by Faith Edwards
Forgiveness. Many of us spend a lifetime waiting for an apology we never receive. For a very long time I waited, hoping the other person could understand the pain that filled my heart. Yet though I longed for emotional healing and a deep connection with this person, I also felt bitter and righteous. Even if I received the apology I so deeply wanted I probably would have rejected it.
What was I getting out of holding onto negative feelings? Did this other person really hold that much power over me? And the biggest question I had to ask myself was: could I forgive even though I may never be asked to forgive?
I learned some powerful answers to my questions on forgiveness while on a retreat at Copper Beech. It was a time in my life when my body, mind and spirit had grown weary from the emotional turmoil and pain. My anger had subsided, but I carried a heavy heart as I embarked on this weekend retreat. I sought spiritual guidance and inner peace.
I felt nurtured and completely supported amongst the group of women on this retreat. We talked about forgiveness in a way that was truly unique to me. Could we really, truly and honestly forgive ourselves for the ways we had behaved less than kindly through the years? Initially, I wanted to think that I had never harmed another human being. In the quiet, candlelit room, I sat contemplating this thought. It wasn’t long before I recalled behaviors I was shameful of. How desperately I wanted to push those feelings aside. It was much more satisfying to feel wronged than to recognize the moments where I was indeed wrong.
We were asked to stay with this painful feeling and face a partner. Fear rushed through my veins as I pondered both my own self-contempt as well as my long list of resentments. Sitting knee to knee, I gazed into the kind eyes of a woman I’d known less than 24 hours. The facilitator asked us to contemplate our request for forgiveness. The only words we would utter to each other were “please forgive me” and “I forgive you.” We would repeat this exercise four or five times and then it would be our partner’s turn to request forgiveness.
The experience was profound. As this gentle soul looked me in the eye, asking me for my forgiveness, I could easily feel her pain. An energy of loving kindness filled the room. The powerful force of close proximity and direct eye contact amazed me. I could feel an intense healing energy as a steady stream of forgiving tears rolled down my cheeks. Having no idea what burdens this woman bore, I felt her heartache and pain. Her authenticity and gentle soul was revealed to me and I knew that despite her transgressions, she was a good person who deserved love.
When it was my turn to ask for her forgiveness, I felt tremendous healing, energetic love and complete acceptance. It was a feeling that I’d actually been longing for much of my life. I continued to quietly sob in a cathartic release as I sought her forgiveness. It was incredibly healing to receive her authentic and sincere acceptance. From this space I felt lighter, understood and more deeply connected with another human being. My anger was lifted and my heart felt alive.
Sitting in the experience of forgiveness, I felt an inexplicable energy in my partner’s eyes and voice, and in the entire experience. It created the space I needed to forgive myself -- to feel gentle and kind. That loving energy stayed with me long after the forgiveness exercise was over. My family, friends, co-workers all reaped the benefits of my soul healing. I was able to pass this gentleness forward and hopefully brighten their day.
What I learned from this experience was that it was not really an apology I craved; it was an intense desire to feel unconditional love, the type of love many of us receive in infancy and early childhood. Yet I didn’t need to receive that love from the person who had harmed me. I simply needed someone to serve as a mirror for the love and acceptance I craved from within. It was important for me to not only understand but to really feel with all of my being that I was worthy and deserving of love, and that I didn’t have to feel so much shame for my mistakes that I isolated myself socially. Instead I could learn to accept, love and forgive myself.
A regular self-care practice is essential to forgiveness because forgiveness comes from the inside, not from the outside. It is only when we are ready and willing to forgive ourselves that we are able to forgive someone else. Daily meditation, breathing exercises and mindfulness nurture body, mind and spirit, and we awaken our minds and open our hearts to the divine beauty that resides within each and every one of us.
Faith Edwards is a freelance writer who specializes in mindfulness and codependent addiction recovery.