Alexander Pope aptly pointed out that “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” That is, it is normal to make mistakes, including the type that hurts others. We probably have all made mistakes. And when we did so, we may have dismissed our mistakes with a simple, “Whoops, sorry about that, I’m only human, you know.” Yes, we’re only human; that’s why pencils have erasers. But have you noticed when we are the victim of someone’s mistake, we may become angry and hold it against them? In other words, if we make a mistake, it’s because we’re only human, but if “they” make a mistake, it’s because they’re malicious or just plain stupid! Not rational, is it?
If we catch ourselves becoming angry by someone’s carelessness, why not stop and forgive them? It’s an opportunity to transcend our humanity and act in a divine way. The purpose of forgiveness is not to absolve others, for who are we to judge them? Rather, the purpose is to free ourselves from the toxicity of resentment, animosity, and bitterness. Those who hold a grudge are held hostage by fear, guilt, and anger (ANGER is one letter short of DANGER). It doesn’t make sense to shackle ourselves to negative feelings and limiting beliefs. Isn’t it much better to choose forgiveness, or the path of peace, understanding, and acceptance?
Despite the above comments, are you still finding it difficult to forgive someone you know? If so, read the story of Bobby, for it may help you become aware of the butterfly in the caterpillar, the towering pine in the acorn, and the saint in the sinner.
The Story of Bobby
I was in the Humane Society, in the adoption room for cats. As I peered through the bars of the cage in front of me, I saw vacant, yet beautiful, blue eyes. They belonged to a six-year-old stray cat named Bobby. He had reddish-brown and black stripes and his front paws were enormous, reminding me of a tiger. When I spoke to the attendant about him, she warned me that he did not like to be handled and he should not be adopted by anyone looking for an affectionate cat. “Good grief,” I thought, “who’s going to adopt an unfriendly six-year old cat?” I figured I’d better rescue him from an almost certain death, so I adopted him.
His original owner must have loved him because he was declawed. Not that declawing a cat is a sign of love, but paying for the operation is. Bobby probably escaped from the home of his owner and roamed the streets. One day, however, he was brutally attacked. Someone hacked off most of his tail and smashed his pelvis. Because the stub of his tail made him resemble a bobcat, the attendants at the Humane Society called him, “Bobby.”
His damaged pelvis caused his rear end to come to a point, and instead of walking gracefully, he would hop about. Poor Bobby was traumatized. When he first arrived in his new home, he hid under a bed for a day or so. But hunger pangs finally convinced him to come out from his hiding place. Whenever we picked up the broom to sweep the floor, he fled in terror. It took a long time for him to realize the broom was an instrument to clean the floor, not a weapon to beat him with.
After two years, Bobby was finally secure enough to come of his own accord and jump into my lap. Whenever he would do so, I would gently pet him. However, after a few minutes, he would suddenly bite my arm, drawing blood, and then hop away as quickly as he could. Though the bites were painful and messy, I never did get angry. After all, I understood. Bobby was experiencing a flashback and defending himself the only way a declawed cat could, by biting.
Why am I writing about Bobby? Because many of us, like him, have been injured psychologically to one degree or another. Perceiving an imagined threat, we snap at others. The difference between Bobby and us, however, is that his injuries were clearly visible: a missing tail, pointed rear end, and an inability to walk correctly. Not so with those we meet daily. Their injuries are psychological and hidden from view. As a result, we usually fail to realize their attacks are not due to viciousness, but to pain they have experienced.
So, the next time your boss, spouse, or anyone else unfairly attacks you, don’t get angry. Instead, pause, and imagine it is Bobby biting you. If it were him, you wouldn’t get angry, would you? If we would treat others as well as we would treat Bobby, it would be a much better world. Besides, sometimes WE are Bobby, attacking others for no clear reason. At such a time, let’s hope our victims will recognize us as Bobby and forgive us.
“I can never forgive him for that.”
When Abigail was asked about her father, she wryly said, “I use to miss him, but now my aim is better.” Welcoming the opportunity to vent, she explained how her father cruelly taunted her as a child. She was constantly belittled and ridiculed and made to feel worthless. “I can never forgive him for that.” she went on to add.
But which is more tragic, the alleged maltreatment Abigail experienced as a child or her inability to forgive her dad? She has been holding on to resentment for more than half a century! By refusing to forgive her father, she is insisting on punishing herself. Her anger toward her father is understandable, for hatred is a vulnerable child’s revenge for being intimated.
But Abigail is no longer a child. She can start thinking like an adult by releasing her tight grip on painful childhood memories. Yes, her father may have betrayed her, but today she betrays herself by sucking the life out of herself and ruining her own chance for happiness. How can anger and resentment help us? Aren’t they toxic? For those who refuse to forgive, Confucius issued this grave warning, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
But how do we forgive others for the pain they have caused us? No one taught us how in school. Besides, although there are many logical arguments for forgiveness, logic has little power to defeat emotional beliefs. It would help if we could recognize that although we cannot change the past, we can change our attitude toward it. But this too is a logical argument, so there is little likelihood of it healing an extremely painful past. Applying a sprinkling of logic to an emotionally painful past is like applying a small band aid to third-degree burns.
Does that mean there is no hope for recovery? Not at all. In the last 30 years, new and powerful tools have emerged that have made personal transformation easier than ever. Standing in the forefront is a tool for change that was jointly developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder and is known as Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).
There is a plethora of information on NLP on the Internet and scores of books on the subject. If you wish to explore the subject further, a great place to start is with Harry Alder and Beryl Heather’s “NLP IN 21 DAYS, A Complete Introduction and Training Program.”
NLP has given birth to many effective techniques for change. NLP practitioners refer to these techniques or tools as applications. I will introduce one such application for the sake of Abigail and others finding it difficult to let go of the past. I call this application “Overwriting Your Past.”
If you have computer experience, you may have tried to save a new file with the same name as an older file. When trying to do so, you will usually be warned that if you continue, the new file will overwrite the old one. That is, the new file will replace the old one, and the old one will be erased from the computer’s memory.
Isn’t our brain a computer? Aren’t our memories files? Why not overwrite painful memories (files)? To practice the “Overwriting Your Past” application, we first have to place ourselves in the alpha state (a deep state of relaxation). Here’s how to enter the alpha state:
1. Find a place where you will not be disturbed. Shake out body tension. Be seated and get as comfortable as possible. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths.
2. Slowly inhale and imagine the number three flashing three times as you slowly breathe out. Repeat this for number two (see it flashing three times as you slowly exhale). Next, repeat this for number one.
3. Imagine sitting before a black curtain with a bowl of white numbers (1 ~ 10) at your side. Reach into the bowl, take out number one, stick it onto the curtain, and then remove it. Repeat this with number two, continuing until you have done all ten numbers.
Steps 1 ~ 3 remove your thoughts from the cares of the day, help you enter a relaxed state (alpha), and prepare your mind to focus on the “Overwriting Your Past” exercise. At this point you will be prepared for the next step.
4. In your mind’s eye or imagination, relive the painful memory. Turn it into a movie. Watch it from beginning to end.
5. Now that it is a movie, play it in reverse. Try it in slow motion and fast rewind.
6. Now play it in fast-forward. Notice how it takes on the almost comical appearance of an old silent film.
7. Add music to your movie and change the scene to a carnival or Mardi Gras atmosphere. Watch it in fast-forward and reverse.
8. Add props. Do you remember those funny plastic eyeglasses with huge eyebrows and a huge nose? Place one on the antagonist in your movie (in Abigail’s case, she would see her father wearing these ridiculous eyeglasses as he belittles her). Dress the antagonist in an outrageous costume (perhaps as a clown). Watch this new version of your movie in forward and reverse. Tinker with the speed if you wish.
9. Add character voices to your movie. Change the lips of your antagonist to the bill of a duck and give him or her a Donald or Daffy Duck voice. Watch your new movie in forward and reverse. Give the villain of your movie any other absurd voice you can think of. Watch and enjoy!
As you practice the “Overwriting Your Past” application, you will find that your original painful experience will slowly be transformed into something funny. If not funny, something so ridiculous that it is powerless to harm you.
Practice this application for 30 minutes a day for as long as needed, which should be no longer than two or three weeks. Thirty minutes a day for 21 days works out to just ten and a half hours. That’s less than half a day to end a problem that plagued Abigail for more than 50 years! How powerful is this application? If all you do is read about it, it is powerless to help. But if you follow the steps and apply it to your life, like other NLP tools, it is life transformational.
Do you, like Abigail, have a disturbing memory that haunts you and holds you back from enjoying the limitless freedom and happiness you deserve? If so, why not rewrite your memory of it? Why not overwrite your past? Why not set yourself free? After all, all you have to lose is the chain that is holding you back.
Despite the usefulness and power of the “Overwrite Your Past” application, it is not always the best approach for everyone. After all, even in conventional and integrative medicine, patients respond differently to the same form of treatment. So, the more weapons in your arsenal or arrows in your quiver, the greater your likelihood of success. With that thought in mind, here are more techniques to cleanse you from the toxicity of holding a grudge. I’ll divide the techniques into three groups: Compassionate, Psychological, and Spiritual.
a) The Deathbed Visualization. Buddha asked, if you realize everyone will die, how can you treat them cruelly? With that idea in mind, Buddhist monks practice a ‘Deathbed Visualization.’ That is, if they are the object of cruelty, they imagine the perpetrator on his or her deathbed. Such an image evokes compassion rather than anger. Don’t those who are drowning flail about wildly? They don’t wish to drown their rescuers; their wild behavior is caused by their desperate attempts to survive. So it is with those who are cruel to us. They are on their deathbed. Confused, they are drowning in the sea of life, wildly flailing about, wildly striking out, desperately trying to survive in the only way they know how. With this realization, how can we be angry with them? How can we refuse to forgive them?
b) The Loving Kindness Meditation. One of the best ways to cultivate forgiveness is through the Buddhist Loving Kindness Meditation. Fortunately, there is much information dealing with this subject on the Internet. For simple instructions on how to perform this meditation, click here. To listen to an example, play the audio file of a Loving Kindness Mediation that is here.
a) Understanding the Cause of Pain. A kicked dog bites not because it is vicious, but because it is defending itself. Similarly, most of the people who act cruelly do so not because they are mean-spirited, but because, like the dog, they have been injured in the past and remain in emotional pain. Whenever we have to bear the brunt of a cruel remark, it helps to ask ourselves, “What could have happened to make that person act that way?” By reminding ourselves that cruelty flows from pain, it becomes far easier to forgive.
b) People Just Do Their Best under the Circumstances. We are not perfect. Sometimes we act stupidly and hurt others. Not because we’re bad, but because we do the best we can at any particular time. If we cannot control our own behavior, how can we become offended by someone who is guilty of the same offense? Here’s a good habit to get into: whenever someone offends you, in your mind state the offense and add the phase “just like me.” For example, if someone is upsetting you because they are hogging the conversation and not giving you a chance to speak, rather than getting upset, say to yourself, “They are hogging the conversation and not giving others a chance to speak… just like me.”
You see, the plain truth is what we don’t like about others is what we don’t like about ourselves. But because we don’t like to admit our faults (even if it is only to our self), we project them on others. Take advantage of this fact by using the world as a mirror for self-improvement. In other words, when you don’t like the behavior of others, repeat the “…just like me.” sentence in your mind, and in your heart thank them for pointing out an area that you can improve on.
c) Understand the Cause of Your Pain Is Not the External World, but Your Internal World. Most of us are somewhat fragmented. It is almost like having multiple personalities. There is the person we REALLY are, the person we THINK we are, and the person we PRETEND to be. You can learn more about this here. Also, for a detailed look at our fragmented, many selves and how to heal or integrate them, see: The Missing Piece, Solving the Puzzle of Self, by Claudia Black, Ph.D. and Leslie Drozd. By learning how to forgive ourselves, we will become well equipped to forgive others.
d) Hypnosis. Another tool employed by NLP Practitioners is hypnosis. If you’re looking for a good, FREE, software package that will hypnotize you, give you hypnotic suggestions (that you can edit or create), and wake you up, look no further than Virtual Hypnotist. You can learn all about it and download it here. You can use self-hypnosis to improve yourself in all areas of life. But before embarking on an auto-hypnosis odyssey, be sure to study the basics. One book that will give you a solid and comprehensive view of hypnosis is SELF-HYPNOSIS for the Life You Want by Charles E. Henderson, Ph.D.
a) Acceptance. The main teaching of Buddhism and Taoism is acceptance. That is, we accept what cannot be changed. No complaints, no whining, no struggle. On the contrary, we embrace what is and “go with the flow.” If we unconditionally accept everyone we deal with, there will be no need for forgiveness. What’s more, when we accept life, rather than fight against it, we will not experience frustration and bitterness.
b) Transcendence. The spiritual path is one of transcendence. That is, we seek to become more than we are, greater than we are, nobler than we are. What better way to uplift ourselves and change desperation into inspiration than by forgiveness? For as Edwin Hubbel Chapin, “Never does the human soul appear so strong and noble as when it forgoes revenge and dares to forgive an injury.”
Consider also the following words found in Hindu scripture (the Mahabharata), “Forgiveness subdues all in this world; what is there that forgiveness cannot achieve? What can a wicked person do unto him who carries the sabre (saber) of forgiveness in his hand? Fire falling on the grassless ground is extinguished of itself. An unforgiving individual defiles himself with many enormities. Righteousness is the one highest good; and forgiveness is the one supreme peace; knowledge is one supreme contentment; and benevolence, one sole happiness.”
I believe one of the most valuable gifts we can give is the gift of forgiveness. You see, forgiving is for giving. When we forgive, we become God-like. And how does God forgive? It is described in the Sunni Islamic holy book, Mishkat Al-Masabih, “Whoever approaches Me walking, I will come to him running; and he who meets Me with sins equivalent to the whole world, I will greet him with forgiveness equal to it.” God’s forgiveness, then, is unconditional and unlimited.
In the same vein, Peter asked Christ how many times he should forgive someone who injured him. “Until seven times?” asked Peter. “I don’t tell you until seven times”, said Jesus, “but until seventy times seven.” Of course, by that Christ didn’t mean that our forgiveness should be limited to 490 times, but that it should be unlimited.
In Hindu Scripture, the message is the same: “One should forgive under any injury. It hath been said that the continuation of the species is due to man’s being forgiving. Forgiveness is holiness; by forgiveness the universe is held together. Forgiveness is the might of the mighty; forgiveness is sacrifice; forgiveness is quiet of mind. Forgiveness and gentleness are the qualities of the Self-possessed. They represent eternal virtue.” (Mahabharata)
Granted, as mere mortals, it is difficult to change from someone who is always bickering, squabbling, and arguing to someone who forgives ‘until seventy times seven.’ Yet, with a little effort and some baby steps, we can make progress. We can start by changing our focus from the hurtful acts of others to their kindness. No one is completely bad or good and we can choose which area to focus on. With practice, we can learn to stop blaming, condemning, and punishing others.
As we forgive others, we realize that we are decent after all and grow to forgive ourselves. On this subject, Anna Patty Duke Pearce has this to say, “It’s toughest to forgive ourselves. So it’s probably best to start with other people. It’s almost like peeling an onion. Layer after layer, forgiving others, you really do get to the point where you can forgive yourself.”
Perhaps the quickest way to learn how to forgive is by studying human nature. For when we understand why people misbehave, it becomes easy to forgive them. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” And what is true for others, is true for us. In other words, forgiveness is also the act of recognizing we are like others.
Tom asked, “Have you forgiven your kidnapper?”
“No,” Mary replied, “I can never forgive him for keeping me captive for five years.”
“As long as that is so,” Tom answered, “you will remain a prisoner.”
Although Mary was rescued by the police several years ago, she remains in prison, shackled by anger, resentment, and bitterness. Does that make sense? Forgiveness sets one free. It is a gift we give ourselves. When we deny forgiveness to others, we deny ourselves the capacity to love. And we deny ourselves of the healing and peace that accompanies love. To remain bitter is to remain twisted, tormented, tortured and in a state of dis-ease. Besides, when we refuse to forgive others, we are simply giving them power over our lives and lose control over our well-being.
It has long been shown that because of the mind/body connection, negative emotions cause stress, which wreaks havoc on the body and are a leading cause of disease. For more on this topic, click here. A leading proponent of mind/body medicine is Doctor Gerald (Jerry) G. Jampolsky, who has said that, “FORGIVENESS is the way to true health and happiness.”
Doctor Jampolsky founded the first Center for Attitudinal Healing in Tiburon, California. There are now 120 such centers across the United States as well as in over 30 countries. During an interview of Dr. Jampolsky and is wife Diane V. Cirincione, Ph.D., they had this to say: “Forgiveness is the key to happiness, the key to peace of mind. Unfortunately, most people miss the real point of forgiveness. It’s not enough to forgive someone for having done something you disagreed with. You have to go much deeper than that. You’ve got to forgive yourself for your misconception of that person ─ for judging that person and not seeing them as a loving human being. And that relieves guilt.” (Diane V. Cirincione, Ph.D.)
“Letting go of judgement really takes a shift in perspective. There are 360 degrees of everything that exists on this planet. So whether you’re looking at a flower or a human being, there are 360 different ways to view it. Unless you’ve explored every angle, there’s no way you can totally know that object or person. And without knowing everything about someone, you can’t possibly understand the reasons for his actions. So why not be open to that fact? Why waste your energy judging?” (Gerald G. Jampolsky, M.D)
Once again quoting Doctor Jampolsky, “Now is the only time there is, and each instant is FOR GIVING.” So, what are you going to do about it? This last quote was taken from his fifth principle of attitudinal healing. You can find his 12 principles here.
Forgiveness: The Greatest Healer of All by Gerald G. Jampolsky.
Peace, Love & Healing, Bodymind Communication & the Path to Self-Healing: An Exploration By Bernie S. Siegel, M.D
How to Live 365 Days a Year by John A. Schindler, M.D.
The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World By Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
Sammy Rangel: The power of forgiveness
John Perry Barlow: Love Forgives Everything
Lee Vu: The power of forgiveness
Megan Feldman: Forgiveness in an unforgiving world
Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counselors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi. This article cannot be re-published without permission.