edited: Sunday, September 25, 2005
By Philip Shapiro
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Posted: Friday, September 23, 2005
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A chapter from Dr. Phil Shapiro's book, Healing Power, Ten Steps to Pain Management and Spiritual Evolution
The Peace Medicine
The quality of mercy is not strain’d;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless’ d:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest;
The throned monarch better than his crown…
It is an attribute to God Himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God
When mercy seasons justice.
Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
One of the greatest teaching acts in history is the crucified Jesus Christ forgiving his tormentors, “for they know not what they do.” It was one thing for Christ to preach Love for all, including enemies, but quite another for him to demonstrate mercy while experiencing exquisite agony at the hand of those enemies. The forgiving Christ on the cross is the ultimate symbol of the healing power of compassion and understanding. While suffering unimaginable pain, he expressed selfless sympathy for his adversaries. This supreme act of unconditional forgiveness, arguably the most difficult aspect of unconditional Love, is beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. Nevertheless, we can learn how to forgive on a smaller scale and build from there.
All of us suffer the provocations of other people, and each of us has acted poorly towards others. On a small scale, we are confronted daily with minor incidents: disagreement, misunderstanding, or frank rudeness. And most of us at one time or another experience major problems from physical, mental, or sexual violence, infidelity, betrayal, rejection, abandonment, and unjust treatment.
Our natural reaction when provoked is anger and fear. These emotions are part of the fight or flight response, a built-in survival mechanism. Anger and fear are good defenses, but difficult emotions to manage. They seem to have a life of their own. Instead of intelligently guiding us to protection and safety, these feelings often become the problem. They stick to us, feed on themselves, and infiltrate our identity in counterproductive ways.
Anger smolders as resentment or expands into all-consuming rage. Unresolved anger stays in the body causing health problems, fatigue, and depression. When it becomes a tool for vengeance and punishment, it leads to escalating cycles of violence and the perpetuation of danger. Fear spirals into painful panic attacks or paranoia. In addition, painful memories and replays of traumatic events often dominate our thoughts. To rid ourselves of the pain, we may turn to self-destructive behaviors such as promiscuity or addiction. Some of us become abusive ourselves, passing our pain along to others. It seems like the wrongdoer injects us with a painful toxin, and we make it worse by responding with our own toxic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. There appears to be no remedy.
At some point, however, we begin to realize that we are suffering not only from the original trauma, but also from our own reactions. Though we cannot control what has happened to us, we can control our response. Forgiveness, a spiritual practice taught by the great religious traditions, provides us with the antidote to the poisonous effects of the original trauma and our own toxic reactions.
Forgiveness transforms anger and resentment into understanding, compassion, and loving kindness. Forgiveness, an aspect of the soul and God and an expression of unconditional Love, is itself unconditional. It is applicable to any degree of offense or abuse.
The main reason to forgive is to rid ourselves of recycled pain resulting from the original trauma, so that we can reclaim peace of mind and enjoy life. Without forgiveness, we may stay locked up in our own emotional prison indefinitely, thus perpetuating the original insult of the wrongdoer. Fortunately, we have the power to neutralize the toxins injected by others with the medication of forgiveness. When we choose forgiveness, we give ourselves a precious gift: the return of our peace of mind.
Forgiveness does not imply weakness or passivity, nor do we deny or minimize what has happened. An evil action remains what it is: terrible, repulsive, or simply obnoxious. We do not tolerate or condone injustice, and we hold people accountable for their actions. We should not trust the wrongdoer or remain in dangerous situations. Forgiveness is managing our inner life while taking action for safety, protection, and justice in the outer world. While we heal and integrate traumatic memories inside, we take corrective action outside.
Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Reconciliation is the repair of and return to relationship with the wrongdoer. Forgiveness is the healing of the self without involving the offender. We can gain the inner peace of forgiveness without reconciliation. We cannot reconcile without some degree of forgiveness. Just as forgiveness is a choice, so is reconciliation. We do not have to reconcile.
Forgiveness is a powerful healer, greater than anger or even murderous rage. It soothes and quiets other emotions, including depression, anxiety, shame, and guilt. Forgiveness nullifies the noxious power of the offender and releases us from the prison of past trauma and our own toxic emotions. When we bathe our cells, tissues, and organs with the peace-medicine of forgiveness, we reap the benefits of the relaxation response, and our healing power expands. When we forgive, we gain strength, courage, compassion, and joy, our relationships improve, and we become more skillful at solving our problems.
Despite these benefits, forgiveness is controversial. Religions and individuals vary in their approach; there is no one correct way to deal with it. Each person must choose to forgive or not, a choice involving complex, intimate questions. Some choose not to forgive. This decision should be respected. Forgiveness is not for everybody.
Those who choose to forgive will need a process; simply intending to forgive is not enough. We need to learn how to swim upstream, against the torrent of emotions which demand revenge. This very difficult spiritual task requires strength, courage, and skill, since it is much easier to respond in kind when mistreated. Following is a ten-step method designed to guide the reader through a process of forgiveness. This technique can help us manage small, daily challenges as well as major life crises.
Before beginning, please be aware that the forgiveness process is not without risk. The process may release intense emotions that become overwhelming. If this occurs, stop the process, take a break, and engage in pleasant, comforting activities alone or with friends. Then return to your forgiveness work. If your pain is severe and unrelenting, you may need to consult with a mental health or spiritual counselor. Generally, the criteria for seeking professional consultation are a loss of sleep or appetite, an inability to complete daily tasks, thoughts of harming yourself or others, or any symptom of concern.
A METHOD FOR FORGIVENESS
2. Let the story unfold
3. Spiritualize the story
10. The forgiving character
When provoked or violated, we need to take the necessary external corrective action for self-defense and protection. The focus is on safety for our loved ones and ourselves. If the abuser is still present, we may need separation and an order of protection. If a crime is involved, we need to press charges and seek justice. When we are physically safe, we can retreat for the extended inner work of forgiving.
2. LET THE STORY UNFOLD
Remember, emotions are intelligent messengers carrying information about our problems and solutions. We can ride the waves of anger, depression, fear, guilt, and shame until they dissipate. If we surrender to the pain, we get the necessary lessons, solve our problems, cultivate spiritual qualities, and move on. Initially the process involves letting the story unfold.
The first step is to remember the facts of the event. Then experience and feel the emotions associated with the event. We should not be surprised to find multiple layers of emotional pain requiring weeks, months, or years of work. There are deep pockets of hidden emotion that block the flow of healing energy.
It takes time to remove all of the debris. We need to accept and absorb the pain as it comes. We must work our way through the many layers of anger, one at a time. The process may seem finished when more anger appears, years later. Process whatever emotions arise until there are none left. Because of intense pain, you may tend to avoid some, moving through the process too quickly. Take your time. Do not rush. Let the story unfold completely.
To let the story unfold, let each emotion surface and speak its truth, whatever that might be. Emotions seek understanding and validation, not value judgments. If we allow our emotions to speak freely at this stage, we will often hear a story about injustice, unfairness, loss, humiliation, insecurity, and revenge. There may be questions about good and evil, why we suffer, and the role of God in the story.
The value of letting the story unfold freely is that we get our emotions to move out of their hiding places in the body and the subconscious. However, if we stop at this stage, we recycle a story based on self-righteous anger, smoldering resentment, and vengeful fantasy. Unless we give the story higher meaning, we may remain locked up in the prison of our own painful emotions indefinitely.
The transition to the next stage, spiritualizing the story, is difficult. In the face of severe anger, the idea of adding anything positive to the story such as understanding or compassion for the wrongdoer seems ridiculous. When anger is very strong, we may have to wait before proceeding to the next stage.
When you are ready, make a firm commitment to the process of forgiveness. Stop telling your story to other people, to reduce some of its momentum, and begin working steps 3-7. As you work through these steps, you may experience additional turbulence, swimming as you are against the current of your raging emotions. Take your time and pace yourself. If your reaction is too disturbing, you may not be ready to proceed.
3. SPIRITUALIZE THE STORY
We can continue to tell ourselves a story driven by hate, pain, and despair, but then we remain victims of the abuser and suffer unnecessarily. To mobilize ourselves out of the position of victim, we transform anger into peace and strength by spiritualizing the story. Spiritualizing the story includes understanding the offender and separating the soul of the offender from their bad behavior.
To understand the offender, we can look at the developmental causes and conditions that led to the hurtful act. Sometimes, it is not clear why the wrongdoer acted out. Often, however, we find offenders are deeply troubled victims of neglect, abandonment, and abuse themselves. There is a lack of Love, moral guidance, education, meaningful employment, and self-knowledge. Although this does not excise wrongdoing, it helps us understand and respect the problems
confronting the offender.
Some actions are so barbaric, however, that no degree of understanding can neutralize our outrage and disgust. In these circumstances, we can still separate the soul from the evil action to realize our common humanity. On the spiritual plane, we are all the same: human beings with a soul. We can maintain this vision by seeing the good in everyone, even when it is not immediately apparent.
Looking at the perpetrator’s history and separating the soul from the wrongful behavior lay the groundwork for a gradual shift from anger to respect and compassion. This transition takes time. It is a difficult part of the process. Anger, fear, and esentment are polar opposites of compassion, Love, and kindness. These emotions fight with each other. The experience can be tumultuous and overwhelming. It is easy to get lost and quit. For additional help with this difficult process, we can affirm, visualize, and meditate. With these techniques, we gain access to a wider pool of healing energy.
Forgiveness affirmations bring us into alignment with the healing power of unconditional Love. Practice the following or similar affirmations no matter what others do. Eventually, these thoughts become your reality.
• Everyone is a child of the same Father/Mother God.
• ________ is a child of God, equal in Her sight.
• I see the humanity and soul of _______.
• I drink the peace-medication of forgiveness.
• I drink at the fountain of understanding and compassion.
• I establish myself as a center of understanding and compassion.
• Understanding and compassion radiate throughout my entire being.
• Love and kindness fill my body-temple and radiate to all beings.
• I see the beauty and goodness of every soul.
• I am concerned for others as I am for myself.
• The soul remains uncorrupted behind our mistakes and flaws.
• I am the soul, the image of God within, pure Love.
• The Love I feel for all beings remains the same despite provocation.
• I forgive others.
• I forgive myself.
• I am willing to forgive__________.
• I make peace with family, friends, strangers, and enemies alike, for therein lies my peace.
• I love family, friends, strangers, and enemies alike.
5. VISUALIZATION: THE LOVE-LIGHT HEALING
Sit in a comfortable chair in a quiet place. Close your eyes and take several slow, deep, abdominal breaths. Concentrate on your spiritual eye, at the center of the forehead just above the eyebrows. Relax and focus on the warmth and sense of well-being in your heart. Ask God for help in feeling Her Love for the soul of the wrongdoer. Now visualize the one who has harmed you, immersed in the healing Love-light of God. Imagine the light dissolve and replace the imperfections of the wrongdoer with peace and harmony. Then immerse yourself in the light. Visualize the healing light dissolve and replace your anger with peace and harmony. You might also visualize the forgiving Christ on the cross, or another image that would help you dissolve the pain given to you by others.
We can get additional help with forgiveness from meditation. In the stillness of meditation, we reach the deep healing power of Love and Her consort qualities. It is here, in stillness, that we slowly and subtly replace our problems with spiritual qualities. Spiritual qualities are the healing powers. They have more power than our problems. In the stillness of meditation, Love burns up hate, kindness dissolves cruelty, enderstanding breeds compassion, and compassion melts anger. Instead of remaining a victim of other people’s problems and our own recycled painful emotions, we cultivate peace and strength. When we come out of meditation, we give Love and kindness to all whom we meet.
We do the work as described in steps 1-6 above, but we are not strong enough to do all of the work of forgiveness on our own. Fortunately, we have access to God’s infinite ocean of all-forgiving Love. We can tap into Her vast powers of compassion and mercy by asking for Her help and grace.
Retreat to a quiet place and make contact with your Higher Power. You might pray, “Divine Mother, You know I cannot forgive on my own. I need Your help. Bless me with Your grace. Help me build a story based on understanding, compassion, and forgiveness. Give me Your Love and forgiveness that I may give it to others.”
When we do the work and ask for Her help, on Her schedule and by Her grace, the gate to Her infinite healing power opens. She sweeps away anger, resentment, shame, guilt, humiliation, and other such emotions, replacing them with peace, forgiveness, and harmony.
With our work and God’s grace, Love qualities replace harmful emotions. We channel our expanded understanding, compassion, and peace into universal service. We can express our service to humanity as a quest for justice, human rights, or any action that benefits others.
All of us make mistakes that hurt others. We become aware of our mistakes when others give us feedback or from introspection. When we see that we have hurt someone, we feel guilt. This is good. Guilt is intelligent. It helps us become responsible for our flaws, and it deters us from repeating the same mistakes.
Guilt becomes a problem, however, when we are too hard on ourselves. Excessive guilt leads to low self-esteem, which can become self-hate. We lose our peace of mind. The flow of Love between our self and others is blocked. The antidote to excessive guilt is self-forgiveness.
To forgive ourselves, we can follow the same steps described here in the forgiveness process. By following these steps, we can learn to be gentle, patient, and understanding with ourselves even when we make mistakes. In addition, we must do what we can to change our behavior, apologize to the one we hurt, and make amends.
10. THE FORGIVING CHARACTER
Forgiveness is a skill we can learn through study and practice. We can start with forgiving a small event or a single person and expand from there. The more we forgive, the easier it gets. We think forgiveness. We intend forgiveness. We tell forgiveness stories. We practice forgiveness until it becomes a habit, part of our character. Eventually, when our forgiving muscles are very strong, we can forgive unconditionally and instantaneously. Then we have a great gift to give to the world! Instead of revenge and retribution, we give understanding and compassion. Instead of transferring the pain others inflict on us, we return kindness. When we learn to give ourselves unconditional Love, we become our own best friend. When we absorb the pain of others and transform it to peace and harmony, we reduce the pain of the world.
GENERAL RULES FOR THE FORGIVENESS HEALING PROCESS
1. The forgiveness healing process works, but it takes time. It is slow, painful, and difficult. It may take weeks, months, or years. There is no timetable. We cannot control the speed. The process must be allowed to unfold on its own time. We need to work with each step, however long it takes. We should not try to rush or force our way through the process. There are no
2. Although we all heal at different rates, forgiveness generally takes longer if the hurt was deep.
3. There may be times when we experience pain without relief. This is part of the process. Do not give up. Forgiveness is a lifelong discipline. A breakthrough can occur at any time. With practice, it gets easier. Be gentle with yourself and persevere.
4. We can only do a little bit of work at a time. When the pain is too intense, we need to take time out.
5. If the forgiveness process becomes overwhelming, seek professional consultation with a mental health or spiritual counselor.
6. Whenever we experience new waves of anger or resentment, we can rework the steps. Eventually, we completely transform our anger into peace and strength.
ADDITIONAL POINTS TO REMEMBER
• Forgiving helps us deal with major problems such as physical or sexual assault, infidelity, abandonment, injustice, and cruelty. It also helps us with smaller, daily challenges when we conflict with others. It is easy to judge others who are insensitive. However, even mild resentment infiltrates our consciousness, stealing our peace of mind. We must become more aware of the subtle, insidious forms of anger and resentment that occur in response to the provocations of daily life. Then we can refine our consciousness by responding with the healing power of forgiveness. We need a lot of forgiveness; the daily challenges are many.
• When we make mistakes, we want forgiveness. It helps to remember this when we are doing the difficult work of forgiving those who have harmed us. They want forgiveness, too.
• Anger is a poison. Forgiveness is the antidote. The karma of the criminal is between them and God. The attitude of the criminal is irrelevant to our healing process.
• Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. We love every man because God loves him. At this level, we love the person who does an evil deed, although we hate the deed that he does.”
• We do not accept evil. We fight for safety and justice. This does not necessarily heal our inner being, however. For this, we need forgiveness.
• Forgiveness is a skill we can develop. It is a good tool to have. No one is immune to the daily challenges of life or to a major attack, but if we know how to forgive, we can maintain our
peace of mind and strength.
• Forgiveness heals individuals, families, religions, and nations. There is no end to the expansive power of Love. How great it is that we can reduce our pain, the pain of others, and the pain of the world with the healing power of forgiveness!