped you forgive "Fred". I think that is the key, recognizing that forgiveness is the next step and starting where we are at. Like you said, at first you did not mean it but growth came with time. Thanks for sharing!
Pearl--I think many of us have a Fred somewhere in our lives. And yes, it is exhausting! I like what you said about acknowledging our own humanity. So important. Thanks for your comment.ReplyDelete
David--You're right. Just a tiny bit of willingness opens a crack in the hardness of our hearts. Thanks for commenting.
Sibyl--Your first comment didn't show up, so thank you for taking the time to comment again. I always appreciate hearing what you have to say so thanks for that extra effort. I'm glad this post was meaningful to you.
Shanda--Yes, that is true, at least for me. My brain is a busy place and if I don't want it to do what it's doing, I need to give it something else to do! Thanks for commenting.
Ellen Marie--Nice to hear from you. Starting where we are. You have identified the most important thing right there. That's all we can do--start where we are. Thanks for your comment.
I do the same thing. My mantra comes from Sahaja Yoga and is: I forgive everyone including myself.
After repeating this over and over you're able to break the pattern.
Very inspiring article Galen. I liked how you changed your thought patterns to shift yourself out of those negative emotions to positive feelings. It just goes to show that we all have a choice when it comes to how an outside event or person can influence our behavior.ReplyDelete
Angela--Lovely mantra. What I'm enjoying about these comments is how other people have a similar technique. It all works. Thanks for your comment.ReplyDelete
Todd--Yes, we do have a choice. Thanks for commenting.