The Tao of Forgiveness

Here is a wonderful pearl of Taoist wisdom from author Derek Lin:

One day, the sage gave the disciple an empty sack and a basket of potatoes. “Think of all the people who have done or said something against you in the recent past, especially those you cannot forgive. For each of them, inscribe the name on a potato and put it in the sack.” The Sack-of-potatoesdisciple came up quite a few names, and soon his sack was heavy with potatoes. “Carry the sack with you wherever you go for a week,” said the sage. “We’ll talk after that.”

At first, the disciple thought nothing of it. Carrying the sack was not particularly difficult. But after a while, it became more of a burden. It sometimes got in the way, and it seemed to require more effort to carry as time went on, even though its weight remained the same.

After a few days, the sack began to smell. The carved potatoes gave off a ripe odor. Not only were they increasingly inconvenient to carry around, they were also becoming rather unpleasant.

Finally, the week was over. The sage summoned the disciple. “Any thoughts about all this?”

“Yes, Master,” the disciple replied. “When we are unable to forgive others, we carry negative feelings with us everywhere, much like these potatoes. That negativity becomes a burden to us and, after a while, it festers.”

“Yes, that is exactly what happens when one holds a grudge. So, how can we lighten the load?”

“We must strive to forgive.”

“Forgiving someone is the equivalent of removing the corresponding potato from the sack. How many of your transgressors are you able to forgive?”

“I’ve thought about it quite a bit, Master,” the disciple said. “It required much effort, but I have decided to forgive all of them.”

“Very well, we can remove all the potatoes. Were there any more people who transgressed against you this last week?”

The disciple thought for a while and admitted there were. Then he felt panic when he realized his empty sack was about to get filled up again.

“Master,” he asked, “if we continue like this, wouldn’t there always be potatoes in the sack week after week?”

“Yes, as long as people speak or act against you in some way, you will always have potatoes.”

“But Master, we can never control what others do. So what good is the Tao in this case?”

“We’re not at the realm of the Tao yet. Everything we have talked about so far is the conventional approach to forgiveness. It is the same thing that many philosophies and most religions preach – we must constantly strive to forgive, for it is an important virtue. This is not the Tao because there is no striving in the Tao.”

“Then what is the Tao, Master?”

“You can figure it out. If the potatoes are negative feelings, then what is the sack?”

“The sack is… that which allows me to hold on to the negativity. It is something within us that makes us dwell on feeling offended…. Ah, it is my inflated sense of self-importance.”

“And what will happen if you let go of it?”

“Then… the things that people do or say against me no longer seem like such a major issue.”

“In that case, you won’t have any names to inscribe on potatoes. That means no more weight to carry around, and no more bad smells. The Tao of forgiveness is the conscious decision to not just to remove some potatoes… but to relinquish the entire sack.”


Slaying the Three Dragons of Forgiveness

I’d like to share a teaching from Deepak Chopra that was forwarded to me by Michael Gelbart. Chopra says forgiveness is often thought of as the domain of saints and religion, but needs to be brought down to earth for everyone:

3-dragonsTo begin with, forgiveness comes at the end of a process, not at the beginning. In order to forgive yourself or another person, three obstacles must be overcome. Let’s call them the three dragons of judgment, anger, and blame. Each has had powerful effects in everyone’s life. Millions of people feel justified in clinging to their own dragons, and it takes conviction to realize that nothing about judgment, anger, and blame actually serves anyone’s self-interest.

Chopra encourages us to move beyond the three dragons and become “units of peace” by walking the path of forgiveness.  He offers these practical steps for doing so:

A Path to Forgiveness – 7 Key Steps

  • Find your own peace through meditation, yoga, or other contemplative   practice.
  • Renounce the illusion that you can change someone else’s morality or worldview.
  • Know that you can do more to change the world by who you are than by anything you can say or teach.
  • Take responsibility for nonviolence in your speech and actions.
  • Address the issues of judgment, blame, and anger in yourself.
  • Associate with like-minded people who are committed to peace and forgiveness.
  • Adopt a vision of the highest possibilities for humankind.

For more elaboration, I encourage you to read Chopra’s article here.  He has more to say about the dragons and shares a video on self-forgiveness as well.

I hope this season brings warmth and cheer to your heart. Please be gentle and loving with yourself, especially if you are struggling in any way. May the New Year bring more light and more love into your life and those around you.


Is Family Baggage Weighing You Down?

Why is it that the people we love most are often the most challenging for us?  Even after years of therapy and personal growth work, conflict with family members often leaves a toxic residue in our lives. Whether the conflict involves a parent, sibling, child or other relative, as we try to move forward in our lives, we find our family baggage weighs us down.  It becomes a heavy burden, sabotaging other relationships and depriving us of the happiness we seek. 

Heading into the holidays, the prospect of family gatherings often triggers contraction or even dread, and it is common for anger and resentment to resurface. There are many strategies out there for coping with difficult family members during the holidays, but wouldn’t you rather be truly free of your family baggage for once and for all? It is possible – through forgiveness.  

You might be thinking — “Why should I forgive when the other person is to blame?”  While understandable, don’t forget: Forgiveness isn’t for the other person’s benefit. It’s for yours.  And it doesn’t mean you are condoning or excusing their poor behavior. Nor does it require you to minimize your hurt. 

Or maybe your concern is that the other person really isn’t trustworthy. So why should you forgive and reopen yourself to further hurt?  Here again, there is often a misconception.  Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. It does not mean you forget what occurred. If you need to protect yourself with boundaries or distance, you can and should.

Forgiveness simply means you are no longer willing to carry the emotional baggage of anger and resentment. And make no mistake, that baggage is toxic. Anger, resentment and hatred hurt you far more than the other person. By forgiving, you are choosing to release these self-poisoning emotions for your own well-being.

Why not check your family baggage for once and for all – before the holidays? This means grievances, resentments, gripes, blame/shame. All of it.  

No matter how challenging the relationship, forgiveness is the one thing that can transform your relationship with your family. You can’t change them, but you can change yourself, including the way you see the situation, think about the situation and feel about the situation.  You can free yourself from the past baggage and reclaim inner peace and happiness.

I encourage you to give yourself this gift.  If you want to forgive, yet there is something standing in your way, what is it?  Drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.

On November 12, I’ll be offering an evening program on this topic at the Sunrise Center in Corte Madera, CA.  Hope to see some of you there! 

Well-Traveled Path

Mountain-PathThis is a terrific article by Nick Polizzi entitled “A Well-Traveled Path to Inner Peace” – too good not to share:

The word below has been hailed in just about every major spiritual text, it is the centerpiece of hundreds of songs (rock, folk, and even opera), and if used properly, it can create almost immediate transformation in your life.

The word is forgiveness.

Over the past month I’ve had the honor of meeting with a few people who miraculously healed themselves of serious illness. In these conversations, 
one word has come up repeatedly as being the secret to their recovery. You guessed it.

We learn about forgiving others when we’re young, but somehow when we get older and more set in our ways, this simple act can become elusive. Life is funny that way, right?  Often when we find ourselves in a life “predicament”, we just need to revisit the basic travel tips that were laid out for us early on.

“To err is human, to forgive divine.” – Alexander Pope

What is actually happening during this godly act? One thing is for sure, we are doing the unthinkable. We are defying every impulse that has led us to associate an individual with pain and suffering. Rather than continuing a tempting pattern, we are hitting the reverse switch and flooding unconditional love and compassion back into the equation.

Unconditional love and compassion. These three power words feel so right, but sometimes it’s hard to find a cut and dried, no B.S. way to work them into our reality. When we’ve made a decision about someone after they’ve broken our trust, it can be very difficult to overturn our initial ruling and do the opposite.

A backdoor approach that helps us get around the ego and be less rigid is a regular forgiveness practice. This is absolutely critical if you are trying to recover from an illness naturally.

Wisdom of the ages

Whether you’re talking to an Amazonian shaman, a bush medicine woman from the Caribbean or a granny healer from North Carolina, they’ll most likely tell you that herbs, prayers, and energy techniques are only part of the healing picture.

My friend Christine, a granny healer from North Carolina, pretty much summed it up last week when we were talking about a few cancer patients she was helping. She is too humble to tell most people this, but Christine has helped a number of folks heal their cancer naturally over the past few decades. Many of them would tell you they owe her their lives.

According to her, “The herbs and other interventions won’t do a lick of good if the patient doesn’t have their life right.  All the natural medicine in the world can’t undo a toxic relationship with another or one with yourself.”

Her first prescription for her patients is a daily forgiveness practice.

“Sometimes we must do the unthinkable if we are to experience the impossible.” 

It is a common shamanic understanding that spiritual and energetic blocks are what lie at the center of disease.  If this is the case, then consider your grudges and resentments to be the bricks and mortar of these walls of inner stagnation. The fastest way to dissolve them and begin recirculating life force is through forgiveness.

The biggest misconception around the term forgive is that this act is mainly benefitting the “offender”. “He insulted me and I was angry, but you know it’s been a long time and he’s learned his lesson, so I guess I’ll forgive him.”  In this context, forgiveness is considered a sacrifice we make to take the moral high road.

But what about the benefit to us, the “offended”, who have been wasting countless hours stewing, fearing, belaboring, plotting, regretting – all sour mental activities that do not lead to a harmonious existence?

Like a rising tide, forgiveness floats all ships, including our own. And we all know someone, whether friend or foe, who is ripe for a pardon.

Forgiving ain’t easy.  Sometimes it can feel darn near impossible. Our rational mind has a set of black and white rules accompanied by some absolute no-fly-zones. When these boundaries are violated, it can be hard for us to lower the drawbridge again.

This is the real work.  No smoke and mirrors or fancy candlelit ceremonies – just you and your truth.

If you are to truly thrive in this life, grudges and resentment have no place in your spiritual or physical organism. There is a reason this is spoken about in every major religion on earth – our health, happiness, and the well being of our cherished loved ones depend on it.

So where to start?

Below is a very simple forgiveness practice that you can try right now.  If it moves you, keep it in your back pocket for regular use.  But most importantly, find some way to integrate forgiveness for yourself and others into your spirit path.  For those of you that already do this actively, a gentle reminder never hurt anyone, now did it? 

A simple forgiveness practice:

  1. Write out on a piece of paper any relationship that immediately comes to mind when you think of forgiveness.  If that doesn’t work, think of the one or two people in your life that you have an unresolved conflict with. I would advise you use a pen and paper for this – it helps to get yourself off the computer screen and really take some space for this.
  2. For each person, write out exactly what it is that created the sense of uneasiness, offense, or negativity.  Be as specific as possible as these thoughts and beliefs are what hold the charge in us.
  3. Feel into the memory: put yourself in that situation once again and remember the pain or discomfort that you experienced from what your “forgivee” did or said. Sometimes looking at a picture of the person for this part is very powerful (Facebook can be a sacred helper here!)
  4. Cultivate empathy: it is much easier to forgive someone when we can imagine what it’s like to be them.  Flip the script and try to imagine what they were feeling, what challenges they were facing, how they were suffering when they committed the act.
(I’ve gotten into this weird habit of over-sympathizing with the other driver when I get cut off in traffic.  I tell myself that I have no idea what kind of day they are having or where they are speeding off to.  Could be the hospital, could be a terrible job they hate…  Might be none of those, but this practice immediately brings in compassion – I’ll take it.)
  1. Repeat this as many times as it takes until you feel the emotional intensity around the scenario begin to ease.  If you begin to feel compassion for the other person, it might be time to pick up the phone, or pull out the stationary and bring conscious closure to this issue.  Whether that means rekindling a friendship, or a peaceful pardon before moving on.
  2. Be patient: real and lasting forgiveness doesn’t happen instantaneously.  It can take time.  This is why an ongoing forgiveness practice like this can be so beneficial.

Polizzi is the Director of the Sacred Science Institute which offers “Healing Knowedge for the Strong of Heart.” Thanks to Lulu Perrault for sending this.


Path of Forgiveness News

October will be a busy month!  These are Eileen’s upcoming events:

October 9 – Helping Clients Forgive – Releasing the Past and Restoring Peace – ACR Conference – Reno, NV 

October 11 – Visit The Path of Forgiveness at Burning Man Decompression – San Francisco, CA

October 15 – Forgiveness as a Tool for Conflict Coaches (Teleseminar)
An Interview with Lorraine Segal, ACR Workplace Section

October 23-25 – Fall Forgiveness Retreat with Michael Gelbart, Mt. Madonna Center – Watsonville, CA


Look At Us Now Mother!

Who among us does not need to forgive one or both of our parents? Forgiving our mothers and fathers, and healing our own core wounds, is essential, foundational work for all of us.

Look At Us Now Mother is an award-winning film in which filmmaker Gayle Kirschenbaum shares her own courageous journey of forgiveness with her mother. Each time this film is shown, it receives rave reviews and more importantly, helps viewers find the impulse to forgive within themselves.  

The Path of Forgiveness is happy to be partnering with Gayle to spread the word about this film and support her mission of helping others forgive and heal. I believe this is a personal documentary that can help millions of people. 

Gayle is currently raising money through a Kickstarter campaign so the film can be widely distributed. She needs the support of those of us who care about forgiveness. I encourage you to watch two short video clips. One explains the Kickstarter campaign and the other is the official trailer for the film.

Please contribute if you can and share this message with others!


Path of Forgiveness News

October will be a busy month!  These are Eileen’s upcoming events:

October 9 – Helping Clients Forgive – Releasing the Past and Restoring Peace – ACR Conference – Reno, NV 

October 11 – Visit The Path of Forgiveness at Burning Man Decompression – San Francisco, CA

October 15 – Forgiveness as a Tool for Conflict Coaches (Teleseminar)
An Interview with Lorraine Segal, ACR Workplace Section

October 23-25 – Fall Forgiveness Retreat with Michael Gelbart, Mt. Madonna Center – Watsonville, CA


Grace & the Trance of Worthiness

Do you believe you deserve grace, that you are worthy of grace?

Mel Villiers recently sent me a thought-provoking article entitled Amazing Grace:  How Unconditional Forgiveness Assists Recovery written by Rita Milios. It focuses on why unconditional forgiveness, and particularly, self-forgiveness, is essential in any type of addiction recovery, because without it, we believe we are underserving of grace:

Understanding that you, too, like everyone else, are entitled to be granted grace – an ability to receive an unmerited favor from your Higher Power to assist you when you cannot assist yourself – this is perhaps the most powerful insight you can gain from a Twelve Step program. In Step Seven it is written that “We would like to be assured that the grace of God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”

 Milios says learning that you are deserving of grace is a turning point:

Coming to believe and accept that you are worthy of grace can be a real turning point in your recovery. Shame, guilt and remorse often hinder the progress of recovering individuals. Forgiveness is recognized as a key factor in working the Steps. Unconditional forgiveness is a deeper, more compassionate forgiveness of self and others that can only come from connecting with your Higher Power and asking for its grace. But when you do, you free yourself from the self-destructive spiral of feeling unworthy and then seeking relief from the pain through the use of drugs or alcohol. If you unconditionally forgive yourself as well as others, you can experience both health and emotional healing.

Clients frequently tell me they do not feel worthy, that they have never felt worthy.  Buddhist teacher Tara Brach call this “the trance of unworthiness” which many of us fall into at an early age.

When unworthiness surfaces in forgiveness work, it is identified as a core wound, the healing of which is pivotal. As healing occurs, positive changes, often seemingly miraculous, soon follow. It makes sense. How can we receive life’s abundant blessings, if we do not believe we are worthy and deserving? 

As long as we believe ourselves to be unworthy, nothing can change. As Mel Villiers says:

The inability to forgive means that we are constantly stuck in the past, running over old ground, and unable to develop as people. This is especially true when we cannot forgive ourselves. If we have done something which we feel is shameful or wrong, we cannot cut ourselves off as we might had someone shamed or wronged us. If we cannot treat ourselves with a degree of compassion then we will forever be re-hashing that old ground, and damaging our psyches in the process. . . . Self-forgiveness and self-compassion are not the same as arrogance and narcissism. They are positive attributes which will help us to become the kind of people we would like to be.

Who Would You Be Without Your Story?

blue butterflyAnytime you find yourself mired in a troubling relationship, it’s useful to examine your role in creating and/or maintaining the situation, even if you are certain the other person is to blame.

To discover your part, look no farther than your own thoughts and beliefs — the story you tell others – and most importantly, yourself – about what happened to you and what it means.

Our stories are powerful beyond measure. They filter what we see, feel and experience. They can imprison us, and they can also set us free.

In our twelve-step forgiveness process, we examine these stories, deconstruct them, and ultimately, rewrite them. It’s in the deconstruction process that we begin to see that our grievance stories – the ones connected to painful relationships and situations – are invariably based on false assumptions and interpretations. Perhaps they were valid at one time, but when held up to the light of day, it becomes abundantly clear that they no longer serve us.

Recently, I asked one of my clients if he was ready to let go of his old story. There was a long pause. His grievance story has threaded through his entire life, from childhood to the present. He’d been working on it for awhile, chipping away at important aspects of it. Yet I sensed something was holding him back. Finally he responded softly: Who will I be without my story?

This was a light-bulb moment for both of us. Our stories – even when based on false assumptions and interpretations – are a part of us. They are known to us, familiar. On some level, they have protected us, enabling us to survive and make sense of difficult circumstances. Letting go of the old story means stepping into the unknown.

Our stories become part of our identity. They don’t define who we are, but they do define who we think we are. As I told my client, the key is to remember your true identity, who you really are.

Yes, the old story has been a familiar cocoon. But forgiveness enables us to transcend the old story, so we can emerge as the glorious butterfly, spreading our wings in the full realization of our potential.


Ram Dass on Forgiveness

Monks on a bridge 641x400Ram Dass is probably best known for his LSD experiments with Timothy Leary at Harvard in the 60s, and as the author of the classic “Be Here Now.” Less known is the fact that he was also my first spiritual teacher. A friend gave me his book, The Only Dance There Is. Then I heard him speaking in Washington D.C. and I was hooked by his sharp wit and brilliant perspectives on life and illusion.

Here are some excerpts of what Ram Dass had to say about forgiveness in an interview entitled Forgiveness – Bridge Between Self and Soul:

[Forgiveness is] a step on a ladder that goes from dualism into non-dualism. Because as you forgive or allow or acknowledge or say “Of course you’re human” or “We all do that” or something, you open your heart again . . . . 

[E]very time you close off something with judgment, it’s as if you take a bit of energy and you lock it away and make it unavailable to you. Until pretty soon you are exhausted. You don’t have any energy, because you are so busy. . . .

I often visualize it as having little doors inside your head. You’re holding a grudge — and so every time you think of that person your heart closes down. It’s as if you’ve got a little room with a guard at it that doesn’t allow you to flow freely. And they’re all the no’s of life — the no, no, no, no, no. . . . And it costs more than it’s worth. Even though you are right, righteousness ultimately starves you to death.

Righteousness is not liberation. It is known as the golden chain. You’re wonderful and you’re absolutely right, but you’re dead. I mean you’re dead to the living spirit. And finally, you want to be free more than you want to be right.

In short, you can either be right or you can be happy. 

Forgiveness Resources

Twenty Seven and A Half Years – An inspiring story sent to me from David Walrath about Gregory Bright, a man who forgave after being imprisoned for 27 1/2 years for crimes he did not commit. Bright says: I couldn’t change the things I had to forgive, but I could change if I forgave. To hold a grudge is self-destruction, but forgiveness is a strength. It’s a process of humbling myself and leaning on the truth, and in all things the truth is far better than a lie. 

The Radical Power of Humility – Lulu Perault shared this lovely article on the power and importance of humility and three important doorways humility can open. Includes this forgiveness prayer, practiced each year on a special holy day by the Jain community: If I have caused you offense in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word or deed, then I seek your forgiveness.


Jack Kornfield on Forgiveness

This is an excellent forgiveness talk given by renown Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. Here are some of the highlights. Quoting Rumi, Kornfield illustrates one of my favorite forgiveness themes, that our greatest pain can be the doorway to great healing:  

Don’t reject your grief and loneliness
Let them seize in you
Like few ingredients can

Kornfield points out that we become very loyal to our stories, yet most of them are reruns! He says we each have an underlying capacity for love and freedom that is untouched by what happens to us. This is our true nature and the shift of identity back to our true nature is the invitation of forgiveness work. Last but not least, he shares this from the Bhagavad Gita:

                      If you want to see the brave,
     look for those who can return love for hatred, 
                       If you want to see the heroic,  
                          look for those who can forgive.


 I encourage you to check out the accompanying article entitled the Ancient Heart of Forgiveness.

Thanks Eric Boehm for sending this.

Forgiveness Resources

New and Improved Forgiveness Challenge – A new Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge starts at the beginning of August.  This online program is free of charge.


Roadmap to Love

A month or so ago I was feeling particularly miserable. I had been working hard on several projects, with little to show for it. My mind supplied all kinds of reasons that added insult to injury: I am a failure. Not good enough. Not worthy. Unlovable. Uggh. I desperately needed to find the exit from my own negative thinking. But how? How do you shift gears when you are stuck inside your own personal hell?

Until we awaken from our habitual patterns, our life experiences are defined by our mind and ego.  Our thoughts, beliefs and stories, which are often quite negative, give us a limited version of who we are, and this becomes our identity. This limited self is the part that suffers, rages, resents, hurts, blames and needs to be right. But the limited self is not who we really are. Who we really are, our true essence, is connected to the infinite and universal lifeforce. 

It became very clear to me that each of us is capable of creating our own personal hell, but we can also create own personal heaven. It requires to awaken from the trance of our negative patterns, to stop identifying with our false self and start identifying with our true self:

1.  Realize that you have slipped back into an old
     pattern of negative thoughts and feelings.

2.  Remember these old patterns, no matter how familiar and
     compelling, are not the truth and do not serve you.

3.  Reconnect with love, your true essence, as quickly as

Roadmap Back to Love
Remember your negative feelings do not define you.
Stop listening to the negative messages.
Spend time in nature.
Take slow deep breaths when you feel wobbly.
Consciously connect to a higher power.
Ask higher power for help, and make space to receive it.
Embrace the parts of yourself that are suffering with  compassion.
Forgive yourself, recognizing you have done the best you can.
Remember where there is pain, there is an opportunity to heal and have more love in your life.
Visualize having the life experience you desire and  feel your gratitude.
Change the scenery.  Do something fun and nurturing. If your mind tells you can’t, or that you don’t have the  time or money, find a creative way to do it anyway.
 Watch how quickly your mood shifts. As you feel yourself once again “in the flow,” continue practicing gratitude!