How The Power of Forgiveness Can Help You Transform Sorrow Into Sweetness

When we consider how someone could behave in ways that create anguish for us, it is useful to recognize that their choices reflect the story they’ve been living. More often than not, it is because, given their existing level of awareness, they were unable to entertain other options to get their needs met in ways that wouldn’t create pain for another.

We are, of course, responsible for our choices, and there are abundant examples of people who, despite growing up in environments of abuse or deprivation, go on to live magnificent lives of service and compassion. Our past does not have to define our future. Still, understanding the experiences of others helps us move towards forgiveness, which is necessary if we are to fully heal and be free to love.

Creating a Story of Understanding
Consider a person in your life whom you associate with painful feelings. It might be an ex-spouse, an offensive boss, an abusive stepparent, or a best friend who betrayed your trust. For the purpose of freeing your heart from the constriction caused by resentment, shift your focus from what happened to you to what was happening in the life of the person who caused your pain and begin constructing their biography. The goal is to understand how the person who caused you pain could do what they did. Write the details you’re aware of and then fill in the blanks using your imagination. Here are some questions that can help you with this step:
    1. What do you know or imagine about the emotional and physical health of their parents or caregivers?

    2. Was the individual who caused you pain planned and wanted by their parents?

    3. How was this person treated as a baby and young child?

    4. How did their family members and peers relate to them?
Take your time to construct a biography that helps you understand how this person became someone who was capable of doing the things that have caused you (and most likely others) pain.

Intentions into Actions
You gained some insight into the behavior of the person who caused you pain and now you are ready for the next step. For a few minutes, perform a set of heart-opening yoga poses and breathing exercises to center yourself. Now close your eyes and ask yourself this question:
What can I do to forgive this person for the pain I’ve experienced as a result of their words or actions?
The emphasis is on what you can do, not on what you want or expect the offender to do. You have no control over the other person’s choices, and therefore your heart’s freedom cannot be dependent upon their actions.
Possibilities include writing a letter, burying a memento in the ground, burning a token object that you associate with the person, starting an organization that helps others avoid or recover from similar trespasses, or writing an article or book that documents your experience for the benefit of others. The scale of the action doesn’t matter; what’s important is that you do something that demonstrates your willingness to forgive and move forward.

Since you are a human being, the chances are good that sometime during your life, other people have experienced emotional pain as a result of choices you have made. Recognizing your own capacity to act in ways that may have caused harm to another, can help you relinquish judgment and awaken forgiveness.
Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and settle yourself in your heart. Now bring into your awareness something that you have said or done that clearly generated anguish or distress for someone else. Consider the context of your life at the time you engaged in the pain-provoking behavior. Bring the details of the story into your awareness, noticing the important choices you made that ultimately led to pain for someone else. 
Take some time to journal the story, describing what happened, the consequences of your actions, and the feelings that were generated in both the people who were hurt and in you. Now close your eyes again, settle your awareness into your heart, and ask yourself this question: What am I prepared to do to enable me to forgive myself for my actions that caused pain to another person?

Doing Our Best
It is not uncommon for people to be more willing to forgive others than they are to forgive themselves. Self-recrimination, remorse, and regret may be helpful for a time to focus your attention on behaviors that had hurtful consequences, but life is too short to carry the pain indefinitely.

Confession Frees the Heart
For this step, you will once again need a listening partner, someone you can trust with your story of something you did that caused pain for another person. Ask your partner to listen to you without interrupting. Share what you are committed to doing to generate restitution for your offense. When you are finished, ask your partner to say these words to you:
  1. I am sorry for the pain you caused.
  2. I’m sure you were doing your best from your level of consciousness at the time.
  3. Assuming you honor your commitment to make amends, you deserve to be forgiven.
During workshops, I ask participants to confess their story to several different people, until they are tired of telling it and the emotional charge has been dissipated. The process usually requires several repetitions, so see if you can share your story with at least three different people you trust. Each time, make your pledge to do something that demonstrates your commitment to repair the damage (to the extent possible), and ask each person to say the same words to you as above.
If you don’t have someone with whom you’d feel safe sharing your story, you can do a vision process to achieve a similar benefit. You can find instructions for the vision process here.

Up in Smoke
The next step in the healing process is a ritual based on the transformative power of agni. In the ayurvedic tradition, agni is the digestive fire that processes everything we ingest in our life, including our food, sensory impressions, and experiences.
You will need a safe place where you can light a fire, such as an outdoor fire pit or an indoor fireplace. First take your list of painful memories and toxic traits which you created in Chapter 6. Add to it a few words that represent the personal transgression or oversight you just identified. Once you’ve completed your list, start a fire and offer your list to the transformational flames of agni. At Chopra Center workshops, we build a campfire and invite each participant to release their inventory of painful experiences and traits into the fire. Then we roast marshmallows and make “smores” with chocolate and graham crackers. The symbolism is simple: We have the capacity – you have the capacity – to transform sorrow into sweetness.

Get Ready for The Next Chapter
Through the sacred work you have completed, you have released the emergency brake on your heart that has been limiting your capacity for love and healing. You are now ready to decide where and how you wish to move forward, creating a mind and body that expresses and celebrates your new insights and understandings. In the next couple of weeks, we will look at how we react to the people in our lives and how we can respond more consciously to create the love we deserve.
(courtesy Diva Village)