Forgiveness Class (Part One)

My friend told me about Forgiveness class at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center. We decided to attend, as we both want to learn wisdom of forgiveness. The course consists of 5 sessions – 5 Thursday classes 7-8:30PM.

This is what class description says:

We can make a choice to cultivate forgiveness. It is the act of not throwing someone out of our hearts. Forgiveness is a way to see, understand and let go of the pain, anger, guilt and resentment that we carry from harm that was done to us or by us. Forgiveness cannot change our past but can change the present.

In this practice group we will explore what it means to forgive ourselves, to forgive others and to ask others to forgive us. We will use formal meditation practices on forgiveness, as well as discussion and reflection.

First session was four weeks ago. There were about 12 people in class. We started off with meditation. Some people were sitting on cushions, some – on chairs. I do have difficulty with managing my thoughts- “flying horses”, and as a result – difficulty to focus on the NOW instead of the past or the future.

The instructor showed up and gave us introduction to what is going to happen. She read some definitions and good quotes about forgiveness, like “Forgiveness is releasing your pain from the past” or “Give up your hopes of a better past.” She also made sure that we know when people should not forgive, which means that there are exceptions (ex. if someone is being abused currently, it is important to find safety first). Then there are other stages of dealing with emotions before you get to the forgiveness step. After we all introduced each other, it became clear that all of us in the room were there because it is not easy for us to either forgive or get forgiveness from other people or ourselves. I felt that I’m not alone, but with people who feel my pain.

When we got the exercise of coming up with definitions of what forgiveness is not, I blanked. The same with stories about forgiveness. I just couldn’t think of any examples of forgiveness stories just because it is not the subject I’m savvy about or comfortable with. That is why I’m in that class! I told that I tend to avoid or exclude people from my life when I think they hurt me. But when it was time to share a forgiveness story, my mind dug through the memory closets and was finally able to pull one story about my experience with Men are from Mars, Women from Venus book. At the end of the book there was a section of suggested exercises and I did one which was a Love letter, that I had to write to someone. I intended to write one about my ex-bf or about my sister, but strangely enough I wrote it to my mother, forgiving her for what I held against her for many years and it did release my pain that was still inside me. I realized that her wish for me to be perfect was because she wanted me to be better and more pretty, more clever, more successful than her, but being perfectionist has its consequences. Or leads to excessive self-criticism and feeling that no matter what you do is never good enough. And it finished with a thought that it is Ok tobe imperfect, to make mistakes, it is ok to be you the way you are.

Later in that first session we did another exercise –meditation with envisioning people we have hard time to forgive. I struggled because there was internal resistance to meditating, as I tried to soften about certain people but it was still hard to open my heart. It was shut. I was not upset about it , I just acknowledged that feeling of resistance. But I wanted if not reconcile with them, at least not to hold that resentment about them.

The instructor told us a story about a Cambodian monk. After the massacre of Cameron Rouge, the monk visited village after village and repeated the same statement: “hatred could never be cured with hatred, but only love”. When he was asked how could he find courage and be able to visit so many places and talk to victims to help them heal, he always responded with the same phrase: “I was just making peace with myself.”

Homework: #1.

Practice noticing what stands in the way of forgiveness. Begin to experience in the body how our willingness or unwillingness to forgive feels. Bring a nonjudgmental awareness to any resistance that arises while you practice forgiveness. We do this to see clearly and enable us to experience resistance for what it is. For example, notice how your body is reacting when someone cuts you off.

Later that night I told another story about forgiveness to my friend and was amazed that I do know stories it is just they are buried inside me, as I don’t practice this topic much. But then I thought about someone important who I can’t forgive and I thought that maybe I did hurt that person too, that is why they reacted certain way I couldn’t forgive for more than a year.

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