When I tell people that I’m working on learning to become a more enlightened, present, and forgiving person, the first question they inevitably ask is “How DO you forgive?” To be sure, forgiving is a tricky business because it often requires letting go, and then waking up the next morning and letting go all over again. With our limited time in today’s world, it’s easy to push the whole process under the rug.
The good news is that there are a few quick strategies that can assist in relieving some of the angst that comes with having someone to forgive.
1. For 24 hours, make a hash mark for each time you think negatively about the person you are trying to forgive.
Counting these marks provides some insight into just how much of your energy and focus you are giving away to feelings of hurt or anger or shame. Having a solid number in your hands provides a clearer picture of the drain on your life that hanging on to resentments breeds. This can be a wake up call because we often don’t realize the amount of time we spend running the same tired thoughts around in our heads until we consciously add them up.
Next, stop and reconsider if it’s worth giving this much of yourself to such negative emotions. For most of us, the answer is a solid “No”. The next strategy helps turn this energy drain around by refocusing your attention on the positive people and goals that are in your life.
2. Think of 5 actions you’d rather focus your thoughts on.
Doing this helps make the hard work of forgiving flow more smoothly. When we’re focused on our own goals and likes, putting aside energy-sucking thoughts about another is much easier. This step is meant to build up your own inner feelings of peace and harmony before taking the leap into letting go.
Start by jotting down your 5 refocus actions and putting them someplace where they are easily accessible, like a purse or a wallet. Then, each time you have negative thoughts about that person you need to forgive, refocus on these 5 instead.
I’d recommend making at least one of these something fun and relaxing, so that if you’re overwrought you can still turn to it when resentments kick back in. I’d also recommend picking something you can do anywhere because, as we all have experienced, resentments don’t care if you are in the middle of a work meeting. They’ll kick in anyway.
My short list looks like this:
1) Workout on the elliptical, 2) Brainstorm some writing topics 3) Call Mom 4) Veg out watching The Big Bang Theory with peanut M&M’s 5) Work on my book.
3. Set aside an hour (or two) of rant time each week to vent and cry out your emotions surrounding the person you need to forgive.
We’d all like to be like Jesus and Buddha, where forgiveness of another is instantaneous. Yet most of us are still striving for that level of discipline where this is possible. Therefore, setting aside time each week to literally shake off the pain, hurt, anger, and other negative emotions is necessary to re-balance into a place of inner peace. This can be a good cry, a phone call to a trusted family member or friend, or simply writing down your angst.
This is also helpful because it allows you to have dominion over your emotions by saying to them “I’m the boss, and you will be allowed to be released on my schedule”. This adds to the discipline of the mind, to helping control your thoughts. It also helps ensure that no permanent damage is done to others who may be the inadvertent recipients of your built up angst. Most importantly, it allows you to honor the pain you feel, without allowing it to stay stuck inside you.
4. Once you are refocused on more positive actions and have cleared your emotions, think of ONE good attribute of the person who you are trying to forgive.
I know. This is a tough one. If anger towards another is really strong, or pain is very deep, this can seem impossible. Just try starting small. While I was separated from my then husband, all I could come up with as one of his virtues was “He looks good in the color blue.” A bit shallow? Yes. But it was something to start with, to refocus my mind on when it began its rantings about his perceived shortcomings.
Ultimately, this step is about finding what you learned from the other person. It may be that the lesson has to do with learning to stand up for yourself, or helping to create a better world by working to prevent the same tragedy you experienced. Maybe, as is often the case, the person was a catalyst for a much-needed positive change in your romantic or professional life. Whatever the specific take away, finding some gratitude for now being a stronger, wiser, or more loving person is crucial to being able to free yourself from your resentments and anger towards the person.
Overriding all of these strategies is the Truth that forgiveness is not about the other person; it is about you. It is all about you choosing to take back your Power by refocusing your thoughts and energy on your own dreams. Revenge, even fantasies of revenge, gives away our natural power because it puts our attention on the very thing that we wish had not happened. This brings pain over and over again. You do not deserve pain. Ever. You deserve joy. Always.
As the Buddha put it so succinctly, “We forgive principally for our own sake, so that we may cease to bear the burden of rancor.”
Discussion Question: What lessons have you learned by letting revenge go in favor of forgiving another?