I just finished the six-week online course on forgiveness given by Iyanla Vanzant and hosted by the Oprah.com website. She is one of the amazing life coaches/spiritual gurus Oprah Winfrey has introduced to a wider audience through her old network TV show and more recently through the OWN network. I have completed my own work on the topic of forgiveness and developed my own forgiveness practice, and have used what I’ve learned to help clients struggling with this same issue. I have a couple of forgiveness meditations I play during life-coaching and/or Reiki healing sessions to help open clients to this topic and to open this door to healing. One of the meditations goes through a series of visualizations and towards the end of the meditation, calls for you to breathe out forgiveness. I was surprised to notice with a number of clients that as soon as they were asked to do this – breathe out forgiveness – they stopped breathing. That their body, mind and spirit locked down their breathing…like they were saying “forgive you, no way, I’m not breathing out forgiveness, forget that, I am holding on with all my might “. When I asked these people after the session was complete whether they were aware they stopped breathing when they were asked to breathe out forgiveness, each and every person was not aware they had stopped breathing. It’s an amazing testament to how tightly and closely we hold our hurts, our stories about what has happened to us in our life, and unforgiveness inside of us. When I saw the opportunity to learn more on this topic through a six-week online course with Iyanla I jumped at the chance, thinking it would be beneficial to use with my clients who really struggle with letting go of their hurts and opening to forgiveness.
My understanding of forgiveness has evolved over time. I can remember reading the Dalai Lama’s book the Wisdom of Forgiveness many years ago and struggling to understand how Tibetan monks could feel compassion and forgiveness for the military personal who harmed them and their fellow monks. I wondered how you get to that place. I later realized that forgiveness had absolutely nothing to do with the people who hurt you – it was all about you. It was not about blaming or being vindicated but about acknowledging, releasing and finding your peace independent of anyone else. As I developed my own forgiveness practice and discovered a healed and neutral state of mind with old hurts, I also came to understand that you really had to be ready to surrender and be tired or sick enough of your story in order to be ready to forgive. That you had to get to that point where you really were so very tired of reliving the past, the hurts, the pain, going back there again and again, and defining yourself by your past and story, and that you were truly willing to surrender and change. Forgiveness work ventures into some uncomfortable territory dealing with an unearthing old feelings, memories, and triggers your ego, so in order to be willing to go there and be in that space you have to be sufficiently motivated by your goal of healing and learning to see your life through different eyes.
With my healing practice, I encounter people who cling strongly to their stories of what happened to them, defining themselves by their wounds and their past, instead of who they currently are. It’s our ego’s way of trying to protect us from similar hurts and taking us out of the present moment and getting us to believe that our past is more important than where we are right now. Of course what is interesting is how despite the seemingly protective nature of this mechanism, we end up repeating the pattern of our hurts over and over again when we hold onto unforgiveness, attracting the same hurts or types of people into our lives, allowing the same unhealthy behaviors into our life, and reliving and re-experiencing the same emotional hurts again and again.
So I embarked on this course believing that this work would be of benefit to me as a healer and life coach when working with my clients. I am a pretty self-aware person and have done quite a bit of forgiveness work and wasn’t at Stage One but of course found I had more uncovering and releasing to do to let some old wounds heal. As someone who has completed previous work and guided clients on this topic, I thought I would share my perspectives on forgiveness after completing this course. I would also like to share some of my favorite messages from this course that may inspire you, a reader looking for more on this topic, or one of my clients who is starting to work on or just struggling with the task of forgiveness.
My Viewpoints on Forgiveness
I have always loved Oprah Winfrey’s definition of forgiveness:
“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.”
That I believe is at the heart of forgiveness. Letting go of the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual anguish and torture of thinking about why did this happen, how could this have happened to me, how would my life have turned out differently if this didn’t happen to me, how could have I prevented this, or why didn’t anyone help me, and so on..”. Those thoughts just deepen the pain we experience.
In the forgiveness course, Iyanla shared the Byron Katie principle that “to deny reality, is to create suffering”. Byron Katie’s book “Loving What Is” helps guide the reader, by sharing many examples we can relate to of how when we project our beliefs and ideas of how people and the world should work or how we were wronged or treated unfairly, we create suffering for ourselves. Instead we can choose to love what is and understand that other people have different values and different ways of viewing situations and the world than we do. What unnecessary struggle and pain we create when we deny who people or situations really are or were . This concept also ties into Oprah’s definition of forgiveness, that to not accept what happened or wish it would have happened differently, just creates suffering….for you. Not for the person or people who hurt you, but for you.
Now forgiveness work is not for the faint of heart. The C.S. Lewis quote above is so true. To do this work you need to be brutally honest with yourself and not deny the reality of what happened in your life, your role in things, your beliefs, judgments, and decisions that led you down your path. If we are just starting this work we may be in denial of what we experienced not wanting to label people in our life as “bad”. Often, we have a strong tendency to grasp tightly onto our hurts and upsets in our life, filled with a fear of letting go of them and also with a fear of facing them head on. We think that if we let go of our upsets that it will lessen or invalidate what we experienced; or, we think that if we are giving in and giving up our feelings and beliefs of being wronged, that we are somehow condoning what a person or people did to us. There is also an internal struggle with our ego – a perceived risk that we will have no idea who we are anymore if we let go of our hurts and upsets because we (our ego) defines ourselves so strongly by them . Why is it that we think by holding onto and defining ourselves by our hurts, waving it like a flag proudly, that it affects or has any impact on the people who hurt us? After they hurt us, they moved on, while we go on to continue with suffering from what happened and re-experience the hurt. We seek outside validation, sharing our story, feeding off of reactions and validation that what happened to us was horrible, gaining sympathy, or resonance. But what if instead you just released your story, took the lessons from it and saw how they molded you into the person you are today, this strong, resilient person (even if you don’t see that) who survived their past, and started living in the present as the you of today – not who you were yesterday. How exciting and freeing that would be to start to embrace life from a point of excitement of not knowing what was around the corner and being delighted rather than scared of that – trusting the Universe has positive things in store for you. What about just starting a new narrative of who you are now and throwing away that old story? Letting go of the negative emotions and energy that weigh you down and starting to feel the positive energy of life and emotions you’ve forgotten. Starting to see yourself in a loving and forgiving light instead of beating yourself up for your self-imposed shortcomings, limitations, or flaws or things you could have done differently.
Forgiveness is clearly not about saying whatever happened to you was okay, acceptable, or right. People experience some horrific things in their life. It’s not about saying that you are alright with the people who hurt or wronged you. It’s about freeing yourself from old beliefs and judgments so you can start to let your wounds heal instead of keeping them open, and reopening them again and again, and experiencing those negative emotions again and again. It’s about seeing you can change by embarking on a healing journey of forgiveness and truly let your past be the past and seeing yourself and others in a new loving light. Starting to unclasp your hands from your story and open to just being present and just being you.
The process of forgiveness followed by Iyanla’s course allows the participant to review the upsets in their life and emotions with them, to forgive others and themselves for their part in the upsets, their judgements, beliefs, and to liberate themselves from their stories. It has a strong spiritual basis, which I love, including content from the Course of Miracles, and connecting with Spirit, shifting your energy, and trusting the Universe and your guides on your healing path. Much thought and effort went into the course content, format, videos and supporting materials provided in the online course. They definitely had some top-notch people working on the content and presentation. Taking the course, I was awed how I could accept the Buddhist concept that a thought is just a thought and can create suffering or eliminate it if you release it, but I never thought of major upsets in my life as simply thoughts that I could choose to let go of. What a liberating concept. I also love that there were six weeks dedicated to this concept and that it wasn’t glossed over. There is online access “forever” for this course, so for those who are just starting to scratch the surface, you could go back again and again and peel those layers of your “onion” (a great analogy for healing) and get more and more out of the process, as you develop and release on your healing path. Another amazing observation I and friends or clients who took the course made is that upsets from totally different facets and times of our life, which seemed absolutely and completely unrelated, created the exact same emotional response – it was the exact same type of upset. Kudos to Iyanla and her team for creating such an invaluable healing tool. I know some of the concepts I’ve learned will be of great benefit to my clients and valuable additions to my daily spiritual routine.
A quote of great truth from the first lesson was that unforgiveness is an act of violence against yourself. That is not an exaggeration. It seems shocking but think about it. What does unforgiveness do to you, your heart, the way you see yourself and the world, and what mind space does it keep you in? Start working on forgiveness if you are holding onto hurts from the past, through a course like this, by reading a book (Iyanla has published a book on this topic), getting a forgiveness-based treatment (like a Reiki ties-that-bind session), or seeing a therapist or life coach to help you work through and release your upsets. This kind of work raises your frequency to a higher level so you can manifest more love, happiness, and peace in your life. You can start simply with just making it a daily practice to forgive those in your life and yourself for little daily annoyances or things that happened in your day so you start to learn that forgiveness really isn’t that hard and let the healing begin.