“Forgiveness is like the warm rays of the sun that comfort a tightly shut flower bud to open gently so the flower can reveal its true beauty and fill the world around it with its fragrance.”
Forgiveness is that human emotion that enriches compassion with gratitude and the result is a lasting peace that melts away the past grudges, anger and conflicts. Forgiveness brings about transformational shifts in perspective that open up pathways to new possibilities. And when this shift occurs, life takes on a dimension that leads to what we all desire - true happiness. Our physical health begins to blossom and our emotional wellbeing becomes a topic of envy among those who are still anchored in the past. We experience freedom like a bird, singing and floating in the open skies with free abandon.
Dr. Frederic Luskin, the Director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project for over two decades and a member of karuna’s esteemed Scientific Advisory Board, has not only studied forgiveness extensively but has also taught this art to many including those who suffered unspeakable injustices and loss during the 911 terrorist attack and the atrocities in Northern Ireland.
Dr. Luskin often says, “When we don’t forgive, it is like saying that the beauty and the blessings that have come to us are not sufficient for me to be gracious…All the love, all the kindness, all the beauty, all the generosity, all the abundance was not enough for me to have an open heart right now.”
So rather than elaborate more on what has already been dealt with effectively in the annals of science, let’s address a simple but profound question - how did Nelson Mandela manage to forgive despite all the injustices he suffered during the 27 years of his prime youth that he spent in three different prisons?
This article brings to you simple yet effective ways in which you can consciously practice forgiveness in your daily life so you can also attain a deep sense of inner peace. We call it the ACCESS framework - Awareness, Connection, Creativity, Engagement, Spirituality and Sustainability.
Practice forest bathing or walking mindfully in nature to help build emotional awareness. If you live in a crowded concrete jungle, escape to visions of nature that induce awe and inner peace. Finding peacefulness outside will evoke feelings of peace inside. This step is important because peace is the home of your true emotional awareness. When stress is removed, forgiveness becomes much easier to practice.
Lose the technology leash just for a day because technology is unforgiving. This is one of the first things that Dr. Luskin teaches in his famous forgiveness meditations. Start the practice of Serene Sundays when you get rid of your cell phone, email and all other intrusions that disturb your sense of being with yourself. Connect with yourself to become intimately familiar with your triggers of emotion.
Try expressive writing as a way to creatively shift your perspective about forgiveness. Expressive writing or narrative therapy is known to be a powerful technique to “write your own story.” The mere act of dumping your thoughts on paper and then reflecting on the words just might allow you to rethink forgiveness in your own unique way.
Use breath work to stop fleeing from yourself. The simple act of slow, deep and intentional abdominal breathing will allow your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and your blood will become awash in peace inducing neurotransmitters. Remember, peace is the home of emotional awareness which will allow you to engage with your emotions in ways that are impossible in the din of daily life.
Pray to boost forgiveness, if you are religious. If you are not religious, the alternate form of prayer is meditation. That’s not only the typical act of sitting down quietly with closed eyes. Meditation can also be effectively done by the simple act of slowing down and enjoying the present moment. Play a musical instrument, draw, paint, laugh heartily on jokes, enjoy snuggle moments with your loved one, take a walk on a moonlit beach, gaze into the starlit sky with wonder and awe - these are all moments of prayer and meditation that induce deep inner peace which opens the doorway to forgiveness.
Practice resilience even during times when all hope seems lost. Resilience is the simple act of not giving up or giving in. And the good news is that nature gave us all the seeds of resilience as a tool of evolution. When it seems difficult to forgive because you feel broken and angry, use one of the other tools described in this ACCESS framework to first bring a sense of peace and then use that calm to reinvigorate the determination to move forward and not remain stuck in the past. Forgiveness is the fuel to help you do just that.
Today, let us emulate Nelson Mandela who, in his autobiography Long Walk To Freedom, said, ”As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”