How to forgive

Loving Kindness Meditation for Friendship

Once a month, for the last three years, this group of amazing women has gathered together to share their lives, to practice cheering for each other, and to ask for help from the group. This last Monday was our May gathering. One of the women shared a situation with someone they were having a hard time with at work and she so wisely said, "I don't think I want advice for how to handle her because then I'll go into defensive mode trying to explain more about what I've tried or why that wouldn't work. I guess I just wanted to tell you and ask for your support." (What maturity to be able to articulate what she didn't need!)

We all thanked her for sharing, validated what we heard her say, and promised prayers and thoughts for her patience and wisdom.  Then a wise sage in the group said, "Are you familiar with the Loving Kindness meditation? I just wonder if that would feel grounding for you?"

The sharer expressed interest and wanted to know more. So this practice was described for those who weren't familiar with it and I watched as everyone scrambled to write it down, oohed-and-ahhed at how meaningful it felt, and a few even vowed that they wanted to challenge themselves to try it for 30 days.

I knew right then what I wanted to blog about this week.  :)

The Loving-Kindness Meditation

What it is: It struck me how powerful this mediation could be in our community of women who are striving to have healthy relationships with themselves and others. It's often referred to as metta, which in the Pali language refers to an inclusive, wise, and compassionate love. From a place of meditation, we are choosing to practice love in our minds, not based on whether others, or ourselves, "deserves" it, but because we recognize that love is more healing in this world than judgment, hatred, or fear.

The words: There are many variations-- feel free to google to find the phrases you like the best or even write you own. I love the adaption that my friend shared on Monday night so I'll share that one with you for now:

May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be well. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be happy and free.

How it works: It works by offering loving-kindness to ourselves first, then extending out to people we love easily, then extending out to people we feel neutral about (or maybe people we don't even know), and eventually extending out to people who frustrate or disappoint us.

  1. So we want to find the time and place to sit comfortably in a quiet place and whisper the words slowly over and over about ourselves first.
  2. When we feel ready, we then can picture that love extending beyond ourselves to those we love with relative ease. For example, "May Lucy be filled with loving kindness..." We replace the I with either their names or we can say she or they if we're picturing different friends or our family in our minds. Continue doing this as different people you love pop into your mind.
  3. When we feel ready, we then picture that love extending out even more to the next circle of people-- whether that be people you work with, the people you have appointments with that day, anyone who pops into your mind, your neighbors, your family, etc.
  4. Then when you feel ready, invite yourself to think of people who trigger you-- people you're having a hard time forgiving, people who annoy you, people you're no longer friends with, and people who have hurt you.
  5. To end, I like to visualize my love as ribbons going out from my heart to surround the world. For one moment feel what it feels like to simply put love out there-- to everyone, to anyone. And pray that as you go about your day that you'd show up as as someone ready to see that everything said to you by others is either their love for you or their call to be loved. Hear it as a gift you can give to include that person in your circle of who you are willing to extend the loving-kindness meditation toward.

We can use the Loving-Kindness meditation on our friends--both the ones who are easy to say it about and the ones with whom it feels hard.

If it's hard to do: Quite naturally, sometimes these words are incredibly difficult to say about some people, possibly even ourselves. So it's important to be as compassionate and tender with yourself as possible when you feel constriction or panic. Try not to judge yourself-- it's like a muscle that needs to developed--most of us will struggle with judgments as we try to extend the words.

Some ideas when you don't feel the love:

  • One idea is to start the prayer with something like "To the extent that I am able..." or "I don't feel it yet, but I am willing to say it..."
  • Another practice some suggest is if you feel blocked then go back to saying it about someone with whom it's easy for you to feel it and say it several times for that person, then try--from that place of love-- to let some of it spill over as you return to the person that originally choked the words.
  • Depending on your tradition, another option might be to say it about God's desire if you don't yet feel you can say it from yourself, such as "God wants you to be peaceful and at ease."

It's crucial to realize that you don't need to feel these words to have them do their work on us. In fact, that's kind of the point.  We're slowly re-wiring our brain toward love so chances are slim that we already feel these things automatically. It will not feel easy or authentic. Keep in mind that we're not obligating ourselves to anything, letting anyone off any hooks, or justifying their behavior.

This meditation is more for us than it is for them. 

We are practicing becoming more loving people and this is how we get there.  We may not think we believe the words, but there is a voice in us, somewhere, that knows these words to be true. We are calling out to that voice and letting her be heard above the voices we all too often listen to.

We are choosing our peace over our defensiveness.

With so much big love for you,

Shasta

p.s. Do you practice this meditation? What's it been like for you? Share with us your tips or testimonies!

Who Do You Need to Forgive?

This week, in the midst of holiday shopping, travel plans, kids' programs, and parties I feel compelled to bring our attention to what could arguably be the most important action on your to-do list this season: forgiveness. Forgiveness.  images

Take a moment and observe your body as you say the word.  What happens?  Does something tighten? Does your breathing change? Does anything feel heavy?  Does life feel expansive and joyful when you say that word or do you feel dread and constriction?  It's definitely a loaded word for most people.

We shy away from it because we feel a little guilt about the grudges and judgment we hold.  We want to roll our eyes at people like me who are calling for us to let go of this thing that feels impossible to relinquish.  Living with the ideal in mind and choosing to stay where we are creates such an exhausting dissonance that to close the gap requires us to either forgive or decide it's not important. So if we can't picture letting go then our only other obvious choice is to convince ourselves we don't need to.

Why Forgive?

Why I'm choosing to write about this today is because I want you to make room for what 2014 can hold for you.  And it's hard to invite more love, connection, peace, creativity, intention, health, and joy into your life when judgement and anger are taking up space, consuming your energy, holding your subconscious hostage.  It's hard to sincerely say to God, or the Universe, "I want a more abundant life", when our very actions are showing that we want to sit here and hug this rock of anger a little longer.  It's hard to show up with love for the new people we meet when the story we play in our heads sings an unforgiving tune of "People disappoint me.  I should be wary.  I need more protection."

There are many motivations to forgive people, but the one I care about today, for you, is that I want you to have more amazing connection in your life in the year ahead.  I want for you more love, more laughter, more revealing, more play, more touch, more understanding, more empathy, more affirmation-- all the things that come with being truly connected to others.  I want that for you so very much.

But you can't move forward with both arms open wide for more connection if you're still looking back, trailing a bag of rocks behind you.

Who to Forgive?

  • Forgive yourself.  Forgive yourself for what you didn't do that you wish you had done; and for what you did do that you wish you hadn't done.  Forgive yourself for playing too small because you were afraid and for dreaming too big because now you're disappointed.  Forgive yourself for the actions you took that don't reflect the person you want to be.  Forgive yourself for acting out of insecurity and fear.
  • Forgive the obvious other.  This is the person(s) who we know off the top of our mind that we're mad at. We were hurt and deeply disappointed by their actions.  Just thinking about them makes us sick to our stomach.  We feel like we lost a piece of ourselves in that event.
  • Forgive the subtle other.  This one can be slightly more difficult to admit because, as I talk about at length in my book, we often feel guilty admitting we need to "forgive" the people we love because the things that cause us angst aren't "wrongs."  We might be mad at her for getting married, jealous that she gets to retire with plenty of financial security, hurt that she moved away, or frustrated because she whines about her marriage but doesn't do anything about it. But remember-- if you feel angst then forgiveness is the answer to peace.
  • Forgive life.  It sounds silly, perhaps, but we have to forgive God, too.  Again, we're not forgiving because wrong was done, we're forgiving to bring peace to us.  I've had to forgive God for letting things happen to me, for not creating a "fair" universe, and for not answering prayers.

How To Forgive

There are entire books on this process (and re-read chapter 9 in my book for more ideas and context) so far be it from me to summarize all that wisdom here, but here are three steps I go through this time of year to make sure I'm processing what is being felt and stored in my body.  By admitting all this we are only acknowledging what is already there in us, and bringing it to consciousness is the only way we can access the wisdom from those experiences and choose to eventually move away from the pain of them.

  1. Be Clear Where There is Angst.  Start with yourself.  List every area of your life where you feel any angst at all-- romance, finances, body, etc.  Now write down every thought that comes to mind when you answer the questions: What do I wish I had done differently? Why am I disappointed in myself? Where might I be blaming myself? This is an exercise of reflection so you don't need to filter yourself or talk yourself out of putting something down. To list something doesn't mean it was wrong, it just means you feel some angst and we want to listen to that.  For example, in the area of tight finances-- I might list things like "I have to forgive myself for not making more money," or for "Choosing to be self-employed." It doesn't mean I shouldn't be self-employed or that it was a mistake-- it simply means that I acknowledge my role in where I am, and that I still need to come to peace with something in that area.
  2. Glean Any Wisdom or Information that Could Be Helpful. Keeping with that example, once I see my thoughts on paper I can then ask myself-- are these things I wish I had done differently? Is there wisdom to learn here?  What information can I take with me that might help me in the future?  What could I do, if anything, to feel more peace in this area?  Is there an action I want to take right now? Is this a circumstance that needs to be/can be changed or is it more important that I change how I look at it?
  3. Lean Into Willingness.  Sometimes in journaling, I'll sit with the pain and it's just as clear as day that I am ready to let this go and feel peace.  It can be that quick.  It can be this ah-ha that has been waiting to happen and my body just knows that I have now harvested the best from that situation and that there is no more value in bringing it with me.  But sometimes I am so not there. The very idea of letting it go scares me and feels way too big.  Sometimes I feel like I'm letting myself or someone else off the hook and that something in me will die or be lost if I do it. In those moments, I lean into that very still and small voice that knows that forgiveness will ultimately bring me peace and all I ask myself to do is say "I am willing to come to forgiveness."  It may not be today.  But I'm willing.  I'm willing to get there.  And that's enough for now.

After you process your own angst... continue your list by doing the same steps for the others in your life that you feel some angst with.

Maybe schedule an evening or a weekend early-morning to just sit, sip a favorite drink, and journal.

The goal is to get to a place where we continue to whisper to life "We are willing to let this go so that something more abundant can enter my life."  For that is so very much what I want for you as you go into this new year of your life.

And it truly is the biggest contribution you can make to your life and to others this Christmas season.  Be the gift of one more person showing up with love.