love and forgiveness, how to stop suffering, how forgiveness can ease the pain, learning to let go, Ho'oponopono, release, allowing, detachment, attachment, emotions, identity, learning to love, loving myself, loving others

Love and forgiveness: how to stop suffering

The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.

John Greene

As a child, growing up in a Christian environment, I was told to forgive and forget, the same way that God forgave and put our sins on the other side of the ocean. I was told to turn the other cheek and to pray for those who might persecute or mock me.

Be a proud martyr.

Unfortunately, the way I was taught forgiveness did not do me very many favours! It built and perpetrated many misconceptions of what forgiveness was, without in any way stopping the suffering! In fact, we were taught suffering was necessary. It was good.

It was proof of our faith – that your joy may be complete.

Yeah, right.

Some joy.

How I wish Christians would do a better job of teaching forgiveness and everything that it means!

What verses were used?

The following are two of the most common verses I heard as a child regarding forgiveness:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

Matthew 6:14 (NIV)

If you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven. So, now, I made him tell you he’s sorry and you have to say “I forgive you”. Of course, if we didn’t say “I’m sorry” we would have received a paddling. And if we didn’t say “I forgive you” we would equally have received a paddling.

I know they did it with the best of intentions. But this is no way to teach forgiveness! We went through the motions to avoid the physical consequences. I was no more forgiving than the other child was sorry.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

Colossians 3:13

Misconceptions of forgiveness & love

The way that I was taught forgiveness created several erroneous beliefs around the effect of forgiveness. These were reinforced through social norms and adult behaviours.

I know, they had good intentions. But good intentions pave the road to… well, suffering.

For example, as a kid, we were forced to reconcile with another kid – at least on the outside, going through the motions. I can tell you this strips all your power away. You are instructed to kiss and make up, by adults with authority to make you do so. And then you are forced to have a relationship with this person that hurt you, with disregard for how you might have felt about it.

But this doesn’t teach you how to handle and deal with the emotions that go with forgiveness. As you get older, you try to reason away the pain. I can’t count the times I told myself “I shouldn’t feel this way.” You still feel the anger, sadness and hurt, but now you stuff it down, rather than releasing it because it’s not supposed to be there!

So often I felt worse and hypocritical because forgiveness didn’t work.

Myth: Forgive, and everything goes back to how it was

My experience, even now with having learnt how to forgive, is that things never go back to how they were. When trust is broken, it has to be rebuilt. It doesn’t magically reappear.

Forgiveness does not rebuild trust or magically rebuild relationships. The best apology is changed behaviour.

Myth: Forgiveness means there are no consequences

Another way that we were dis-empowered as children were that when we forgave, we were expected to relinquish any hope of seeing justice. Forgiveness meant that the other got off “scot-free“, excusing whatever actions they had done.

So, for example, in the cases of child abuse, we were expected to forgive an abuser and then not request that any further action be taken. Otherwise, we hadn’t truly forgiven.

Myth: Forgiveness means you can’t have boundaries

One of my hardest life lessons as an adult has been developing healthy boundaries in relationships. I never learnt how to say “this treatment is unacceptable”. If someone mistreated us, we were expected to forgive them.

And then turn the other cheek.

How many battered women are told to forgive their husbands, and go back into a situation of domestic violence, only to have the cycle repeated?

Obviously, we weren’t praying hard enough. (Sorry – not sorry, every once in a while my sarcasm slips in).

Learning forgiveness through Ho’oponopono

As unusual as it might seem, I finally learnt forgiveness through the Huna practice of Ho’oponopono. Many people know this as a simple meditative practice of mantras:

I love you.
I’m sorry.
Please forgive me.
Thank you.

Ho’oponopono prayer mantra

For months, this was all I did: repeating this mantra over and over. With time, however, I changed. I began to understand it differently.

The Huna practice says that whatever comes into your awareness you are responsible for. You are 100% accountable for everything that happens in the world around – as you are part of the problem.

100% responsible

So, you hear on the news that someone was murdered last night – that’s on you. You read in the newspaper that a drunk driver hit a car and killed a family, that’s your responsibility too. Your grandfather beat a man within an inch of his life before you were born: that was you as well.

Everything is connected to everything. That flap of a butterflies wings in Africa that starts the hurricane that hits the Caribbean and then the East Coast of Georgia. It is all connected.

We are all connected.

The anger I feel in my heart and life is merely a connection to the anger that any other person in the world is feeling. The hatred and discrimination that I feel towards any set of people on earth feed hatred in the world. The carelessness that I show when driving feeds the negligence of that young driver that ploughs into the back of another car.

  • If I want less anger in the world: I have to stop contributing to the energy of anger.
  • If I want less bigotry and hatred towards me and “my people”, I must release and relinquish all prejudice and disgust I feel towards any others, so that there is less of it in the world!
  • If I want less carelessness on the streets, I must become present and aware at all times.
  • If I want more understanding in the world and compassion, I must be understanding and compassionate.

In any situation where there is anger, violence or hurt, there is a role that I have played. And I am 100% responsible for my part in perpetuating the violence – whether it is mental, physical, emotional or spiritual abuse!

Learning to break the cycle through forgiveness & compassion

This has not been a comfortable journey, much less one without relapses. I always find myself doing the inner work, recognising what I have overlooked.

Whatever I notice and see in the world around me is simply a call to look within and see how that is reflected in who I am and how I have expressed myself in the world.

An example of forgiveness in action:

Let’s say that a distracted driver caused an accident.

  • How do I forgive them for the hurt and pain that they have caused?
  • How do I recognise my role in participating in this?

I start simply by acknowledging that sometimes I am a distracted driver. I have looked at my phone while driving, eaten in my car, had a sip of my coffee, handed a toy that fell on the floor to my crying toddler, and many other moments of distraction. Maybe my distraction hasn’t lead to an accident, but I also am a distracted driver.

Then, I go through the emotions, thoughts and senses in my body and mind of what is happening within me when I am distracted driving. Am I frustrated? Impatient? Anxious?

Forgiveness is not just about “being distracted while driving” – it’s about allowing yourself to be present with WHY you allowed yourself to become distracted. What was really happening at the time?

This awareness allows me to really do the work of forgiveness and release! Then I forgive myself for the frustration, the impatience, the anxiety. I take the time to release those emotions from my body and bring myself back to love and compassion.

When I turn my attention to the distracted driver, it’s easy to forgive. I can feel empathy and compassion. I can experience the pain and suffering without allowing it to overwhelm me.

Because while I cannot change the world or any other person, I can change how I interact with the world. As I become aware of a situation and how I have participated in this in the world, I can practice forgiveness and release.

Forgiveness starts and ends with forgiving myself

Ho’oponopono practice has taught me that forgiveness is never actually about the other person! When I fail to forgive, my burden is pain and blame.

As I walk around carrying blame towards another, saying that I am the victim, I dis-empower myself. I continue, long after the event is finished, to give that person and the hurt that they caused me, power over my life. You might even say I give them greater importance than I have. They rule my life, my thoughts and my memories.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and realise that prisoner was you.

Lewis B. Smedes

Forgiveness allows me to reclaim my power – to accept that I gave it away and forgive myself for having done so. Many times, forgiveness means to forgive me for having carried the burden for so long, rather than leaving on the roadside years ago.

Only as I begin to love myself do I begin to see that forgiveness is the only way to end my own suffering.

  • I don’t have to “kiss-and-make-up”.
  • There is no need to accept that others mistreat me or abuse me.
  • Living as a martyr is not standing in the power of love and compassion.
  • I will probably feel pain and anger and rage and those are all valid emotions. Acknowledging them is the first step towards letting them go, rather than stuffing them down within me and trying to “hold it all together”.
  • I can ask that justice be served and that someone receive their just deserts and the consequences of their actions.

Forgiveness is leaving the burden and suffering that I carried with me by the side of the road and continuing my life journey full of compassion. It’s a choice that I have to make each day: who do I want to give the power to?

I hope that each day I can choose to give the power to Divine Love within me.


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Love your enemies: a month to be compassionate

“It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Valentine’s day is almost here, and I want to challenge you to love the people that trigger you and rub you the wrong way. The people that don’t fit your ideal image of what humanity looks like at its best. This might be:

  • troubled youth
  • the homeless vagabond
  • drug addicts
  • militant feminists / gays / Muslims / Christians
  • your parents, siblings or a co-worker

Who are you struggling to love and accept? For this Valentine’s Day – I challenge you to find space in your heart to love this person or group of people.

Just for one day.

compassion for a day

How is your religion serving you?

A 2012 study from the University of Berkeley found that typically atheists, agnostics and the non-religious were more motivated by compassion than those that considered themselves to be religious. In some ways, this infers that “love thy neighbour” has become more of a rule of external action, rather than kindness inspired from a loving heart.

Does your religion lead you to a place of moral obligation, while allowing you to avoid feelings of connection?

Unfortunately, it seems that the non-religious are more likely to give up their seat on a bus or train to a stranger. There is a surprising lack of empathy when we focus on following rules, rather than allowing ourselves to be lead from a heart of compassion.

While practising compassion results in subduing the ego and the self-centred mind, complying with the rules allows the ego to become self-righteous. We become the very Pharisees that Jesus decried. “Look how well I follow the rules .” Unfortunately, then our ego begins to hide behind self-righteousness, with a false sense of wellbeing and goodness.

Being religious may very well diminish our capacity for empathy and compassion.

What does the Bible say about this?

The very essence of Jesus’ teachings is love and compassion. For example:

43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’
I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.
When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does.
He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.
If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. 48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
Matthew 5:43-48 (MSG)

We also read in other places “if your enemy is hungry, feed him”. Then, in 1 John we find

If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. (1 John 4:20 – MSG)

How well are you doing with loving your brother, your neighbour, your co-worker that irritates you or that person that strikes fear in your heart?

what does the Bible say about this

Where neuroscience meets ancient wisdom

I’m lucky to get to study and practice mBraining (Soosalu & Oka) and mBIT (multiple brain integration techniques). Because of this, I’ve learned to make a clear distinction between what I use my head for – thinking, logic, analysis & creativity – versus how I use my heart. I use my heart for feeling & connecting (with myself and with others). While I might analyse and make meaning of my emotions in my head, I recognise that the feeling happens within me, not in my mind.

Over time, I’ve recognised that I when I get deep into learning (books & knowledge), I end up in my head, rather than in my heart. It takes a different kind of learning for me to have a change of heart. The risk of being “in my head” is that ego comes into play – I start imagining and visualising stories of who I am or who others are. Instead of connecting with the person, heart-to-heart, I allow myself to catastrophise or awfulise any past experiences I have had.

Who are you?

I’ve also learned with mBraining that our identity – who we deeply are – lies down in our gut, not in our heads. If you think of a fetus or embryo, the gut forms before the heart and the head – and our very primal system of self-preservation (including the immune system) lies with our belly.

So, when we want to make a profound, long-lasting change in our lives, head knowledge is only the very tip of the iceberg. It is only the first step. We have to “take it to heart” and “digest it” before we can look for actual change and transformation.

Unfortunately, we can also get caught up in having an identity forged on being part of a group or a religious organisation. This forces us to follow the rules and kowtow to behavioural expectations. Another way to hold your identity, however, is to see yourself as Jesus invites us to as a “child of God”. As such, your identity changes from having your security in obeying the rules to having security based on identifying with the Divine.

The presence of the Divine in everyone I see

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

seeing God in the face of another, practising kindness, compassion, love your enemies, practising loving kindness

Every person you meet is a reflection of the Creator, loved and set upon this earth with a purpose & passion. They may have chosen not to follow their purpose or calling, but they are no less God’s children than the prodigal son.

They breathe in the same breath of life that you or I breathe.

The same way that you expect others to show you empathy & compassion for your mistakes and shortcomings give them that same latitude. You had a moment of “come to Jesus” on your spiritual path, whether you choose to believe and follow the Christian path or another.

But at some point, you had an awakening – a moment of accepting your gifts and callings. Of realising that everything before then was simply preparation for the spiritual path, you would choose.

Can you look at the homeless person or the drug addict before you and see their calling to be all they were created to be? Can you be patient and kind while they find the courage to accept it?

They are not the enemy, only friends that you haven’t yet had the pleasure of getting to know.

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
― Abraham Lincoln

Practical ways you can love your enemies

Start with humility

All love begins within, being willing to look at yourself with love and compassion. This humility allows you to forgive yourself, truly seeing your shadows, weaknesses & darkness. Acknowledging your mistakes and feelings that we try so hard to hide – shame, guilt and fear.

When we are humble, we can genuinely say “There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Focus on Divine Love

Loving God with all your heart, mind & soul allows you to love your neighbour as yourself. But it’s not just loving the Divine. It’s accepting reciprocation. Can you accept that you are loved? Can you allow Divine Love to fill your lungs with every breath you take, to fill your bloodstream and reach every cell of your body?

If you aim each day to be Divine Love in the world around you, you will come to realise that love is patient and kind, without envy, boasting, and self-seeking. This same Divine Love is not quick to anger, forgives easily and keeps no record of wrongs.

Could you live each day from a place of this kind of love?

Practice empathy & patience

Putting it into practice requires that we put ourselves in the shoes of others. Until we get to know another person, we are oblivious to their experiences, their family background, education, and even opportunities. What are the challenges and obstacles that they are currently faced with?

It’s easy to judge another when we make up stories in our head. It’s a lot more complicated when we take the time to truly listen and get to know what is going on in their lives. What mistakes have they made that they are struggling to overcome?

Could you allow yourself to see their pain and feel for them?

Practise forgiveness

Most of us know the line “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” or some version of it. My experience has been that the hardest part of forgiving another person is admitting what I forgive them for!

I cannot forgive and release what I am not willing to admit exists. If I believe “I should not feel ashamed”, and so ignore my feelings of shame, I cannot forgive what I feel ashamed for. Until I am willing to admit to the existence of what I feel, I cannot experience it and allow it to flow. Likewise, if I am feeling hate towards someone and limit myself to “I am not supposed to hate anyone”, I make it impossible to work my way through it.

How often are we offended by what someone said because we judged them by the lens of what happened five or ten years ago (perhaps even with another person)? Who needs the forgiveness: the person that just offended you, the person that hurt you all those years ago, or you for carrying this all these years without facing it?

Practising forgiveness requires that you dig deep into your personal darkness and baggage. It’s one of the most uncomfortable tasks of my spiritual practice, even now.

Be willing to take a step back

Often, our perspective is tarnished by the lens and angle we are looking through. Are you ready to take a step back or to the side, to look from another angle?

For example, what if instead of seeing it just from your point of view, or the point of view of the other person, you pulled up a third chair and looked at the two of you from the perspective of an onlooker. What would you see? How does this inform your compassion?

And if you were to raise up, higher, from a bird’s eye view of all the moving pieces of the past hour, day, weeks or years that lead up to this moment and this encounter – what would you notice differently? About yourself? About them?

Dare to be love & compassion

“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
― Steve Maraboli

It takes a brave person to see another as a beautiful human being and human becoming. When we look through Divine Love, we see infinite potential in each person we meet. But first, you have to be open and vulnerable: willing to see yourself as infinite potential.

Perhaps the answer to your prayers is you, and you are meant to be the change in the world that you desire to see.

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