by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR

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The topic of forgiveness has been coming up a lot recently, so I thought I would take a moment to heed the signals by exploring and writing about it.  Honestly, I usually don’t think about this topic much.  I do believe it is something that is important for personal freedom and in relationships, so it comes up mostly in my work with clients.

But, personally, I haven’t paid much attention because I “understand” a lot of why people do what they do and believe that things occur in my world for a reason, so haven’t felt much of a need to focus on forgiveness. 

Well, it’s great to “understand”, but, as David Richo says “the mind knows about these explanations, but the body does not” (When Love Meets Fear, p. 27).  We know that the body is the where emotion is stored, so, really, intellectual understanding doesn’t exactly accomplish the work of letting go. 

While forgiveness has been coming up as a theme, the practice of Ho’oponopono has been presenting itself.  Ho’oponopono is an ancient Hawaiian practice of forgiveness and reconciliation. 

What attracted me is that the practice centers around the belief that we create and attract everything that is in our lives.  I love this for three reasons.  First of all, blaming other people and outside circumstances is just plain unproductive.  Second, if we acknowledge something as our responsibility, it puts that feeling/situation within our sphere of influence.  We are able to be powerful with it.  Finally, part of the underlying premise is that we are all One and all connected.

The history of Ho’oponopono is pretty fascinating; you can briefly check that out here and here

In this practice, you choose a person or situation where you feel conflict, resentment or grief.  You sit quietly, as you would for any meditation, and connect to a higher source of energy.  Next, you visualize a stage below you and invite the person or situation onto the stage.  Once you are connected and the person or situation is in front of you, you begin to repeat, “I’m sorry.  Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.”  You can say these things aloud or just in your mind.  It might feel awkward at first, but continue to say it until you feel emotion and feel like you mean it. 

If you are comfortable with visualization, I think it is helpful to watch how the person or situation responds to you while they are on stage.  It will likely change as your emotion changes.  When you feel a shift or the pain of resentment, conflict or grief is no longer present, let the energy from that higher source fill your heart space, then direct that energy toward the person or situation on the stage until they are filled with that loving energy.  That’s it!  The practice can be repeated until you feel that the charge of the situation is gone.

I really didn’t feel the need to forgive the person that I practiced with because I wasn’t feeling anger or resentment.  However, I definitely knew that something was unresolved, so I went for it. 

Going into this practice, I thought I was going in to forgive this person.  Well, what ended up happening is that I became astoundingly present to the other person’s pain.  I felt a tremendous release of emotion and compassion for the other person’s experience.  I don’t mean that I hadn’t heard their words or seen the emotion in their face or in their actions.  I mean that I had not fully connected to it and felt it.  Clearly, I was not aware that I had not experientially (rather than intellectually…big difference!) understood.  Not allowing myself to connect to it resulted in energy/emotion being locked up for years.    

Often times, especially in my work with couples, people come in blaming their partner or feeling, at the very least, that their partner has some work to do.  Initially, it seems like people want validation from me and to help them fix their partner.  But, you know what? 

The biggest relief and progress I see is when people become aware of how they have contributed to creating what they are complaining about.  This happens when they are able to move beyond their experience or current intellectual understanding of what is going on.  In therapy, I am able to look with them, lovingly, into their history and put their way of dealing with things into perspective, which creates space to be accountable for what they have created in their relationship.  This forgiveness meditation is another way to move into that receptive and accountable space.

Being in that space brings people to tears.  Overwhelming love comes into their relationship in the moment that they get it.  They feel connected immediately and it changes long-standing relationship dynamics.  It is powerful to really get another person’s experience and to really forgive ourselves for what we have done to create what is painful in our lives. 

Again: when I heal, you heal.  And vice versa.

If you are like me and prefer to do this through a guided meditation, my favorite one is here.

When I Heal, You Heal

by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR

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The question about whether taking care of oneself is selfish comes up a lot in therapy.  When I say taking care of oneself, I mean it on a number of levels: physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Everyone knows the oxygen mask theory from flying on airplanes:  you can’t put the oxygen mask on a child (or anyone else) without having put yours on first.  There is a lot of talk in the personal growth world about self care these days as well.  I’m loving that these conversations and ideas are spreading because it is beginning to undo some outdated beliefs related to giving and self sacrifice that just don’t work when living an authentic life. 

Today I want to talk about prioritizing your emotional and spiritual needs.  Yes, I get it.  This sounds selfish.  But, hang in there for a second.  This doesn’t mean “I feel like watching a movie on the couch right now instead of helping you check out that leak on the roof”.  No, I’m talking about times when you are spreading yourself too thin and you end up lashing out at your child, partner, coworker or being hysterical over something trivial.  Right there.  You might be putting other’s needs in front of yours and it just isn’t working out. 

It might be time to look at your obligations and who they are really about.  I know it is hard to disappoint or upset other people by saying no.  In the short run, it is easier to say yes and smile. In the long run, this is harder because you end up doing and being things you don’t want to do or be.  I think we can all relate to this.  The truth of it is: if we can take care of ourselves each step of the way and tolerate disappointing someone or allowing others to have their anger about when we say no, we can be at our best in all of our interactions, which is, in turn, better for the relationship.  On top of that, that person has a more intimate understanding of you and the relationship you share.

I want to take this a step further.  I believe this happens on a scarier and deeper level that is hard to look at.  I see people at a crossroads in important relationships with their family members and their partners.  The crossroads comes when a person realizes a truth about who they are, how they want to live or how they feel and this does not match the contract that was originally set up with their partner or family members.  The truth comes into awareness and it can create a lot of upheaval if it comes to light in the relationship or family.  So the choice is:  do I honor my authentic feelings or do I stay in this the way it is set up so as to spare the other person’s feelings? 

Let’s bring it into reality.  What am I talking about?  What about someone who is married to a partner of the opposite sex and realize they are gay and are in the wrong relationship even though they love their spouse?  What about someone who feels deeply compelled to pursue a dream that would take them away from their marriage or family?  What about someone who has been entrenched in alcoholic family dynamics and deep down know there is another way to live, but that this pulling away would cause a great deal of anger and chaos in the family?  This short little list is just off the top of my head.  I think you know what I am getting at.

Being connected to oneself, even just from time to time, you are going to encounter some deep knowing that might guide you places that you did not expect.  Following and honoring what you know deep down might initially hurt, scare or disappoint important people in your life.  [Of course, this is not something to do on a whim, but something that needs to be done mindfully.]  When you are living in alignment with who you really are, in alignment with the deep knowing, it creates space for other people to also be more aligned with who they really are.  What you do might force them into being in alignment through the pain they experience.  There might be a lot of protesting on their part.  But, maybe that is why they signed up to be with you in this life:  you were going to push them toward who they really are by being who you really are. 

On a spiritual level, each step we take toward growth and healing is a step for us all.  The pain I heal in myself, gives way for the pain in your self to be healed, even if you have no clue about the internal work I am doing.  The more authentic a life I live, the more space there is for you to live authentically.  And vice versa.  So, is that really selfish?