Forgive & Be Mindful
by Darren Cockburn
Do you know that the practice of forgiveness has a huge impact on our ability to stay mindful? Most of us will relate to finding ourselves lost in thought and feeling unpleasant due to resentment or hatred towards ourselves or other people. And we may be able to recall times when we’ve forgiven somebody or ourselves, and then experienced a sense of peace and increased awareness.
In this article, I explain what forgiveness is, how it interacts with mindfulness, and how we can be more forgiving.
What is forgiveness?
Spiritually speaking, forgiveness is the process of consciously healing the emotional pain that resides within us from an encounter with a person or a group who we believe has harmed us in some way. The encounter may have been in person, digitally over the internet, or might even be something we’ve randomly created in our mind without contact with others.
How does forgiveness relate to mindfulness?
The pain we store in relation to these encounters will often trigger emotions like resentment, anger, rage, grief and fear. Mindfulness is about being aware and accepting of our experience in the present moment. Although it’s possible to be mindful of these emotions, when they’re strong, or if we’re particularly vulnerable, they will sometimes take over. We can then become lost in thought about things that have happened in the past or how we might deal with situations in the future, which then adds to the issue and compromises our mindfulness levels.
So to give ourselves the best chance of staying mindful, it really helps to practice forgiveness and reduce the likelihood of these emotions being triggered.
When we forgive, whether it’s a person, a group, or ourselves, we heal the pain within us that’s triggering unpleasant emotions and thoughts. Even if we recall memories about the situation, we’re at peace with it. This then makes it easy for us to stay mindful and act skilfully.
There are many other benefits for people who practice forgiveness. Because there are less unpleasant emotions and negative thoughts, it can reduce the likelihood of conditions like depression and anxiety. Forgiveness is similar to mindfulness, in that it’s physically good for the body. With higher levels of peace in our mind and body, our immune systems perform more effectively, leading to less illness and better health.
Does it makes sense to always forgive others if they’ve harmed us in some way? Absolutely – as many times as is required. We do this so we can free ourselves from emotional pain, and to extend positive energy out to the offender(s). Forgiving somebody doesn’t mean that we exonerate what they’ve done. It may be that we need to change or let go of our relationship with them, or take some other form of action out of kindness for the whole.
Any way you look at it, if you’re harbouring emotional pain due to a lack of forgiveness, you’re causing harm. Even if it’s just harming yourself through unpleasant and unskilful thoughts. Forgiveness is always an act of kindness. That’s why it’s compatible with all religions and philosophies that promote kindness and non-harm.
If we forgive somebody we may choose to ‘extend’ forgiveness – this is expressing our forgiveness. On some occasions, the recipient may ‘receive’ our forgiveness, but not always. There may be times when we forgive and choose not to extend that forgiveness to others. It helps to be discerning about whether it’s skilful and kind to raise the subject of forgiveness with others.
Two Channels of Forgiveness
There are two channels we can use in our forgiveness practice. The first is the form-based ‘physical channel’. For example, we extend forgiveness to a friend who upset us by giving them a call and expressing our forgiveness. Hopefully, the friend will receive our forgiveness and both parties can let go of the issue.
The second channel of forgiveness is the ‘spiritual channel’. This is about requesting forgiveness from spirit or God for the times when we’ve been unskilful. This spiritually frees us from the harm we’ve caused. Prayer is often used as the communication for this channel.
The two channels are related but also separate. For example, we can do something that caused harm, pray for forgiveness, receive forgiveness spiritually, and then still have to work through the physical consequences of our actions.
I once heard a story about somebody who had committed a murder. Through his faith, he’d prayed and claimed to have received spiritual forgiveness, but was still punished for his actions. This man ended up being physically imprisoned, but claimed the spiritual forgiveness he’d received had provided him with spiritual freedom. Another example I heard was when somebody was disloyal in a relationship. They repented, prayed for forgiveness and claimed to be spiritually forgiven. However, their partner still had unresolved issues and resentment towards them due to the incident.
Interestingly, Christian teachings claim that we need to forgive others in order to receive forgiveness through the spiritual channel for our own unskillfulness. This cleverly encourages those who have faith and value spiritual forgiveness to forgive others at every opportunity.
In my personal experience, I’ve found that both channels need to be utilised and respected. I believe that spiritual forgiveness is primary – regardless of your religious preferences. And that spirit consistently offers you freedom through the present moment.
Forgiveness is Healing
If we link back to the definition of forgiveness provided earlier, we can infer the process of forgiveness. We forgive by allowing ourselves to accept and heal the related emotional pain. This means allowing the pain to arise, accepting it, then letting it go. This can be done alone or with others like a good friend, a therapist or healer. There are many guided forgiveness meditations available online that can help with this process.
Emotional pain often heals organically and naturally over time. However, forgiveness is a conscious practice. It’s something we choose to do. And through practicing forgiveness we gain freedom earlier than if we were to allow things to resolve on their own over time without making a conscious effort.
What Forgiveness Isn’t
Finally, I want to share a few thoughts on what forgiveness isn’t…
It’s not weak. It’s actually strong and courageous to forgive somebody.
It’s not exoneration. You can forgive somebody without being OK with their actions.
It’s not reconciliation. Reconciliation requires people to work together to resolve an issue. This may not be possible, but forgiveness always is.
It’s not forgetting. We may still recall our experiences from the past. And forgiveness allows us to be at peace with them.
It’s not foolish. Forgiveness is always the wise response in any encounter that’s caused us harm – including when we’ve harmed ourselves.