How to forgive and let go

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“How do we forgive” was the question one reader posed as a comment at the end of a blog on letting go. I thought it a great question and realized that I had not really answered it in any of my ramblings on letting go of what binds us. Here’s my answer to this blog follower’s question, hopefully others will find some value in it as well:

M.,

Great question that really gets at the heart of the healing process. Firstly we need to look honestly at our own hurt our own pain our own sense of trust that has been damaged by someone’s actions. There’s a very strong desire to exact retribution, to even the score, and to make yourself right again by making the other person wrong and punishing them. When hurt it can often feel as though you have been made less than and that somehow you matter less than others.

If this sense of betrayal and denial of your worth becomes so intense that it drives you in an inherently negative and self-defeating direction it can harder to let go. So first of all look at your emotions and own them. Notice that when holding on to your anger, resentment and hurt you are a different person than you were before the affront you are feeling like someone you don’t really want to be.

So you must own your feelings around this and don’t give power to the offender by making them responsible for your feelings. The process is about changing something in you not in them because you can’t change them. You can only change you. If you’re waiting for them to say or do something to make right whatever wrong has been done then you’re handing them the power over your life. This goes for resentment too. Holding onto it also gives the power to the perpetrator. Hanging onto resentment just keeps the pot boiling inside of you. Resentment is a poison that keeps you stuck and unhappy and makes it imminently more difficult to move on. Essentially it makes you a prisoner to the situation.

Remember that to forgive doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to maintain a relationship with the perpetrator(s) i.e. to those who have been disloyal. Forgiveness is a way of setting you free. It’s about altering the mindset of “poor me” or “why me?” It also opens the door to learning from the experience which will open a channel to your own inner wisdom and will allow for healthier perspectives and possibilities to move forward.

I don’t know your circumstances but often those who have hurt others are hurting within themselves and this causes them to lash out. Here’s the tough part because it requires you to move outside your own wounded ego and your damaged sense of self to look deeper into what may be causing them to hurt you. Try, without any expectation on your part of them accepting their wrongdoing, to give them the opportunity to look into their own behavior. This requires an act of caring for another human being and takes you out of your wounded self. Often to see that it was another wounded self that caused you harm can have a healing effect for you. And that’s what forgiveness is mostly about, the healing of you.

It takes confidence, bravery and strength to forgive and allows us to adapt and makes us more resilient so as to help the next time we are wronged (and there will be many next times). In so many ways the process of forgiveness is an act of love for yourself. it’s a way of standing up for yourself and saying that “I don’t deserve this” and that “I am strong enough to own what has happened and then take control of where I am going from here”.

Remember also, M., that you do not have to do this alone. There are many trained facilitators and counselors who can help you with the process of forgiveness. If you want help with your process try Googling “therapists who can help with the forgiveness process” and research what you get.

It’s a different world now

 

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All through our lives there are events that encourage us to look at life differently. There are times when what used to work no longer works, when friends we were once close to then become not so much and new friends beckon, when an exciting job becomes dull and a chore, when children come in and out of our lives, when we lose jobs or get new ones, parents die or we ourselves become sick, or when we gain or give up relationships.

Every event requires some kind of adjustment, some kind of shift and some kind of detachment. To hold on to the old can cause sickness. It’s like the germ of life within a seed that has to break through its skin in order to grow, to continue to live, and where not shedding the old skin to make room for the new can result in death and in our case it can be a slow death of our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being.

Life is often about learning when to let go, when to allow for the shift, and how to expand the container where we are to hold all our experiences gracefully so that we can come alive again.

Nearly four years ago I lost three close friends, people that I would have gladly called brother and mentor, three who at varying levels impacted my life greatly. Their deaths have to this day left me at times lost and scrambling for new meaning in my life. I was someone different when they were around and now that they are gone something about who I am has changed.

It is truly a different world for me now that they aren’t in it, my definition of reality isn’t quite the same, isn’t quite as solid, more surreal than real, and more made up than true. My emotions have also become more raw what with feeling both love and anger more acutely. It feels as though I’m at the edge of something new and I’m trying to just let this be and not fight it so as to not squash what is about to grow before it gets started. For me letting the feelings just be what they are is a means of watering the garden and watching the seeds do what seeds do when left to grow.

The void: We are looking for a light in the darkness of mere being.

 

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“I am an orphan, alone; nevertheless I am found everywhere. I am one, but opposed to myself. I am youth and old man at one and the same time. I have known neither father nor mother, because I have had to be fetched out of the deep like a fish, or fell like a white stone from heaven. In woods and mountains I roam, but I am hidden in the innermost soul of man. I am mortal for everyone, yet I am not touched by the cycle of aeons.”

 –C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, and Reflections

 

When we recognize who and what we are we move toward fullness, toward completion and connection with everything. When we don’t there’s a void that settles just slightly above our gut and leaves us sighing and longing for something, we don’t know what, to fill the emptiness. But no thing can fill the void.

We are a consciousness that rests in the presence but that is informed and connected by what is past and through intuition able to project into the future. This consciousness is informed partly by the archetypes that inhabit the collective unconscious and by perceptions and intentions just below the surface of our awareness.

For me the emptiness seems to disappear just when I give up my time to give time to another or at the moment of forgiveness or when my point-of-view shifts then briefly I am filled. But it never lasts and the light flickers out as I fall back into protecting, resisting, judging, hiding and controlling and the experience folds back into the unconscious and the emptiness returns.

Our unconscious mind seems to surround our consciousness thus conditioning us to all sorts of behaviors and perceptions that may not be of our own making. To ignore our deeper selves, our intentional selves, makes us slaves to our darker energies and feel victim to our circumstances whether they are good or bad. I believe that it is incumbent upon every one of us to explore our hidden selves as best we are able so as to reveal the light that is often trapped within. To do less leaves us in a state of mere being, moving or growing neither forward nor back. A life of treading water is not for me

Sometimes a fairy tale can lead us home

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Early one morning as the sun was still climbing above the tops of the faraway mountains, I threw on my jacket as insurance against the lingering cold from the night just passing and headed down the street to the old river trail. As I descended from road to trail a cold wind skipped playfully about me and I zipped the jacket tighter.

It was a gorgeous morning full of promise, birds calling to one another, a croaking frog and the buzzing of bees busily working the pollen of the flowers along the water’s edge.

I decided to head toward the little town off to the west and was sure that the path I was on was the true path toward that destiny. But somehow I got lost. “Funny”, I thought “This was always the way before!”

A little further down the path the ground became rocky with pools of muddy water and broken branches making the going much tougher than I remembered. I should have turned around, but I was convinced that this had always been the way to town and that I needed to persevere.

The sky became grey and ominous, threatening to pour down and a stiff wind snaked down the gully pushing me back against the way of travel. What had started off in beauty had quickly changed into darkening struggle, but I soldiered on. Debris began to build up against my forward progress and the rain had become so forceful it actually blew horizontal to the path and every step became painful. The sun had become so covered that the sky was nearly black and I could no longer see either my way forward or my way back.

I was cold, wet and lost and rapidly losing all hope, and to make it worse, the river was rising and lapping at the edge of the trail as it crumbled and began to disappear. A stepped back against a soggy berm so as to not be pulled into the chaotic waters but soon found I had no place to stand and the thoroughly drenched hillside offered no safety even if I could have climbed its muddy flank.

It was then that an old woman came out of the thicket and beckoned me to follow. At first I resisted, who knew what this old hag was up to and what dangers she would lead me into? But after several waves to me I decided that it couldn’t get any worse should I follow her and it was a sure bet that the way I was going wasn’t going to get me home so I let go my pride and followed her into the dense forest she had come from.

The going was tough, but the deeper I went into these woods the quieter the storm became until eventually we came to the edge of a great meadow ringed with tall redwoods. A grove of fruit trees stood to the east of us and it was there that the woman led me. Crossing the meadow the sun began to dry my clothes and warm the deadening cold that had gripped my soul earlier.

Somehow the world had changed, new vistas revealed themselves and just beyond the grove sat the sweetest log cabin I’d ever seen. As she stood at the door the woman beckoned to me to enter and because I had learned to follow her lead I walked inside. It was all I could have imagined it to be, I was home.

The patriarchal society that I grew up in had always told me that I should know where I was going and how I was to get there, but the road it lead me down was never-ending and never ever felt like home– I never felt as though I’d made it.

It wasn’t until I began to trust my inner feminine nature, that part of all of us that teaches us to open to our true Self, the wholeness that we are through our connectedness with everything, that I was able to see the real path for my life.

When we let go of our fantasy of what life is and follow our destiny even though it may not seem like the rational path we’ve been taught was the only true path, when we leave our preconceived goals and ideas and carefully conceived plans, then can we follow a path toward authenticity.

Sometimes the path has to be shattered and all seem lost before we can be open to the outstretched hand that offers us something new. Sometimes we need to let go our stubborn resolve of what is supposed to be in order to create a better way.

Soul work: Letting go, is great therapy and great healing

 

 

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A psychology professor walked around a room while teaching stress management to a class. As he raised a glass of water, everyone expected he’d ask if the glass were “half empty or half full”. But instead he inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?” The students called out a number of answers.

He then replied, “The weight doesn’t matter because it depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for 20 minutes, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for an hour or even a day, my arm will feel numb, paralyzed and shaky. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer it’s held, the heavier it becomes.”

He then continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Worry about them for a while and nothing happens. Worry about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you worry about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing much of anything.” In short, remember to put the glass down.

There’s another story told by an old Zen master who told of two monks who were walking near a river. At one point they came upon a woman who looked upset for somehow she had become separated from her child who was on the other side of the river.

The older monk went up to her and asked if he could help and she said that she needed to get across the river but could not swim. Much to the concern of the younger monk the older monk said, “climb on my back and I’ll take you across”. And so she did and all three waded across. They bid their farewell but much later down the road the younger monk was so upset that he couldn’t be quiet any longer and had to say something to the older monk. “You carried that woman across the river! He shrieked. You know we are not supposed to have anything to do with women!”

The older monk smiled and replied, “Why are you still upset? You are still carrying her, I left her at the water’s edge some time ago!”

When we hold on to things they tend to burden us and make our journey through life heavier and more burdensome.

There’s also the story of the businessman who goes to a guru so as to find inner peace and the answers to life. When he gets there he sits before the master and tells him to give him the answers to life. The master pours him some tea but soon the tea overflows the cup and on to the table. The businessman gets all excited and cries out, “You are overflowing the cup, no more tea can go in!”

“Precisely, said the master. The cup is like your mind, it is overflowing with its own ideas and there’s no more room to hear what I have to teach! Empty your mind and then we shall talk.”

We can’t really hear anything new if our minds are full of old thoughts and ideas. Whether it’s ideas, beliefs, or suffering holding on to them makes it hard to move on. Here’s a quote from Shunryu Suzuki that hits me close to home:

 “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ”

Shunryu Suzuki

As I’ve said before one of the best ways of letting go of the past and the suffering for what you would have wanted reality to be is to forgive it for what it was. To forgive our hurts and those who hurt us takes great courage, but it also relieves us of great burdens.

Unless of course you insist on holding on to your hurts because at least they’re familiar, or they offer you the chance to not be responsible for what you’ve become. Blaming the past for what you are or are not keeps you from moving on, or at the least makes it damn hard– harder than it needs to be.

Forgiveness is the greatest gift that you can give yourself. It can empty and heal your mind of past insults, self or other-inflicted. Don’t make it so hard!

 

 

 

A heart meditation: letting go

 

th.jpgOf late I’ve had a number of people write about dreams that included the concept of letting go e.g. death and dying images, dropping things, toilet images, even ghosts. Many of the dreams also included images from the past such as a childhood home.

Because most of us don’t really let go of past hurts in that we tend to deny them, push them down, and gloss them over as in “what’s past is past, or then was then” that in and of themselves is appropriate if what you’re actually doing is letting go of the events and hurts. But most of us aren’t letting go.

We tend to hold on to painful resentments, feelings, disappointments, grief, betrayals, guilt, and hurts by storing them in the footlocker of our unconscious mind. After many years and as many memories we have quite a treasury of buried material built up. These buried negatives are something like radioactive waste that after time begins to leak onto the surface of our lives, poisoning much of what we do and think and feel. Most of this stuff seems to arise uninvited, in our dreams, or in troubles we find ourselves in in our waking lives.

We seem to armor ourselves against any future pains by walling parts of us off, or putting up barriers to protect ourselves from others. It’s a slow process and for most of us we don’t notice how much different we are as adults than we were as children. The free expression of the self is often subdued, or cut off, the playful part of ourselves moderated, or pasted on to make it look as though we’re being a free spirit full of fun, where in the quiet of our own homes after the party we nurse the effects of our drug or alcohol induced gaiety and wonder if anyone actually really liked us or bought into our act.

All these stored negatives over time close our hearts to ourselves and to others and weighs us down.

So what to do?

Well, following the theme of letting go i.e. of unchaining from the past, I’ve found that there is an ancient practice that can literally transform one’s relationship with the past and lighten considerably their experience of the present. In short, it heals, it dissolves obstructions, and it opens the heart to other hearts. It shifts our identification with the negative and helps us to resolve the unresolved. It can even help us to regain a positive relationship with our own bodies.

What is this magic of what I speak? It’s called, forgiveness. Really! It’s forgiveness that can heal us back into our own hearts. It’s the letting go of resentments and negative self-judgments. It opens ones heart and lessens pains from the past. It helps us to get back in touch with our soulful, playful self.

When we accept ourselves and others for what we and they are i.e. “as is” it includes even their non acceptance of us. It allows the mind to get beyond it itself.

You can’t force forgiveness, that’s just more of the same old squashing down of negatives that caused the problem in the first place.

A forgiveness meditation:

As with the technique of Active Imagining http://thedreamingwizard.com/active-imagining_291.html Close your eyes in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed and bring into your mind an image of someone for whom you have resentment. Make their image as real as you can even to the smell of them if you can.

For just a moment open your heart to them and notice your own fear, or anger, or whatever feelings that seem to arise. Keep looking at them and letting whatever your feeling just sit with you.

Now, look at them and slowly say, “I forgive you, I forgive you.” Watch your feelings as you do this, don’t do anything with them, just let them be there. Now say, “ I forgive you for the pain you have caused me whether you did it on purpose or by accident. Watch your feelings as you say this. “I forgive you for what you did, or didn’t do. I forgive you. I forgive you.

Watch the pain in your heart and see if you can let some of it go. Watch the person and let a little more of them into your heart. “I forgive you.” Let them be in the surrounding stillness. “I forgive.” Let them be as they are and in their own way of being. “I forgive you.” “I forgive you.” “I forgive.” Allow the distance between your hearts to dissolve. Allow them to be touched by your blessing and the potential of your forgiveness.

Now let the person leave when they are ready to go. Just watch them go and notice what you’re feeling as they go.

Open your eyes and sit in peace for a few moments.

The forgiveness meditation works but it often takes more than once. Keeping the heart open takes work and commitment, not to others but to yourself and your own sense of well-being. After many practices over time the forgiveness will stick and the heart expands.

 

Venturing out from the past

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For those of you who crave returning to the past i.e. the way it was, get over it!

I’ll tell you a secret: It never was the way it was!

Life, time moves in one direction only and while living it only exists in the present. The past only exists in memory and that has been polluted with all your projections, feelings, judgments, biases, wishes, desires, beliefs, personality traits and socio-cultural constraints. The future hasn’t happened yet and is colored by the same attributes that color the past. What you’re left with is the here and now.

Life flows. Life keeps coming at us with all its chaotic variety. Get out of the way and flow with it, act not as a barrier by “damning” the flow i.e. to judge it an improper flow. Help it to flow. Life requires evolution, we are either evolving or we are dead, devolution or standing still are often just other words for death.

Take from the past what works, but only if it continues to work. To dam up the process with what no longer works only because you liked it better when it did causes turbulence until the waters break free and cascade jubilantly, chaotically once again down stream. Be nostalgic, the soul loves the good in what was, also learn from it so as to better the present, but in the end … let it go!

Be like Thoreau and walk into the forest every day as though you’ve never been there before and let life pour into you newly. Live in the world but don’t forget your companion. Let the emptiness in your heart stir in you an old friend who was with you before you came, is with you now, and will go with you when you leave. Awaken to who you really are, not who you’re afraid you are, or wish you were but who you really are. Let go of all those branches and debris that collects along the shores of the river’s flow and venture out into the unknown. There’s where true freedom lies.