By Caroline Myss, Ph.D.
This past weekend, I gave a workshop in Chicago with my dear friend, Ron Roth. Both of us presented variations on the themes of forgiveness and moving on in life, and on the nature of prayer and healing. I am writing this particular column in response to the many people who have contacted me as a result of that workshop inquiring as to how one moves on and forgives.
Forgiveness and giving up the need to know why things happen as they do are two of life's greatest challenges. The hardcore truth is that we may never know why things happen as they do. Because we grow up with teachings about right and wrong, punishment and mercy, it is natural to fall into a pattern that seems to offer us a type of safety net, namely if we do not do anything wrong, nothing sad, bad, or undeserving will happen to us. Unfortunately, life is not that organized, and certainly it does not script itself around our definition of fairness. Horrible things do happen. One woman spoke about her husband being murdered and how does she release that? Another woman wrote about coming to terms with the death of her daughter.
I used an example of imagery to illustrate what it feels like to recognize that something, someone, a memory, a trauma, has your power, or your spirit. I suggested that people image the person or event that has them so disturbed or in crisis as standing directly in front of them. Then I told them to picture that individual standing in front of them in order to draw out of their psyche, their cell tissue, their entire being the rage and sadness that lies within.
With that image in mind, the next step is to shift your perspective to the symbolic meaning of the event. But what could be the symbolic meaning of a murder or the death of a child? How can one possibly find such an answer that would calm the soul? How is this exercise supposed to help a person heal when all it seems to do is stir the heart with more grief?
Such an image can serve its role in healing because it is a purge. From a symbolic perspective, confronting the details of an experience - even something as horrific as finding one's spouse murdered in their home - can bring to the surface the one anchor of pain that is weighing down the soul, which is to confront the unfair and unjust nature of God and life SO FAR AS WE AS INDIVIDUALS ARE CONCERNED WHEN IT IS OUR PAIN. And this anger at God is a symbolic perspective that represents the feelings that awaken in us when the uncontrollable happens that turns our lives upside-down. We have been betrayed by the Divine.
Forgiveness and moving on in life is complicated for every emotional reason. But the spiritual reason must be acknowledged as well because these painful experiences threaten our relationship to life itself. We have the association that forgiveness is equal to saying to someone, "What you did is okay. I'm fine", which makes them feel better while we remain in grief. And perhaps even more grief because we've just made them feel okay. But that is not the meaning nor power in that act.
To release and move forward is the act of accepting, that which cannot be accepted according to the scale of human justice. Forgiving and moving on is the act of accepting that a Divine reason exists within the unreasonable and even within the most horrific experience along with the reality that we will never know that reason. There is no easy formula to make a shift to acceptance. Would that there were. When someone says, "Just tell me how?" I wish I could say, "Well, just do this and that and all will be well", but that is simply not possible. Yet the truth is that regardless of what happens to each of us, the choices we have are to get bitter, or get better, or remain empty.
In imaging the event or person that traumatized you directly in front of you, you can feel the absence of your own spirit. I encourage people to enter into this experience as a way of recognizing how much of their own life force is no longer within their own energy field. The intent is to retrieve your own spirit lest you suffer from the absence of your own power.
While holding that image, visualize yourself expanding your size well beyond the atmosphere of the earth so that the earth looks to be the size of a pea. Then shift your attention away from the earth and into your own eternity. Remind yourself of what is truth versus what is true. What happened to you "truly" did happen, but the truth is that what appears to be unfair will unfold in your life in some way that brings grace to you if you open yourself to that grace. You cannot bring back a loved one, but heaven can reshape your life to accommodate a loss. Empty holes, even within the deepest part of our souls, can be filled in. Certainly not the same way, but in some way that is life serving and healing.
There is nothing easy or simple about getting over loss, grief, or the pain caused within human relationships. And while some people have endured extraordinary horrors, such as a murdered spouse, still at the end of the day we all meet in the same place, which is burning with a desire that life unfold according to rules of human justice and fairness, where only those who "deserve" such grief get stricken by it. But we know better. And since we cannot wait for the world to spin, as we would wish, the only other choice is to recognize that every single person in this world feels as we do.
Forgiveness is not the act of saying to another that everything is just fine now. It is the act of retrieving your spirit from your history with the intention of opening to grace and direction for today and tomorrow. As I once said to someone in deep emotional crisis, perhaps a very effective method to help you move toward forgiveness and release is to cease making that your goal. Instead, put your attention on allowing your life to reshape itself today instead of pouring energy into finding ways to explain yesterday.
No answer will ever satisfy that quest. Using such a direct and powerful imagery as confronting the memory directly in front of you is a way of breathing your spirit back into your body, drawing your energy out of the trauma - not your memory, but your energy - and consciously committing your spirit to reshaping your present moment. Doing this exercise is a measuring device that allows you to assess how much of your energy still lives in the past. Each time you tackle the images, breathe your spirit back to present time, adding the prayer that grace reshape your present moment and fill it with tranquility, acceptance and endurance.
When you find your mind slipping into the sadness creating by the weight of personal tragedy, immediately focus your attention on your breathing, repeating to yourself, "I am remaining in present time and I am invoking the grace to prevent me from sinking into the weight of yesterday". A constant prayer and desire to remain in present time rebuilds your spiritual reserves, slowly and continually. Eventually there will come the moment when the energy in that reserve tips in your favor. Then, when your soul feels its strength returning, then call the image forward one more time with the intention of retrieving the remaining fragments of your spirit.
I wish God's blessings on all of you and because I am so in touch with so many of you striving so sincerely to heal, I am going to ask each of you reading this to send a prayer of light and grace to all those we are in touch with together. Thank you - you will never know how many lives you are touching together as a group.