Monday, September 21, 2015

Meditation Monday: Grappling with Forgiveness

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates a weekly meditation group at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach, PhD, writes extensively about forgiveness, a topic I’ve had a hard time really understanding. It’s not that I don’t believe in it or accept its value, I just resist the notion that forgiveness is easy to experience. But Tara’s writings and guided meditations help provide an entry point.

Tara starts with bringing a mindful attention to the heart area. She asks us to become aware of the state of the heart right now—the felt sense and direct experience of sensations at the heart. What is present in that moment? Openness? Tightness? Numbness? The idea is to become aware of the sensations around the heart without judgment.

We can then begin to explore how the heart is connected to our own sense of being and how we feel connected with others. Do we have a sense of belonging?

You can bring to mind a few key people from your life and sense the degree of connectedness or separation that you are aware of. Tara posits that the gateway to unconditional love is to begin to investigate where we’ve created separation in our lives. What allows us to include or exclude others from our hearts?

A path to allowing the heart to open is through forgiveness. A forgiving heart can let go of the armor that sustains separation.

Forgiveness is not saying “what you did was OK.” You might decide to never see someone yet not exclude him or her from your heart. Forgiving is the movement of your own heart from past to present.

After becoming present with the state of the heart, you can then reflect on where you feel unforgiven by others. Whether intentional or unintentional, we have all acted or spoken in ways that left others feeling unseen. In reflecting on these situations, we can give the wound our attention. We can allow the other person’s hurt to register. And then we can ask for forgiveness.

“I see the pain I’ve caused you now and I ask that you forgive me.”

Tune in to whether you will allow yourself to feel forgiven. Is it possible to receive forgiveness? Where are you having a hard time forgiving or accepting yourself for something? See if you can sense underneath whatever feels unforgivable to see what was driving you. Fear? Confusion? Hurt?
See behind the action with perspective. See vulnerability or suffering that might have led you to cause suffering. When you sense that, begin to offer yourself forgiveness in the same way.

“I see and feel the pain I’ve caused myself and I forgive myself.”

Many find that when they stop punishing and blaming themselves, they begin to see the causes and conditions that cause suffering.

Widen the circles of forgiveness to include someone you feel has hurt you. Every one of us has felt betrayed, violated, rejected. Sense where this is true for you and where your heart is feeling armored.

Forgiveness can be a lifelong process, and yet in any moment that we enter with sincere intention, the armor begins to crumble. Depending on the violation or your feelings about it, you might want to work with your therapist so that you feel safe and grounded. But you can allow yourself to see the person and the offense; you can see your wound and lean into that pain with kindness and tenderness.

Sense the compassion that is holding your own heart and then widen your perspective so you can look with clear eyes at the person who hurt you. See if you can look past the mask to see the hurt or fear that might be driving him or her. Your deepest wisdom knows that when we’re not suffering, we don’t cause suffering. Sense the possibility of extending forgiveness.

“I see and feel the pain you’ve caused me and I forgive you now.”

If you’re not quite ready, you might say something like “it’s my intention to forgive you.”

Tara Brach helps explore forgiveness without minimizing or suppressing the wound. We actually have to open our hearts to the pain to create space for forgiveness. And I find comfort in that paradox.