Forgiveness takes courage and integrity and it is essential to our happiness, health and peace. In the previous two blog articles, we took a close look and reflected on forgiveness of self. We noted that while forgiveness is a process, and a very personal one, we can and must practice it for our own good.
In Part Three of this theme, we tackle what might perhaps be the toughest reflection — forgiving the persons who have hurt or harmed you. Forgiving another takes compassion and wisdom to recognize when one owes a genuine apology. It is highly likely that we ourselves, have hurt others, sometimes knowingly or unknowingly, just as we have been hurt by others. Forgiveness recognizes their dignity and humanity because we recognize our humanity, imperfections and struggles.
The Compost Heap of Forgiveness
Growing a garden takes lots of fertilizer or “manure.” Past incidents of hurts in our lives as caregivers may continue to muddy up our present. Forgiveness can feel impossible at times. We need to “dig through” the ugliness of a situation when we were hurt, dissect it, and let it go. When you forgive, “you are accepting the reality of what happened. You are finding a way to live in a state of resolution with it,” according to Andrea Brandt, Ph.D., MFT.
Forgiveness does not condone the behavior of those who have caused us suffering and pain. It doesn’t mean that you are pardoning or excusing the other’s harmful actions or words. Forgiveness also doesn’t mean that everything is okay now, or that you need to tell the person they are forgiven. You are the one who needs to decide whether or not you want to tell the person that you have forgiven them. The relationship may still need a lot of work to right itself. If the hurt stems from a family member who is not the person living with dementia, professional counseling may be the answer.
A Grieving/Resolution Process
Clinical psychologist and Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield, MD, describes the forgiveness process in his book, The Wise Heart, A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology. He writes, “Practicing forgiveness, we may go through stages of grief, rage, sorrow, fear and confusion.” But he goes on to note, “As we let ourselves feel the pain we still hold, forgiveness comes as a relief, a release for our heart in the end.”
If you are ready now to reflect upon this aspect of forgiveness — the people who have impacted negatively on your life — find a comfortable and quiet place where you will not be disturbed for the next twenty minutes or so.
A Reflection on Forgiving Those Who Hurt You
Take a few minutes to quiet your thoughts and emotions and enter into yourself. Gently close your eyes and focus your awareness on your breathing. Become aware of the peace and timeliness that lies within you.
Recreate as best you can the situation that continues to be a source of pain. As you relive the experience, identify and name what hurts. Accept all the emotions, tensions.
Using “I” messages, share with the offender your version of the incident. Tell the offender the pain you have experienced ever since that incident. As you do so, you are mindful that forgiveness is a state of the heart, and you are sharing from your heart.
Listen to his/her version of the story and how they, too, have suffered. Take this conversation as far as you can, until you literally feel the barriers disintegrating and darkness is replaced by light. Become aware of how you are feeling. Become aware of the release of the tensions and stress.
Now ask yourself these questions:
- Do I want the inability to forgive to define my future, my life?
- What have I learned about the suffering I experienced?
- What have I learned about myself?
- On my journey of forgiveness, have I increased my self-esteem?
- How will I draw on the process of forgiveness to lead a fuller life?
When you feel ready, open your eyes, and write down in your journal what you would like to take away from this reflection time.
I compared the process of cultivating forgiveness to cultivating a garden. It takes constant care and attention. But now, you have the necessary tools to continue making the garden of your heart bloom and thrive! You have experienced your capacity to let go, to release the suffering, the sorrows, the burdens, the betrayals of the past. Instead you have chosen to “grow” the love of self and love of others. My hope is that you now experience a new vitality in your role as caregiver!
I wish you peace, patience, joy, and compassion in your caregiving today and every day!
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I am deeply grateful to Merle Stern, my friend and mentor, for composing this third reflection in the series. If you share the meditation with others, please acknowledge her contribution.
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Dementia trainer and advocate, Teepa Snow, instructs caregivers about important phrases they need to learn when caring for someone with dementia in this brief YouTube video. Take a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=54&v=KKejCymVS2Q.
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To purchase Jack Kornfield’s book, The Wise Heart, A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, you can find it here: https://jackkornfield.com/the-wise-heart-2/.