“Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.” ~ Desmond Tutu
There’s no simple way to write about forgiveness. It’s a bit of a rabbit hole. I have the sense that I forgive others relatively easily; I’m hugely empathetic, even in some really tough cases. But forgiving myself is where it gets tricky. It’s so muddy, in fact, that I have a hard time even understanding what it’s about. And asking for forgiveness is even worse. If I can’t forgive myself, how can I ask it of someone else?
My sense is that the difficulty I’m having is pointing directly at the truth—that forgiveness is in fact the deepest act of love.
Brene Brown cracked it open for me recently. I was listening to Rising Strong on audiobook, which is like sitting around and listening to a brilliant friend from Texas, and she nailed it—to forgive is to grieve. Something has to die and be reborn for forgiveness to occur. And there’s no greater act of love than to be willing to go into the darkness and grieve in order to forgive another.
Which, of course, means that if we are forgiving ourselves, there is no greater act of self-love than to go into the darkness for ourselves, grieve, and start again. Woah. As Reinhold Niebuhr said, “Forgiveness is the final form of love.”
It goes even deeper. In my search for more answers, I stumbled across Ulrich E. Dupree’s e-book, Ho’oponopono: The Hawaiian Forgiveness Ritual as the Key to Your Life’s Fulfillment. The key to life’s fulfillment? That is no small claim. He writes:
“Ho’oponopono is a simple way of arriving at unity, inner peace and returning to harmony. Ho’oponopono implies solving a problem from the ground up and applying the solution to useful ends. It expresses the deep need to live once again in harmony with oneself and with humanity, nature and God. Ho’o means ‘to make’ and pono is translated ‘right’ or ‘correct.’ It follows that ponopono would be ‘rightly right,’ and so Ho’oponopono quite simply represents ‘to make rightly right.’ To ‘make anything rightly right’ means to join oneself again with one’s Higher Self and the Source of All Being – to be in one’s own centre, returned to harmony, and balanced once again so that one is able to realign the environment and reshape reality. To make ‘make rightly right’ means an intention, after veering off course, to bring oneself back onto the right road, becoming sound in body and spirit and achieving happiness and wellbeing.”
In other words, it’s not just about making amends or fixing relationships, it’s about being in alignment in a much larger sense.
Dupree outlines the long history of Ho’oponopono, and it appears to go all the way back to ancient Polynesian shamanistic healing systems, ceremonies, and rituals. It has been adapted and reimagined over centuries for personal healing and community reconciliation, stretching all the way into modern times. The history and interpretation of this ceremony is enough to fill several books (and it has), and if you’re interested, I recommend going deeper.
As it turns out, Western medicine agrees emphatically that forgiveness is indeed a powerful healing act. According to the Mayo Clinic:
“Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for happiness, health and peace. Forgiveness can lead to:
>>> Healthier relationships
>>> Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
>>> Less anxiety, stress and hostility
>>> Lower blood pressure
>>> Fewer symptoms of depression
>>> Stronger immune system
>>> Improved heart health
>>> Higher self-esteem”
Apparently, holding a grudge can manifest so clearly in the body, that it can literally weigh us down. Holding onto anger means holding onto stress hormones, and letting go can actually allow us to physically release all that junk. As it turns out, emotional junk and physical junk are deeply connected, as well as psychological junk.
The tricky part is that, although we may accept that it’s good for us, that doesn’t exactly solve the problem of how to actually step into the process of forgiving. Indeed, as Indira Gandhi said, “Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.” It’s certainly not for the faint of heart.
So how do we step in? According to Ulrich, these are the four magic sentences:
“I am sorry.”
“Please forgive me.”
“I love you.”
In various adaptations, the core steps involve:
1. Recognizing and accepting the problem,
2. Connecting and sharing with others and with a higher power,
3. Being ready to mutually unconditionally forgive and pardon,
4. Giving thanks, trusting, and letting go.
Perhaps the key here is the intention to come back into alignment and harmony for personal healing. While there’s no paint-by-numbers way to forgive, the basics are pretty consistent across traditions and adaptations. It’s worth doing some personal research to find the methods that resonate best with each of us.
I’ve done and deeply enjoyed this longer ceremonial adaptation:
1. Calm your heart (Gate Gate Para Gate Parasum Gate Bodhi Swaha) repeat 9 times
2. Make a list of everyone towards whom you hold any negative feelings, or who have negative feelings towards you.
3. Make sure that you are grounded and that your feelings, inner child and subconscious are in agreement with the process.
I am saying this to all people especially those on my list
Peace be with you
All of my peace
The peace that is the I
The Peace that is the I am
The Peace that is for always
Now and forever more
My peace I give to you
My peace I leave with you
Not the world’s peace
But my peace
The peace of the I (repeat 3 times)
Divine creator, father, mother, son’s and daughters all as one.
If I and all those gathered here, the names we are going to mention, my family, the family of all the people we are related to,
if anyone has offended you in thought, word, deed or action from the beginning of our creation to the present.
Humbly, Humbly, Humbly
I ask you all for forgiveness
(repeat 3 times)
For all of our fears, all of our errors,
resentments, guilt’s, blocks, offenses
and attachments that we have created
and accumulated and accepted from
the beginning of our creation to the present
We all ask for forgiveness
(repeat 3 times)
Let divine intelligence include all
pertinent information that we have knowingly
or unknowingly omitted.
Now free here all the negative vibrations
of all the information that we have written,
also all the property, documents, jewelry, objects,
autos, furniture, free and transform all their negative vibrations.
Please forgive us all and let all of us be released from all possible spiritual,
mental, physical and material, financial and karmic bondage.
Pull out of all our memory banks, from all
of our subconscious minds and release, severe and cut
the unwanted negative memories and blocks that tie and
bind and attach us together. Erase completely the cause,
core, memory and the record of all these unwanted negative memories.
Yes, forgive us, and release all of us
from all possible spiritual, mental, physical and material,
financial and karmic bondage.
(now let all the people, situations, events and things run through your mind)
Cleanse, purify and transmute all these unwanted negative energies into pure light.
Erase completely their cause, core, memory and record.
( repeat 2 more times)
And fill all the spaces that these unwanted energies occupy with divine lite.
Let divine order, light and love, peace and balance,
wisdom and understanding and abundance be made manifest to all of us
through the infinite power of the Divine Creator, Father, Mother, Son and Daughter all as one.
In whom we rest and abide and have all of our being.
SET ALL OF US FREE!
(now read your list out loud)
(repeat once more from “cleanse and purify”)
—Burn the list—
SET US ALL FREE!
SET US ALL FREE!
In the end, the act of forgiving another is really about setting ourselves free and finding our way back to greater harmony. May we all have the courage to step into the darkness, be willing to grieve and let go, and to heal.
“Forgiveness is the key to action and freedom” ~ Hannah Arendt
Author: Erin McMorrow
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Meg Cheng / Flickr