An Exploration of Forgiveness

Download this text in our Forgiveness Handout

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To Forgive:
(1) to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)
(2) to give up any claim to requital (compensation or retaliation)
(3) to grant relief from debt.


"To forgive is to abandon all hope of a better past."
- author unknown, quoted by Jack Kornfield

Some points about forgiveness:

  • We can’t forgive others, or ourselves, without first opening to the hurt that we experienced or caused.
  • To forgive others, we must first accept the fact that we were hurt. We cannot forgive when we are in a state of fear or denial.
  • To forgive ourselves, we must open to the guilt or shame of hurting others.
  • Forgiveness doesn’t mean accepting bad behavior or resuming a harmful relationship. It’s letting go of the suffering we are holding onto in response to what happened
  • In considering those who have harmed us it’s helpful to remember that their actions are influenced by many factors beyond their control (culture, history, stress, limitations and misunderstandings, etc.) They are responsible for their actions and…the reality of choice and action is complicated.
  • In considering the harm we have caused this expression is helpful: “It’s not my fault, but it is my responsibility.                                                    

Five Steps to Forgiveness:

1)     Opening to the pain – feeling the distress of what happened.

2)    Self-compassion  which has three steps:

a.    Mindfulness: Feeling what we’re feeling with acceptance
b.    Common Humanity: This is a normal part of human life, many people feel this way.
c.     Self-Kindness: What do I need right now? May I be kind to myself.

3)    Wisdom – understanding that the situation wasn’t entirely personal but was also influenced by many factors beyond immediate control of each person.

4)    Raising the Intention to Forgive – “May I begin to forgive myself for what I did.” “May I begin to forgive them for that they did.”

5)    Taking Responsibility – we commit to do our best to learn from each painful situation and not to cause harm.

    Forgiveness Thoughts by Gina Sharp, Meditation Teacher

    Download a teaching on forgiveness by Zen Teacher Norman Fischer

    Forgiveness is not simple. When we have been harmed, hurt, betrayed, abandoned, or abused, forgiveness can often seem to be out of the question. And yet, unless we find some way to forgive, we will hold that hatred and fear in our hearts forever. Imagine what the world would be like without forgiveness. Imagine what it would be like if every one of us carried every single hurt, every single resentment, all the anger that came up, when we felt betrayed. If we just kept that in our hearts and never let it go, it would be unbearable. Without forgiveness, we’re forced to carry the sufferings of the past. As Jack Kornfield says, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.” In that sense, forgiveness is really not about someone’s harmful behavior; it’s about our own relationship with our past. When we begin the work of forgiveness, it is primarily a practice for ourselves.

    Forgiveness does not gloss over what has happened in a superficial way. The practice is not about planting a smile on our face and saying, “It’s okay. I don’t mind.” It’s not a misguided effort to suppress our pain or to ignore it. If you’ve suffered a great injustice, coming to forgiveness may include a long process of grief and outrage and sadness and loss and pain. Forgiveness is a deep process, which is repeated over and over and over again in our hearts. It honors the grief and it honors the betrayal. And in its own time, it ripens into the freedom to truly forgive. And if we look honestly at our own lives, we can see the sorrows and pain that have led to our own wrongdoing. We’re not just victims; sometimes we also need to be forgiven. And in this way we can finally extend forgiveness to ourselves and hold the pain that we have caused in the heart of compassion. Without such mercy we would live in isolation or in exile.

    Forgiveness releases us from the power of fear and allows us to see kindly with a wise heart. First, we need to understand forgiveness: then we learn how it is practiced, and then how we may forgive ourselves and others….The power of forgiveness releases us from the power of fear. Our practice of lovingkindness can be enhanced by our practice of forgiveness, because it allows us to see with kind eyes and to rest in a wise and peaceful heart. In any moment, we can learn to let go of hatred and fear and rest in peace and forgiveness—it’s never, ever too late. But in order to cultivate a truly loving and kind heart, we need to develop the practices that cultivate and strengthen forgiveness and the natural compassion within us. Our ability to forgive allows us to make space for our ability to meet suffering—our suffering as well as the suffering of others—with a kind heart.

    Forgiveness Meditation

    • Forgiveness from others: After settling into the practice, bring to mind a harm you have caused. Be with it, explore the memory and the feelings that are here now as you recall that this happened. Holding in mind those you harmed repeat: “I harmed you. As much as you are willing to, I now ask for your forgiveness.”
    • Forgiveness for others: Now bringing to mind a time another harmed you. Bringing that situation gently to mind, breathe with it and feel the feeling in your body. Repeat to the image of that person: “You harmed me. As much as I can, I now offer my forgiveness.”

    • Forgiveness for yourself: And bringing to mind a way that you tend to harm yourself or a particular incident in which you made harmful choices. Feeling the reality and feeling of this as you repeat to yourself, “I harmed myself. As much as I can, I now offer myself forgiveness.”

    Forgiveness Meditation & Poem

    A forgiveness meditation based on the work of Jack Kornfield and others. To skip the in-class transition Tim offered, Feel free to fast forward to about 4 minutes 30 seconds. Another forgiveness meditation offered by Jack Kornfield is available here.

    The Prayer Before the Prayer

    I want to be willing to forgive

    But I dare not ask for the will to forgive

    In case you give it to me

    And I am not yet ready

    I am not yet ready for my heart to soften

    I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again

    Not yet ready to see that there is humanity in my tormentor’s eyes

    Or that the one who hurt me may also have cried

    I am not yet ready for the journey

    I am not yet interested in the path

    I am at the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness

    Grant me the will to want to forgive

    Grant it to me not yet but soon

    Can I even form the words

    Forgive me?

    Dare I even look?

    Do I dare to see the hurt I have caused:

    I can glimpse all the shattered pieces of that fragile thing

    That soul trying to rise on the broken wings of hope

    But only out of the corner of my eye

    I am afraid of it

    And if I am afraid to see

    How can I not be afraid to say

    Forgive me?

    Is there a place where we can meet?

    You and me

    The place in the middle

    Where we straddle the lines

    Where you are right

    And I am right too

    And both of us are wrong and wronged

    Can we meet there?

    And look for the place where the path begins

    The path that ends when we forgive.

    From The Book of Forgiving: the Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu

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