09/06/2013 02:00 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2013

Practicing Forgiveness

For me, preparing for the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, usually involves a lot of time contemplating and meditating (literally) on forgiveness. It's a touchy subject, forgiveness. I think because it's scary- it can be unbearable to feel responsible for the suffering of others, and it's also frightening to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to open our heart and forgive someone who has hurt us. I think this is true for forgiving yourself and even God, too.

Recently, I realized that asking for forgiveness and offering forgiveness is kind of the same thing. What I mean is that acting unskillfully, hurting someone, whether directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, usually stems from a place of fear and hurt inside ourselves. In order to inhabit our full culpability and truly ask for forgiveness, we have to see our own pain and hold our own broken hearts. And this is exactly what we're doing when we forgive someone who has hurt us.

In this time leading up to the High Holidays, it's a common practice to go to our loved ones and not-so-loved ones and ask for forgiveness for any misdeeds or mistakes we might have made in the past year. It's a beautiful practice, humbling and powerful. I'd like to add on that we do the same practice with ourselves.

Here, it will only take a few seconds:

As you sit at your computer, deepen your breath. Imagine a time in the past year that you acted unskillfully. Allow yourself to feel that weight of responsibility. Think to yourself, "if I in any way was a cause of suffering, whether consciously or unconsciously, I ask for forgiveness." Now, in your mind, conjure up a time in the past year where you have felt hurt. Again, allow yourself to fully inhabit the feelings that arise. Say to yourself, "if I have been harmed, whether consciously or unconsciously, I offer my forgiveness." With your next inhale, feel or imagine receiving forgiveness. You can say to yourself, "Breathing in, I'm forgiven." On your next exhale, offer your forgiveness. "Breathing out, I forgive." Keep this going as you breath in and out, receiving and offering forgiveness, completing each cycle of breath with your own cycle of forgiveness. Offering and receiving, breathing in and breathing out.

This can be a practice for the real thing of forgiving someone or asking someone for forgiveness. Or, maybe just doing this practice in your own heart and mind is enough for now. In any case, especially now, when they say the gates to heaven are open, when every prayer and good deed counts, when we're tasked with doing serious spiritual accounting and returning to our best selves, practice forgiveness. With each breath, we can embrace the possibilities of forgiveness, returning (teshuvah), and the inevitable transformation that will happen because it just can't not.

L'shana tova, to a good year.