To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness —Robert Muller

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One of the key things that holds many people back is their inability to forgive: to forgive themselves, parents, children, other family members, former employers, etc. Often, people hold onto long-term, festering, and sometimes overblown ills, errors, and “sins.” This is analogous to trying to climb a hill, possibly very steep, and being weighed down with tons of baggage. Why not seek an alternative to this situation?

Where does forgiveness start? I have learned that it must start with oneself. So think hard about your life so far, and systematically examine the ups and downs, including your relationships with each and every person of significance in your life. Go back as far as you can remember. Write down all the contacts and encounters and situations along your life journey.

Then think carefully about whether you are carrying any baggage from each situation for which you blame yourself. Whatever you uncover, resolve to forgive yourself. Whatever happened and whatever role you played, keep in mind that it was:

  1.  In the past
  2. Likely overblown in your mind
  3. A learning and growing opportunity

Unless you can learn to forgive yourself, you will be blocked in the progress you can make in your own life.

I learned that I needed to forgive myself for not being as good a spouse as I aspired to be; for not being a better parent and more available when our children were younger; for being too strict with the children when they were younger; for not achieving the financial targets I had set for myself within aggressive time frames; for not spending as much time as I would have liked with my parents; for not being as good a brother as possible to my sister (with whom I have had a tumultuous relationship, but whom I love very deeply).

I resolved to put all this behind me. How, you ask?

Well, in each case, I talked things over with the other person, shared what I needed to forgive myself for, and asked for their forgiveness. The sense of love and closure that I was quickly able to apply to all these situations removed the baggage I was carrying.

Was it tough? You bet. Was it worth it? You bet, for I ended up with much stronger relationships.

Forgiveness is an essential part of living life to the fullest; in so doing, we actually help ourselves as much as those we are forgiving.

But what if the person is no longer accessible to you, or if the person has passed away in the meantime? Then have an imaginary conversation with them; know that most people are very forgiving, and visualize them forgiving you. But put closure to such situations, or they will weigh you down

One of the most powerful examples of forgiveness comes from the Dalai Lama, in an interview with Victor Chan in the Wisdom of Forgiveness. “So being able to forgive your enemies can make a difference to one’s spiritual progress?” Victor Chan asked the Dalai Lama. “Yes, yes, there is no doubt,” he replied. “It’s crucial. It’s one of the most important things. It can change one’s life. To reduce hatred and other destructive emotions, you must develop their opposites—compassion and kindness. If you have strong compassion, strong respect for others, then forgiveness is much easier. Mainly for this reason: I do not want to harm another. Forgiveness allows you to be in touch with these positive emotions. This will help with spiritual development. … I pay special attention to the Chinese—especially those doing terrible things to the Tibetans. … As I meditate, I breathe in all their poisons—hatred, fear, cruelty. Then I breathe out. And I let all the good things come out, like compassion, forgiveness. I take inside my body all these bad things. Then I replace poisons with fresh air. Giving and taking. I take care not to blame—I don’t blame the Chinese and I don’t blame myself. The meditation is very effective, useful to reduce hatred, useful to cultivate forgiveness.”

So think again about whom you need to forgive in order to move on with your life, and then just go ahead and do so consciously, in whatever way makes the most sense to you.