Forgiveness is the Key to Happiness

Both Catherine Ponder and the Course in Miracles are clear on this, and so too are numerous spiritual traditions throughout the world.

Easier said than done, though, in my experience the healing release that comes through forgiveness is a journey: much as I would like to just decide I’m going to forgive and let go of all the hurt, pain or resentment I might be feeling, I often find I have unconsciously picked up the burden of holding the resentment later.

Just like ‘Healing is in the questing and the practice, not in a single idea’ (Clarissa Pinkola Estes), so too is Forgiveness. Added to which, if you were brought up Christian or Catholic and ‘made’ to forgive your siblings or your peers before you were ever ready to even think about it, the very word may well just be anathema to you.

The challenge in my own experience on my journey, has often been about trying to force myself to forgive someone before I was actually ready, because I have aspired to live a good or a ‘spiritual life’ and I know that really the person who hurts the most when we hold something against someone is actually ourselves, the energy of continuing to be resentful or mad, really eats away at my own energy body. Sometimes I even want to forgive someone because I can totally see that the abandonment or rejection I’m feeling actually has less to do with them and more to do with something that happened along time ago, yet even so, I still find myself in my tired, run down moments wanting to blame the current person for the pain I feel. And that even though I know that the blame game serves no one, least of all myself.

But in truth, when I am in this space, finding it hard to let go, I have learned that is it a signal from my unconscious that there’s a bit more ‘inner work’ to do, some more unconscious pain or hurting to release, and ironically it is often receiving love that brings this to the surface, for ‘love brings up anything unlike itself for the purpose of healing and release’ as we used to say in Rebirthing.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells a beautiful story in her book, Women Who Run  with the Wolves called the Crescent Moon Bear: the story is about a woman who is so excited to hear her husband is coming home from the war that she cooks and prepares wonderful sweatmeats and dishes full of prawns and other delicacies, only to find her husband returns in a most foul temper, and kicks over all the dishes and growls and snarls, refusing to live with her as he had before, choosing instead to live out in the forest. In desperation she goes to the local Healer asking for some kind of potion or elixir she can give her husband to make him well again, the Healer assures her she can help by making her something but says she lacks one vital ingredient, a hair from the crescent at the throat of the Crescent Moon Bear. so the Woman sets off on a journey, taking some food with her, through the forests and the lower slopes of the mountain heading higher and higher up the mountain until she eventually finds some scat indicating the presence of the Crescent Moon Bear not far away. she finds his cave, and luckily he is off hunting somewhere, she finds  a tree to climb and hide herself in, where she can see the comings and goings of the Bear from his den. As soon as he beds down for the night she leaves some food out for him a way off from the entrance to his lair; in the morning he awakes and smelling human, he lumbers out of his den, looking this way and that, raising up upon his hind legs to sniff the air, finally seeing the food, and not finding the woman, he lumbers up to it and gobbles it all up. She continues in this way for a few days, each day, leaving the food a little closer to the den , until one morning she finds she is leaving the food right outside his cave, and bravely, for she was a woman who loved, she stood beside the food, waiting for his awakening. The bear lumbered out that morning as usual, found the food and a pair of small human legs standing right beside it; in a rage he stood upon his hind quarters and held his paw above the womans head the claws dangling like knives over her head, whilst he roared so loud it made the woman’s bones hum.

The woman shook, but she stood her ground, ‘please dear bear, I have been feeding you these past days, ad my husband is very sick and I need a hair form the crescent moon at your throat, please would you allow me to pluck just one?’

The looked at her and thought she would be easy meat, yet it was true she had been feeding him these past days, he took pity on her plight and roared his assent, standing upright, noble nose in the air; the woman stood on her tipped toes in order to reach the crescent moon at his neck and plucked a single hair, at which he roared again, and again her bones hummed and her muscles shook. She ran down the mountain, through the forest and into the village, excited and exuberant at her achievement, ran all the way through the village into the hut of the healer on the far side, exclaiming, ‘I’ve got it, I’ve got it, a single hair form the throat of the Crescent Moon Bear’. The Healer took the hair from her, and examined it closely, and saw that it was indeed a true hair, then without a moments hesitations she flung it on the fire. The woman stared at her horrified, ‘oh no, what have you done!’ ‘Hush my child, all is well, you remember how you came to acquire the hair of the Bear? Well go now and do the same for your husband, and all will be well again.

Clarissa, then goes on to explain this is an ‘aperture story’ and aperture stories give us a window, an opening and within them they contain the structure required for the healing of the psyche. And this is essentially a story about how to overcome great anger in the psyche and therefore how to engage with the process of forgiveness; what is of importance to us here, is that there is a four part structure on the path to forgiving someone, or some terribly wounding event in our story.

“Even raw and messy emotions are a form of light, crackling, bursting with energy”

According to Clarissa there are Four Stages to Forgiveness:

  • to forgo – to leave it alone
  • to forbear – to abstain from punishing
  • to forget – to aver from memory, to refuse to dwell
  • to forgive – to abandon the debt

I believe where I and quite a few others get stymied in the process, is we try to move too quickly through the stages, not recognising how vital each is, and that each deserves it’s time. This is especially so if you were raised a good Christian and to be seen to forgive and turn the other cheek was approved of by your elders. We can try to forgive, really wanting to do so consciously, before we are truly ready to do so, before we have allowed ourselves the time and space to do the inner work of removing the shrapnel from the wounded psyche. This is often times a slow process.

To begin the process we need to forego thinking bout the person or event for a while: it is good to get on with the mundane tasks of living. this is not the same as brushing under the carpet and pretending it isn’t there, more a case of disciplined detaching from the issue; give yourself that time out, the treat, the day at the seaside, or begin the knitting of the new jumper, just allow the issue to drop away for a while.

The second stage is to forebear in the sense of abstaining from punishing. Don’t think about it, don’t act on it, not even in your tone of voice, let alone in your actions. Channel your emotion elsewhere, have patience. ‘To forebear is to practice generosity… allowing the great compassionate nature to participate in matters that have previously caused emotion from minor irritation to rage.’

To forget is the third stage, which means you refuse to dwell on the issue, allow it to be relegated to the background rather than insisting it be in the foreground of your thinking. You use your will to drop the practice of obsessing, stop looking back (remember what happened to Lot’s wife in the biblical story? She turned into a pillar of salt, interestingly Nat Mur (which is made from Salt) is one of the main remedies for resentment in Homeopathic practice.) We call this stage conscious forgetting.

Finally I like it that Clarissa makes the point that there are many ways to forgiving a person or a community or a nation for an offense:

“A forgiveness is a conscious decision to cease to harbour resentment, which includes forgiving a debt and giving up one’s resolve to retaliate.”

She suggests YOU are the one who decides when to forgive and what ritual to use to mark the event. You can decide to forgive in whole or in part, for now or forever or until then, or next time.

You know if you have forgiven because you tend to feel sadness instead of rage and resentment. You tend to have nothing left that you can remember to say about it all, you understand the ‘suffering that drove the offense to begin with’.

One of the most powerful practices I have discovered in recent years is the hua puono puono prayer. The story I heard around this was that some psychiatrist was asked to be the psychiatrist on a ward for mentally disturbed patients in Hawai, until then, there was a high turnover and no patients ever left the establishment, in fact the patients were so awful, that many of the staff did not last even a few months. Apparently all he did was pray this prayer with each of the patients when he was with them and when he was thinking about them or reflecting on their case; within a few years the establishment had emptied, they had got better.

The prayer goes like this: taking full responsibility for what shows up in your life (is not the same as saying it’s your fault,) this is recognising you must have attracted it, or subconsciously co-created it for your own learning or to simply help the other and yourself. Pray:

“I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you.’

Simply repeat the prayer like a mantra. I have used this often especially when I find myself stuck going round in ever decreasing circles. It’s very powerful.

If you’re confused pray it, if your mad as hell pray it, if your sad and hurt or lonely pray it, just keep repeating it like a mantra, it seems to have an effect on your consciousness, the situation or things become lighter as does your outlook. Stick at it, it’s a great one for when you’ve exhausted all other resources and you don’t know what else to do. Best of all, it’s simple.

Try it next time you can’t forgive someone or even yourself (especially yourself!), for in truth much that holds us back is down to lack of compassion and forgiveness for ourselves and our own shortcomings.

In Rebirthing (a conscious connected breathing technique) we used to have a question for people who were finding it hard to let go of an event or something that was bothering them: would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?

The ego has a need to be right. If that is important to you in whatever grudge or upset you are holding, then realise you are sacrificing your happiness.

There’s nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with having a ‘need to be right’ moment, hour or even few days, however if it is true you would rather be right than happy, in the long term then at the very least be honest with yourself, and stop wasting your time reading articles like this one!

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One Response to “Forgiveness is the Key to Happiness”

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