A dear friend of mine spent the morning grieving the loss of her father. He died 17 years ago, and she hasn’t yet forgiven herself for not having that one big conversation with him before he passed. She said that she wants to forgive herself, but she doesn’t know how.
How do you forgive yourself?
Forgiveness is a complicated enough thing on its own. But when it’s wrapped up with other things like loss and grief and guilt and shame and a few Greek myths, it’s so much more complicated.
Everyone’s story of forgiveness is different. Everyone’s reasons for not forgiving themselves or others are also different. But it all boils down the the same basic thing for everyone: slowly loosening your grip on the past so that you can eventually release it, and move forward.
Most people don’t walk around all day every day actively not forgiving themselves. It’s just once in a while, when things get really quiet and the old thoughts creep in. When the calendar turns to a certain page, or a particular song comes on the radio, or a sentence somewhere reminds us… Even then, we don’t always run with those thoughts. It’s only when we allow ourselves the room to run that those thoughts and feelings get momentum. The moment we tighten our grip on the past is the moment the pity party starts!
The only way to end that sad party is to invite mindfulness in. Slow deep breaths, releasing the past with every exhale and coming back to the present moment. Yes, I’m talking about meditation. Forcing yourself to have those quiet moments, and allowing the past to briefly run wild, so you can learn to tame it.
I’m not saying that meditation is the answer to every question you have. But I am emphatically(!) saying that meditation will give you the space to find the answer to every question you have. (If you really want the answers.)
If you’re having trouble forgiving yourself, you can start by sitting and breathing. But before you sit, ask yourself some questions about the other patterns in your life.
Is it difficult for you to stay in the present moment?
Will sitting quietly in silence and stillness make you uncomfortable? Anxious? Upset?
Can you stop being busy for a few moments?
Do you often replay conversations in your brain, wishing they had gone differently?
Do you hold grudges?
Are there other people in your life you can’t forgive?
Do you have a hard time letting go of physical things you no longer need?
Do other people often fail to meet your expectations?
Are you a bit of a control freak?
Do you fill your days with some sort of activity and leave no time for open space?
Do you find yourself stuck in the same situations over and over?
Are you a hoarder? Of objects? Of regrets? Of patterns?
Think about any other places in your life where you are not able to let go. What else are you holding on to that no longer serves you?
Forgiveness is all about releasing your grip. It doesn’t necessarily mean approval. It doesn’t mean it was okay. It just means it’s over. Past. Done. It just means you allow yourself to let go of the reins. You can’t control it. You can’t change it. It cannot be different than it is. Accept what happened as a fact, and move on now, to this moment. Release your grip on the past, and move to the present moment.
How can you personally forgive yourself for what you did or didn’t do? What is the answer for you? I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure you do. The answer is inside of you, and you will find it if you give yourself the time and space to find it.
Here is how: Meditate on forgiveness.
Set your timer for 2 minutes (or 5, or 7, or 10, or…)
Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Slow inhales. Slow exhales. Begin counting down.
All the way to Zero.
Then back to 99.
Try not to think of anything else but the breath and the counting.
Notice that other thoughts will come in.
Notice you will lose count.
How do you react to the intruding thoughts? How do you respond when you can’t do it? Did you get mad at yourself? Do you think, I’m no good at this? I suck at meditating?
Forgive yourself for losing count and start again at 99.
Forgive yourself for the intrusive thoughts and start again at 99.
Forgive yourself over and over and over again.
You will have a lot of opportunities to forgive yourself when you first try to sit and count. Over time, it will become a habit. You will start to forgive yourself in your meditation practice, and then in your life.
Eventually you will realize you have learned to forgive yourself. If you really want to.