When Sarah Montana was 22 years old, her brother and mother were killed during a home break-in. In this moving talk, Sarah speaks to her harrowing experience, and shares how to overcome tremendous grief and decide to “really” forgive those who have wronged us.
“Forgiveness is the only real path to freedom. But to get free, you have to get super specific about what exactly it is that you’re forgiving because you cannot forgive something that didn’t happen to you.
“In my research, I came across this idea from Judaism that hit me in the chest. In Judaism, the family can’t forgive murderers, because they were not killed. They can only forgive the pain, anguish and grief that the loss caused them.
“This was a total jackpot moment for me.
“I had to compartmentalize my damage: not what happened to mom and Jim, not what happened to my family, not what happened to society, what happened to me.
“This is why justice often feels really cold for victims. It’s justice’s job to assess what is owed.
“And it is the criminal justice system’s job to assess what is owed to society. Not to victims.
“It is up to us to get really clear, individually, on what we are owed. You can’t forgive your father for beating your mother. You can only forgive him for how sad, alienated and angry that made you feel.”
The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness
The 12 Principles of Forgiveness (taken from the above lecture)
The 12 Principles of Forgiveness by Jack Kornfield
On connecting with the Process of Forgiveness
1.) Understand what forgiveness is and what it is not
It’s not condoning, it’s not a papering over, and it’s not for the other person.
2.) Sense one’s own suffering by holding onto the lack of forgiveness
Sense the suffering in yourself of still holding on to this lack of forgiveness for yourself or another and start to feel that it’s not compassionate that you have this great suffering it’s not
in your best interest to keep running the thoughts and feeling the feelings in doing the scenario so you actually sense the weight of not forgiving.
3.) Reflect on the benefits of a loving heart
When you’re forgiving and loving life becomes more pleasant and welcoming.
4.) It is not necessary to be loyal to the suffering
It happened and it was horrible, and you may need to do healing but is that what defines you?
Live in joy says the Buddha, this is his instruction:
Live in joy and love even among those who hate
Live in joy and health even among the afflicted
Live in joy and peace even among the troubled
Albert Camus spoke of joy as being a moral obligation. He said there’s so much suffering in the
World, but if that’s all that there was to humanity it would be hopeless. Joy too is a moral obligation of humanity.
We understand that being loyal to your suffering is not who you and is not helpful.
5.) It is a process
It’s a process that you go through and you do forgiveness over and over and over again and finally you get to some place where forgiveness is possible. That’s how it works, step by step right it’s a training, it’s a process, layer by layer, that’s how the psyche and the body work.
6.) Set Intention
When you set your intention it sets the compass of your heart and your psyche in the direction and then you meet all the obstacles. By having that intention you can work those obstacles. Those obstacles become workable because you know where you are going.
7.) Learn inner and outer forms of forgiveness
The Buddhist world is full of outer forms of the practice, certain kinds of confession, making amends and so forth. So, there’s ritual outer forms of practice and then the inner practices.
8.) Start in the easiest way with what opens your heart
With love, compassion and forgiveness, you start with whatever opens your heart. Maybe it’s your dog, maybe it’s the Dalai Lama, maybe your child, or the person that that you most love and can most easily forgive.
And when that’s open, then you bring in neutral somebody that’s a little more difficult, and only when the hearts way open do you then say: all right let me take something difficult.
And what happens is you take the thing that’s difficult and your heart closes and shrivels and says I hate them, I’m never going to forgive them, and then you sit there with the suffering of that.
There you are with your heart open and feeling gooshie and loving your dog and your child, your partner, and then your heart turns into this walnut, it’s really hard and you go: well, I’m never going to love that person, but this is too painful, so to relieve the pain, I’ll forgive you just a little bit.
Because these practices begins to teach you what it means to live with an open heart so you start with what’s easy.
9.) Be willing to grieve and let go
You must be willing to grieve. I see it when I work with people over weeks and months and years the things that are difficult become digested and workable and transformed in us so you have to be willing to go through the process in some honorable way
10.) Forgiveness is work of the body
Some of the trauma is held in the body and there’s all kinds of trauma practice that you can do to release what’s carried in the body.
There’s a very good science about working with trauma that’s a part of forgiveness for some of us.
Peter Levine’s book Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma
Forgiveness is work of the body it’s work of the emotions where you work with the unfinished business.
You start to feel that the capacity for your tears and your joy grows as you listen deeply and that you allow yourself to have all these feelings and in doing so the space of awareness that can hold them all becomes more and more trustworthy and it works in the mind.
Annie Lamott writes, “My mind is like a bad neighborhood, I try not to go there alone.”
By having somebody come and practice together is you realize that you’re not the only one raising your hand saying you to forgive yourself. Turns out that almost everybody else in the room raises their hand too, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi and the people sitting near you, are all part of interpersonal neurobiology of the field of forgiveness.
11.) Shift of identity to spirit or soul
There is in us an undying capacity for love and freedom that is untouched by what happens to you. And to come back to this, to know this true nature, original mind, Buddha nature, the shift of identity is what is the invitation of the work of forgiveness.
As the Ojibwe say: sometimes I go about pitying myself when all the while I’m being carried by great winds across the sky.
And we’re in this drama of incarnation and life that is so much bigger than “our little stories” and when we can open this perspective, all kinds of ways to do it in this vast way, it’s not just you who are hurt, but it’s the hurt of humanity, it’s not just you who are betrayed, it’s the hurt of love, of relationship.
Everybody who loves is hurt in some way, everybody who enters the marketplace gets betrayed, it’s the loss is not just your pain, it’s the pain of being alive, and then you feel connected with everyone in this vastness.
By Gregg Bradden from his book The Wisdom Codes: Ancient Words to Rewire Our Brains and Heal Our Hearts
If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you,
what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
The Gospel of Thomas
The act of forgiveness is a personal act that is intended for personal healing.
As described by Andrea Brandt, Ph.D., forgiveness doesn’t excuse what another person has done; it doesn’t mean that you need to tell another person that he or she is forgiven; it doesn’t mean that you should forget what has happened or should not continue to have strong feelings about a violation of trust or a physical or emotional boundary. And perhaps most importantly, forgiveness isn’t for the person that you are forgiving. It’s for you.
Forgiveness is an act of love that you perform for yourself.
Brandt describes forgiveness beautifully, stating, “By forgiving, you are accepting the reality of what happened and finding a way to live in a state of resolution with it.”
The power of forgiveness is more than an academic exercise. It’s real. And it’s a power that has been proven time and again in the real world. The choice to love, and the forgiveness that is possible from love, is a common thread that weaves its way through the lives of those who have survived and transcended history’s atrocities.
From today’s survivors of unspeakable horrors endured in the Nazi death camps between 1933 and 1945 to hostage negotiator Terry Waite’s living 1,763 days of captivity in the hands of Hezbollah extremists and Alison Botha’s miraculous survival following being left for dead after the brutal attack that is the subject of the 2016 documentary simply titled “Alison”.
Forgiveness is the key that has empowered these people, and others, to move forward with their lives after enduring horrors.
FORGIVENESS IN ACTION | “I AM FINALLY FREE”
Eva Mozes Kor, who died at the age of 85, endured atrocities that were performed under the guise of medical experimentation at the Auschwitz concentration camp for nine months with her twin sister until they were freed at the end of World War II. Before her death in 2019, she returned to Auschwitz to accompany an educational group.
What made Eva’s visit so exceptional, however, is that in addition to the tour group, she was accompanied by one of the Nazi doctors who had performed the horrific experiments on her. At a memorial service to honor those who died at the camp, she forgave him for the role he played in the atrocities, as well as for the suffering she and her twin sister had endured as a result of what he’d done.
She later shared her experience in an interview published by the popular Tel Aviv newspaper “Yedioth Ahronoth”:
I forgive them for killing my parents, for robbing me of the rest of my family,
for taking my childhood from me, for turning my life into hell,
for creating nightmares that accompanied me every night in the past 60 years.
In my name – and only in my name – I forgive them all those horrific acts.
Eva Kor described how her life changed in the presence of her forgiveness, stating:
As I did that [the act of forgiveness], I felt a burden of pain was lifted from me.
I was no longer in the grip of pain and hate.
Leaving no doubt about the power of her forgiveness and the role it has played in her life, she clarified:
I was finally free.
You can find out more about Eva Mozes Kor and her healing through forgiveness in the film “Forgiving Dr. Mengele”.
In this poignant example of seemingly unforgivable cruelty, we see the power that is described in the Gospel of Thomas. By choosing to bring forth the love and subsequent forgiveness within her, Eva Kor transcended the emotional suffering and the biological consequences of illness and disease that typically accompany prolonged and unresolved anger.
In doing so, she lived to an age that is considered advanced even by today’s standards – 85 years – where the life expectancy for a woman in the United States averages 80 years. If Eva had chosen to cling to her anger, and to dwell upon the horrors of her experience, the science of epigenetics shows that in all probability, the consequences of such a choice would have led to compromises in her immune system, her cardiovascular system, and her body’s mechanisms of DNA and cell integrity.
In other words, there is a greater probability that her failure to bring forth what was within her – love and love’s power to forgive – would have destroyed her.
Strive to make your love greater than your need
and let love be the most powerful force in your life.
Then nothing can overcome you.
Hospice Counselor and Social Worker
This essay was taken from the book
The Wisdom Codes: Ancient Words to Rewire Our Brains and Heal Our Hearts
By Gregg Braden