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Practicing the 'F' Word -- 5 Steps to Forgiveness

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No, not that "f" word. The other "f" word: forgiveness!

The Buddha compared holding onto anger to grasping hot coals with the intent of throwing them at someone else. You, of course, are the one that gets burnt. So, why is it that we often walk around holding onto resentment, grudges, and animosity? Sometimes for years or even a lifetime. Why do we recycle unpleasant circumstances in our minds and keep those wounds open?

Although counterintuitive, the answer is to protect ourselves. Albeit going about it the wrong way, our ego mind wants to keep us safe. So, if a past situation has hurt us, our ego mind likes to replay it over and over, keeping the memory and feelings alive to prevent the same situation from occurring again. But in reality, we're not protecting ourselves at all. By holding onto the grudge, we're actually keeping those wounds wide open, fueling the flames of the negative emotions and causing even more pain. Even if we feel we are directing these feelings at somebody else, it's really ourselves that are being hurt by living in the past with a closed heart and vengeful mind.

This is a subject that I continually practice to become better at myself -- we all need to! Human nature is that people aren't always good to each other, unfortunately. When you're on the receiving end of some unkind treatment, it's not always easy to just let go and move on -- especially when you find yourself feeling hurt and angered by it. It's in these moments that you grab onto those hot coals and start sizzling away from the inside out.

Forgiveness (of both self and others) is the most powerful spiritual tool we have, and it is accessible to all of us. Forgiveness is synonymous with freedom, one of the most important conditions for happiness. In the wise words of Thich Nhat Hanh: "If, in our heart, we still cling to anything -- anger, anxiety, or possessions -- we cannot be free."

But while it is easy to say forgive and forget in theory, it's not always so easy to put into practice. If somebody wrongs us, why should they be let off the hook for being awful? What about how they made you feel? You didn't deserve that, right?

But, here is the thing. Forgiving somebody does not mean that what they did is okay or that you are going to be BFF and have them over for Sunday dinner. It just means that you are releasing them and are no longer going to allow them to have any control over you, your feelings, or your energy. You owe it to yourself to completely let go of any animosity so you can live your most peaceful and joyful life.

Need a little help putting the "f" word into practice? Here are a few tips that can help guide you along your way:

  1. Take it to your journal and just let it all out! Why are you upset? How have you been wronged? How did it make you feel? Be completely real and raw. This is a private conversation, so don't hold back. Venting to a friend has its merits too, but a well-meaning friend can inadvertently fan the flames even more by agreeing with you, making it even more difficult to rise above and let go. A journal gives you the therapeutic effects of venting, without the potential of making the situation even more volatile. As the words flow out of you, imagine letting all of the negative energy and emotions surrounding the subject being released out of your body with them. (In some intense situations, a journal might not be enough as outward feedback and guidance is needed. In those cases, I would suggest working with a therapist or other professional).
  2. Try to put yourself in the other person's shoes and empathize with them. Again, this doesn't make them right or what they did okay. But, why do you think they acted in such a way? Perhaps they had a difficult upbringing or some pretty hard knocks in their lifetime. Maybe they are going through a rough patch and you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and caught some of their shrapnel? Maybe they just don't know any better and they're dealing with the pain in their life the best way they know how. Practicing empathy and letting a little compassion flow is very healing. It's a reminder that we are all from the same human family, none of us without flaws or mistakes. We've all needed forgiveness at some point in our lives.
  3. Send them love and light. Find it in your heart to bless them and let go of the hurt feelings. Picture them as being happy and allow yourself to feel happiness for them. This one is the toughest of them all. It takes tremendous strength to wish joy on the one who has done you wrong. But, it's also the most important step to freeing yourself. Everyone deserves happiness. If you can master this level of forgiveness and compassion, your heart will always be free of worry and full of love.
  4. Forgive yourself too! Sometimes you can be hard on yourself for what happened. Or maybe you are even beating yourself up over not being able to forgive and forget easily. If you do find your brain going back to that unforgiving place, just know that your mind is creating this thought, but that doesn't make it reality. Your soul and spirit are above this. When you identify that a thought does not align with your spirit, just allow it to come without attachment and look at it from the "observer" role, letting it pass by. Practice being gentle and loving with yourself. You deserve happiness!
  5. Be grateful for what they have taught you. Every situation in our life, but especially the negative ones, can teach us something. Think of these people and experiences as spiritual assignments. Especially in the case of not being able to forgive easily, that is an indicator of a potential major "a-ha" moment or awakening waiting to happen. Show up for these assignments and be ready to receive the lesson. Be grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow.

You might need to find yourself repeating some of these steps before finally getting it all out of your system and and moving on. Especially if somebody really got under your skin, you will need to dig deep into your heart to find the forgiveness needed to let go. In the meantime, remember it is only yourself that is hurting more, so try to go to that place inside where love resides sooner than later. Who can you practice the "f" word on today? Do it for YOU!

If you have your own forgiveness story, please feel free to discuss in the comments below.

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