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How to Forgive Yourself & Others

Bridge to Forgiveness

Forgiving others and ourselves just might be the hardest – and most necessary – gifts to give.

Why is forgiveness important?

When we hold grudges and judgments, it acts like a cancer in our body. It gnaws away at our happiness and holds us back from feeling completely fulfilled. When memories are triggered about someone we resent, it can often send our minds into a tizzy of rehashing the same painful moment over and over again.

If we push it off or shove it down, it inevitably resurfaces. In the wise words of Carl Jung, “What we resist, persists.”

The unhappiest people I know are those that harbor a lot of anger and resentment of others. They’re also the most prone to illness and chronic health conditions. Science today recognizes our mental and emotional states directly affect our physical health.

Who wants to live like that? (Surprisingly, a lot of us. Just look at the news. It’s filled with angry, judgmental people pointing fingers.)

I know from my own personal experience, bitterness and joy do not coexist easily together.

My mother and I had a challenging relationship. She was clinically depressed and when she put pressure on me to play the role of mother in our relationship, I resentfully obliged as the “good daughter.” Later, when she committed suicide, I didn’t want to forgive her for it. I also blamed myself for her death. (Double whammy.)

In my mind, I needed to pay a penance. I felt I deserved to suffer. And suffer I did.

I became involved in unhealthy relationships with men I knew weren’t good for me. Even going so far as to sabotage the beginnings of relationships with good men that would have allowed me to feel the love I was denying myself. At a subconscious level, I think I invited in suffering and pushed away anything that resembled joy.

Of course this all self-perpetuated because the more pain that I endured, the more resentment and anger I grasped onto. The angrier I was at myself for creating and allowing it, the more I invited it in.

It wasn’t until I could accept both her actions and mine, find compassion for each of us, was I then able to forgive. And friends, that is such a precious gift. I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long to figure that out. Therefore, I’m passing my process along to you:

Four (not-so-simple) Steps for Forgiveness:

  1. Acceptance. The first step is to accept that shitty things happen. (Until they don’t.) We don’t have to like it, we don’t have to approve of it, and we don’t have to condone it. We merely have to accept that reality is as it is. We cannot change anyone or anything that’s already happened. Nor do we have to know why it did.
    A wonderful tool for finding acceptance is The Work™ by Byron Katie.
  2. Compassion. Once we accept reality, then we can look for compassion. We try to see from their perspective and try to understand their circumstances. Sometimes shit rolls down hill and folks do the best they can with the manure they’re given. We can’t possibly know all the information that led to the action in question. It’s most likely rooted in their own pain and suffering.

    If you’re looking for compassion toward yourself, it’s helpful to realize and accept that we all make mistakes. It’s part of the human experience. “Do your best until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” ~ Maya Angelou

  3. Is there a reason to keep it? Ask yourself if there’s a stress-free or pain-free reason to keep your grudge. If you can come up with one, ask yourself if that truly is stress or pain-free.
  4. Forgiveness. Offering forgiveness doesn’t mean we are agreeing to more of what happened. It’s simply allowing ourselves to release the anger and resentment that doesn’t serve us, nor change what’s happened. It’s saying to yourself that you’re willing to let the past stay in the past, so that you can move forward into a happier and lighter future. It’s no longer looking for payback or penance.

    Write out, “I forgive (name) for (cause of pain).” Another helpful tool is to add, “I forgive (name) for not being who I wanted them to be.”

If you’ve done the first three steps and the last isn’t coming easily, my hunch is there’s more work to be done in the first two steps. That’s ok. Some pain takes longer to let go, especially if we’ve been holding it for a long time. It might feel foreign without it and that is sometimes uncomfortable territory.

Keep trying. Keep going back through the steps. Eventually you’ll be ready to release it. When you are, the joy that fills in the cracks feels oh-so-delicious!

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If you’re ready to find forgiveness around a huge loss in your life, I invite you to join me and four other Master Coaches at our Bali Healing Retreat from November 26 to December 1, 2019. We’ll be focusing on healing our grief around loss, and forgiveness is a big component of that.

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How to Find Compassion When Judgment Arises

Wolf Picture as reminder

In my office hangs a picture of a wolf. When I was a tween, my mother won first place at the Orange County Fair for this picture. She shot it at a small zoo in Big Bear on a family vacation. It reminds me to be a compassionate teacher.

Wolf packs have a natural hierarchy with an alpha male and female leaders, who are also often parents to the rest of the pack. Each pack member plays an important role within the pack, and if one member becomes injured or dies, it greatly impacts the survival of the pack as a whole. They’re strategic hunters and fierce protectors of each other.

Yet, the alphas are playful and extremely patient teachers. Watching adult wolves play with pups, one would liken them to any domesticated dog. They recognize that to lead, teach and inspire requires a light touch. I try to take the same approach with my coaching.

When we’re compassionate, we see all as one, equals on different parts of the same journey toward peace, joy and freedom. From this perspective, we can understand others from deep within ourselves and as a result, our actions and words come out of love. And we are inspired to be playful in our interactions.

It’s not always that easy to approach every one we come in contact with, with compassion. I, too, can be judgmental when my ego feels wronged or self-righteous. When I see myself as separate from the other, when I don’t have a common connection to link me to empathy and compassion, I drive a wedge between us. That wedge is burdensome and takes away from my work and purpose.

What helps bridge that gap is to become an alpha wolf. Even if I can’t immediately see myself in the other, I know that most often the actions that I perceive as wronging me are merely a misstep by a young pup that is still learning. If they’re caught up their own mind’s fear-chatter, they don’t know what they don’t know yet. And THAT stage of life I remember. That lights my compassion fire.

From that heart-space, I find patience and am inspired to playfully engage them as an alpha wolf, who is ready to lead by example and help them find their place in the pack. Because each of us has a role to play, and each of us is critically important. We wouldn’t be here otherwise.

When you find yourself judging or feeling separate from someone who triggers you, I invite you to also become an alpha wolf. Ask yourself, “How would I engage with this person if they were my child?” My hunch is your word choice and actions would dramatically change. Try coming from that place’s perspective and watch what happens.

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Learning to Trust Myself & My Body

Lizard Brain Reaction

Yesterday, I conducted a workshop on chronic pain and how our bodies communicate to us through physical sensations because they love us.

The irony is, I have a fear of public speaking and my body knows this. The mere thought of speaking to a group of people I don’t know seizes my chest, sweat pours out of my pores and I stop breathing. When I am on a group call, I often write down what I want to say so that I can read it, otherwise my brain can’t find and formulate the words it intended to say.

When I was seventeen, I was on stage for a competition. At the beginning, all I had to do was walk to the microphone and state my name and hometown. That’s it. Sounds easy, right? I thought so, too. No biggie.

Except when I got to the mic, my mind was blank. Completely frozen. I was wordless in a not-so-mindful way. I stared out at a crowd of what felt like 3,000 people.

The audio-engineer turned down the music. He probably thought my voice was too soft to hear over it.

Silence.

Then someone in the crowd yelled, “You can do it!”

I stuttered what I think was my name, didn’t bother with a hometown and ran off the stage.

This memory plagues me anytime I have to speak to any more than three people I don’t know at once.

To add irony to irony (is that a thing?), I’m a Life Coach and I know that it’s all thought-based, lizard-brain, text-book “freeze” response.

I’ve tried EFT tapping, which helped bring it from a 9 to a 5. I’ve done various work on dissolving my thoughts such as “I will freeze again” and “I will sound like a bumbling idiot.” I regularly do Jin Shin Jyutsu finger holds, breathing and guided meditations.

Any new tool I am exposed to, I try. I even had a fellow coach suggest I introduce myself, and begin a relationship with, my Future Self. She was very nice, by the way. Yet, my fear and anxiety was not alleviated. I was still not sleeping and my talk was two days away.

The day before I was to speak, a dear fellow coach suggested we try a different approach, “Let’s envision thawing out your frozen state.”

The visualization meditation helped immensely to alleviate my pre-speech jitters, and in doing so I had the insight that I’m choosing to do the speech despite my fear.

Why did I agree to speak?

Because I believe learning to communicate with your body and to understand its messages is life-changing. Because people who live with chronic pain don’t have to. Because my story, my experience, can help others and that’s worth so much more than my fear!

The morning of my workshop, I received a video in my inbox featuring Dr. Chris Germer, who had also suffered for years from the fear of public speaking. He, too, tried every tool he could find to alleviate it.

Until he realized it wasn’t about fear and anxiety…it was about shame. About feeling worthy. What he needed was self-compassion and to trust himself.

That’s when the light bulbs went on. I had been going about it the wrong way.

I was giving a speech on how much our bodies loves us and supports us. I know from profound experiences that I can trust my body to do what is best for me.

Once I could surrender to the belief that whatever is intended to happen will happen….once I could see myself in my audience…once I could understand our common connection…I believed I was worthy to speak to them. Worthy to share my message that could help them alleviate their pain.

My pre-speech ritual began with grounding and centering, a loving kindness meditation, some EFT tapping, a dose of Jin Shin Jyutsu finger holds, and a surrendering of trust to the moment.

You know what? I didn’t freeze. I had some second-guessing of myself in the beginning, but it moved forward. I found a groove and it flowed. I was myself. For the first time in 21 years it felt natural.

If you fear public speaking, try giving yourself some love, kindness and compassion.

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Forgiveness: A Survival Guide for Suicide Loss

El Calafate Glacier Cave

You’re about to head down a dark, wallowing hole into the icy waters of grief. It’s frigid there and the air is thick and heavy, making it hard to inhale and even harder to swim. This forced slowness enables the process to take the time it needs to.

You’ll wade through a series of pools called Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and an extra for us chosen ones: Guilt. Each one is deeper than the next until you’re treading water in the last pool, which is filled with Shame and Regret.

Swim forward until you feel the rocky bottom and then pull your weary body out on to the pebble beach of Acceptance. Lie there for a moment and catch your breath. Breathe into this surrender.

Once you can breath steadily again, find a rugged stone to hold and join the other travelers on the beach. Share the scariest parts of your story with them and remember to also listen to theirs. This community bond will light a flame in your heart to remind you that you still have one.

Notice when you have worn down the sharp edges of your story stone and it has become smooth. Be careful not to get stuck here. The more you rub it, the deeper the groove and the more it molds to your hand. Although the pity it holds is soft and inviting, there is no warmth in that stone. It is not capable of love.

Now build yourself a fire of Forgiveness.

Understand that you are not responsible for anyone but yourself. Not anyone else’s thoughts, and especially not their actions. You have as much control over others’ journeys as you do on the tide. For as powerful as you are, you are not the moon.

Sink into your inner wisdom that knows there is no amount of penance you can pay, nor level of sustained pain, that will change her decision or the finality of her death. This will be your kindling.

Give yourself what she could not. And then forgive her as well. Notice who else you may be blaming and judging – and forgive them, too. This is your spark.

Now connect to the deepest part of yourself that knows you are Love. Root into that wellspring of Love through Gratitude and Self-compassion and light your fire!

Warm yourself with Gratitude for the people, lessons and the gifts that float into your life on the wind to fan the flames (and they will come). Find Compassion for the younger you that didn’t know what you know now.

You’re ready – Ignite your torch in these flames and come on out!