What Everybody Ought to Know About Forgiveness
Now you can become an expert at apologizing and forgiving.
Posted Dec 13, 2013
It’s winter: the season of reflection, of letting go, and clearing away the old.
If you look out your window, everything has died off. Trees are barren, plants shut down to store energy, and animals have gone into hibernation. The skies turned grey and temperatures have dropped. The days lost 6 hours of sunlight and the nights have lengthened.
(Unless of course, you live in Hawaii where everything is still blossoming and temperatures are in the high 70’s with just a couple less hours of sunlight -- please don’t hate me!)
In nature, winter is the season that prepares everything for spring with its growth and new possibilities. If we’re smart, we’ll use this “down time” in the way that nature does: to let go of the past and make way for the new.
But if we don’t take this opportunity, we’ll still carry around the resentments and unfinished business from the prior year (or prior years!), which means we won’t be prepared to embrace the fresh possibilities of the new year. We’ll still be shackled to the past and clogged by negative emotions we haven’t released – and we’ll create a new year that looks very much like the year we just lived. Holding on to past hurts, resentments and angers will sap our energy, monopolize our thoughts, and keep us from creating the future we desire.
Clinging to the negative of the past doesn’t just affect us emotionally and psychologically. Studies have shown that holding onto negative emotions such as anger, resentment or hurt are closely connected to a wide range of illnesses including heart disease, cancers, and gastrointestinal problems.
So to stay (or become) healthy and to move forward into a fresh future, we’ve got to let all of that past baggage go. But how?
The key is forgiveness.
Not the weak and wimpy forgiveness most of us are taught. Our traditional Western method of “forgiveness” is really just an apology exchange that goes something like:
“Hey, I’m sorry.”
“Okay, yeah, well, me too.”
Have you ever noticed that this doesn’t really work? And that within days (or minutes!) the resentment, anger, or hurt comes right back? You may have been sincere in your desire to apologize and forgive. But just saying “I’m sorry” like Mom and Dad taught doesn’t really get the job done, does it? It lacks some key ingredients.
When I became fully immersed in Huna, I finally understood what true forgiveness is. The ancient Hawaiians used a forgiveness process called ho`oponopono. Within the steps of this process are all the key ingredients necessary to release the incident and its emotions completely. I’ve taught ho`oponopono to literally thousands of students. The form I teach can be done in your mind. In other words, you can do it while imagining the person you want to forgive -- or the person you want forgiveness from. But whether you do ho`oponopono with the other person or within your own mind, remember to do each step fully to get the full benefit:
#1 Both Give and Receive: Don’t just say “I’m sorry” to one another. Instead, take turns and say, “I forgive you. Please forgive me.” Can you feel the difference? When you sincerely ask for and offer forgiveness, you allow yourself to be more vulnerable and show commitment to fully releasing the past. (If you’re doing this process by yourself, simply imagine the other person saying these words. In truth, they would probably love to get rid of that baggage as well!)
#2 Say What Needs Saying: It’s important to give each other space tosay all that needs to be said without holding back. But don’t to do this in the heat of battle or while arguing about the incident! Wait until you are both calmer -- and take lots of deep breaths. Do your best to not interrupt one another. Accept the other person’s statements as their truth. After you’ve both shared your thoughts and feelings, you should have an experience of "I’ve said it all, and I’m done." (Again, if you’re doing this by yourself, imagine what the other person might say. If you listen carefully and allow your imagination to lead the conversation, you might gain some surprising insight into that person!)
#3 Let Your Love Flow to the Other: I’m guessing some of you are saying, “Nope. Not gonna happen!” Is it tough to even imagine sending loving energy to the person who wronged or hurt you? Here is a perspective that will help: Aren’t we all doing the best we can, given what we know and who we are, at any point in time? Even when someone has intentionally harmed you (which honestly is pretty rare), that action probably came from some old wound or misunderstanding, didn’t it? For the release of this process to be complete, open your heart and offer love and compassion to that other person (and to yourself!) no matter what.
#4 Release the Hurt, Retain the Learning: As human beings, we are wired to learn from experience.People and situations (especially those that are difficult or painful!) show up in our lives so we can grow from that learning. But as long as anger, hurt and resentment are present, we won’t get the true lesson. The “lessons” that our negative emotions teach make us smaller and more constricted. But the true lesson will make us more alive and empowered. The objective is to forgive each other and ourselves, release the negative emotions, and extract the learning from each difficult situation.
By the way, this isn’t just a process you do once a year. I’ve learned to use this process every day to release both small and large hurts. Why? To stay healthy, and remain fully present with all my energies flowing freely so I am prepared to embrace the possibilities life offers.
Until next time. . .
About the Author:
Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, where students learn Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna and Hypnosis. To learn more about forgiveness, watch the recording of Dr. Matt's free webinar Ho'oponopono: The Secrets to the Hawaiian Forgiveness Process.