We talk so much about forgiveness, and yet we all have different ideas about what it actually means. We want to know how to forgive, but it can be hard to practice something that we don’t really understand. 

Many of us struggle with the act of forgiveness, whether it’s forgiving family members, friends, strangers or ourselves (often a tough one). Questions may arise around how to forgive or even where to start. In a time of grief, how do you forgive people who have wronged you? Should you even be thinking of forgiving? What about your anger, fear, and sorrow, how do you move forward? These are all valid and difficult questions, but only you can answer them.

You may have misunderstandings about forgiveness that initially lead you to reject it as an option. It is often mistakenly thought that if you practice forgiveness you are somehow accepting or pardoning an act that is itself unforgivable.

Closely aligned with this is the belief that if you forgive or allow others to forgive, justice will be abandoned. Forgiveness is not about giving up, surrendering to defeat or being weak, its about letting go of feelings that may be harming you further.

Forgiveness can be understood as a spiritual practice and has been taught by many spiritual teachers over time. Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or persons who have harmed you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. Forgiveness involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings, empowering you to recognise the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you, enabling you to heal and move on with your life.

There is a well known Tibetan story about two monks who encounter each other some years after being released from prison where they had been tortured by their captors. "Have you forgiven them?" asks the first. "I will never forgive them! Never!" replies the second. "Well, I guess they still have you in prison, don't they?" the first says.

Practicing forgiveness is about liberating your own feelings, letting go of anger, fear and resentment and gradually working towards peace. Holding on to negative emotions can cloud your judgement, reducing your ability to respond to life events. It can dampen your spirit by shifting your attention from those whom you care for, to those whom you disdain.

Forgiveness can be hard work. , because whatever has occasioned the need for forgiveness has caused some form of pain, loss and confusion. The power of forgiveness is that it benefits you, empowers you, releases you.

Let go.

The spiritual practice of forgiveness, along with compassion and love, is the most powerful ground you can prepare for the future well being of yourself and the next generation.

It is possible to cultivate forgiveness through meditation. Below is a three part forgiveness practice.

1/ Start with asking forgiveness of all those you may have harmed, through thoughts, words, or actions.

2/ Then offer forgiveness, for any harm others have caused you through their thoughts, words and actions.

3/ Finally, offer forgiveness to yourself, for any harm you have done to yourself. These phrases are repeated at least 3-4 times, or as much as you feel comfortable with.

When you feel ready, moving on to loving-kindness practice:

Loving Kindness meditation:

Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, where you won’t be disturbed. Close your eyes, or soften your gaze. Begin to deepen your breath. Acknowledge the love that you feel in your heart for yourself, knowing that you are ok just the way you are. Visualise a place where you feel happy, maybe a favourite armchair, maybe lying on the grass feeling the sun on your face, whatever comes to mind. Begin to say the meditation below (quietly or out loud). Repeating as often as feels good for you, meditating on each sentence as you say it.

“May I be happy”

“May I be peaceful”

“May I be free from pain”

“May I be healthy and strong”

Loving Kindness for a loved one.

Imagine that a person you love is with you. Really feel their presence. Extend your feeling of loving kindness, and gratitude towards them. Repeat the words,

“May you be happy”

“May you be peaceful

“May you be free from pain”

“May you be peaceful”

“May you be healthy and strong”

After extending the feelings of loving kindness towards yourself and a loved you can extend it further. This time maybe think of a colleague or someone you see often but don’t know there name. Repeat the loving kindness meditation:

“May you be happy”

“May you be peaceful

“May you be free from pain”

“May you be peaceful”

“May you be healthy and strong”

The tough one, think of a person with whom you have a difficult relationship or just don’t get on with, repeat the meditation for them.

“May you be happy”

“May you be peaceful

“May you be free from pain”

“May you be peaceful”

“May you be healthy and strong”

Lastly try to think of the world as a whole, focus on extending and expanding the love in our heart and connect with all the beings.

To send everyone the message of loving-kindness and spread peace around, repeat the following phrases in your mind:

“May everyone feel happy”

“May everyone be peaceful”

“May everyone’s heart be filled with love”

“May everyone be free from pain”

When you feel your meditation is complete, take a few deep breaths

and gently blink open your eyes. Take a few minutes to enjoy the wonderful feelings of peace and positivity that you have just generated.

Take your time, be kind to yourself, moving towards forgiveness, letting go and peace.