Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Is a Lack of Forgiveness Holding You Back?

Pu'uhonua, The Place of Refuge and Forgiveness

Pu'uhonua, The Place of Refuge

Whether you are unforgiving or the unforgiven, a sense of peace will prove elusive as long as bitterness or unrelenting guilt resides in your heart.

The same applies when you are unable to forgive yourself for a past transgression.

I know all too well – from my own personal experience – that it’s not always easy to forgive.  Perhaps this explains the tremendous power in forgiveness to fully free your spirit.

I usually don’t hold onto grudges.  But, one time, I felt so deeply betrayed that it seemed almost impossible to forgive.  I wanted to forgive, but the sense of betrayal seemed embedded in my body. I could hardly think of the person, see their photo, or be in their presence without a visceral reaction. Of course, that visceral reaction only harmed me, but logic would not prevail.

It took time. In the end, what worked for me was making an aspiration – a prayer – to be able to forgive. Simply wishing again and again to have the capacity to forgive magically opened the way for me.

Reflection:  The Place of Refuge

To inspire today’s reflection, I’ve selected this description of the “Place of Refuge” on the Big Island of Hawai’i, a monument to forgiveness and peace.

“In the Hawaiian world order, there was always room for forgiveness. Transgressors of the strict and sacred laws of the land could always find redemption and a second chance waiting if they could make it to the Pu’uhonua, Place of Refuge. Those who persevered, overcoming all obstacles and their pursuant, surely must have felt the grace of the gods.

The Hawaiin kapu system was a strict and severe codification of sacred laws. The chiefs ruled with a heavy hand. A transgression could mean punishment by death. However, if you could make it to the Pu’uhonua you could receive absolution and prayers form the kahuna before returning to your family and community to start anew.

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, known to be the largest Place of Refuge, stands as a monument of peace and forgiveness, a sacred ground where life can begin again.”

– from Keola Magazine, November -December 2010

As the old year comes to a close and the new year presents an opportunity for a fresh start, you might want to take a moment to reflect on whether a lack of forgiveness is tainting your life in any way.  Even holding onto a small grievance can get in your way.

  • Is there someone you need to forgive?
  • Do you need to make amends and ask for forgiveness?
  • Do you need to forgive yourself?  Have you been overly harsh with yourself?

I’ve learned that forgiveness begins when we make the wish to forgive or to be forgiven.

The true place of refuge is not external – it exists within your own heart.

While you too may encounter many obstacles on your way to this inner place of sanctuary, never give up. True forgiveness will indeed occur once you set your heart on it. It just may take a little time.  Forgiveness is a process, but you can start in any moment.  As the saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

What has helped you to forgive and forget?

Photo: The National Park Service

This article is part of a weekly series of reflective exercises to help you uproot limiting thoughts, emotions, views, and habits. See more mini-mind challenges.

If you liked this article, please share the link with others.  Thanks so much!  Sandra

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45 Comments

  1. Hi Sandra .. what a wonderful perceptive post, full of wisdom. I too suffer with this .. and would love to remember that what others do is their decision, and should really not affect my life – it will only do so if I let it, however difficult and challenging for me that is.

    True forgiveness is when we set our heart to sail in the right direction .. thanks for reminding me at this time ..

    Have a peaceful last week of 2010 with blessings for the future .. Hilary

    • Hi Hilary,

      I really appreciate your aspiration “to remember that what others do is their decision, and should really not affect my life.” There will always be misunderstandings in our life. If we can start with this aspiration it will bringing us closer to be able to forgive. Like you say so beautifully~ “True forgiveness is when we set our heart to sail in the right direction .. thanks for reminding me at this time .. “

  2. I have spent time at the Place of Refuge on Maui. It is both foreboding and peaceful at the same time. A visitor tries to imagine the relief the person who made it here safely must feel and the terror that drove him to this harsh corner of the island.

    Forgiveness is one of the most precious gifts you can give to someone else. Start the new year as if you are facing people you know inside a Place of Refuge and cleanse your heart of whatever it is that placed them there .

    • Hi Bob,

      It’s really interesting to hear your experience having been to the Place of Refuge on Maui. It’s true that the Hawaiin Kapu system was harsh and people were actively pursued as they journeyed frantically to the place of refuge. They had to have a strong desire to make it there and, in some cases, the intention was probably to save their own skin rather than to make amends.

      This is beautiful advice: “Start the new year as if you are facing people you know inside a Place of Refuge and cleanse your heart of whatever it is that placed them there .”

  3. This is one of those “always relevant at all times” topics, and I’m happy to read your take on it. Though many other aspects of spirituality presented themselves to me through other paths, this one came via regular old garden-variety Christianity. Because all humans “sin” (act against their best natures, act selfishly against others, act out of harmony with nature, etc.), they/we all need forgiveness. We are all and always children, and we must be allowed space and opportunity in which to grow. Forgive us our trespassing, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

    • Mike,

      Your comment has touched me deeply. It’s reminded me of how we are all in the same boat so to speak. My roots are in the Catholic church and so these line’s from the Lord’s Prayer struck me strongly, “Forgive us our trespassing, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Sometimes just a few words can hold so much meaning.

      Thank you so much for this special comment.

  4. Such an essential topic, Sandra, and you speak with great clarity. The one question I have is your question at the end about forgiving and forgetting. We can’t will ourselves to forget, but we can welcome forgiveness. I think for most of us the task is to forgive even with the memories, to not resist them, and to hold the feelings they engender in love, and to let go and move on. Forgetting seems to me to be too lofty of a goal.

    • Hi Gail,

      That’s a really interesting point about forgetting being too lofty of a goal. I agree that it’s not useful to resist whatever rises in our mind. I like your approach: “the task is to forgive even with the memories, to not resist them, and to hold the feelings they engender in love, and to let go and move on.” I’m afraid I was guilty of using the popular phrase “to forgive and forget” without thinking deeply in the significance of the words! Thanks for this added clarification.

  5. Hi Sandra,

    Forgiveness seems to be the most freeing of acts for held grudges are a major stumbling back for most when it comes to moving forward.

    I like to affirm forgiveness, like yourself. I remind myself that most of the people I hold grudges against aren’t even aware of it. I believe it was Gandhi who said why let others live in your head rent free by holding a grudge against them?

    Thanks for sharing your insight 🙂

    RB

    • Ryan, That’s a wonderful quote from Gandhi! This is an excellent perspective to bring to focus on this topic. Thank you!

  6. Hi Sandra-

    It is so easy to hold a grudge-but it feels awful. To release the feeling certainly is freeing, but such a stumbling block for me. As we enter the new year I am committed to focusing on forgiving myself and others. Ryan’s quote from Gandhi is very helpful: “why let others live in your head rent free by holding a grudge against them?”

    Thank you for reminding me of the process of forgiveness. Happy, healthy New Year.

    • Hi Lori,

      I know it’s not easy! I’m sure you will progress well with you committed focus for the new year. I love Ryan’s quote from Gandhi. As you are both pointing out, we end up harming our self so much more than anyone else when we hold a grudge!

  7. Thank you for these thoughts Sandra! It is a big waste of energy to hold grudges against others and also against yourself. We could use this energy for much better things.

  8. You really hit the nail on the head, Tom!

  9. The greatest beneficiary of forgiveness is the person who does the forgiving, and when I learned that truth I was able to forgive.

    I blogged on this saying:
    “Truth be told it takes just as much energy to offend as it does to choose to be offended. And I believe that the greatest beneficiary of forgiveness is the party who does the granting of forgiveness.

    By choosing to forgive anyone who you chose to give the power to offend you in the first place, this removes you from the role of being a victim and releases the control and power that you gave to the offending person and situation.

    Choosing forgiveness means agreeing not to yield to actions driven by bitterness. When you let go of bitterness and grudges, you no longer define your life by how you have been hurt, and you are able to find compassion and understanding for the person who you chose to allow to offend you.

    I know that in order to even form a grudge I am manifesting ego and attachment to a specific outcome or an aversion to a specific outcome. I no longer choose to be bitter and to hold a grudge. I am on the path of the peaceful warrior, who has recommitted to not giving her power away.

  10. Hi there,

    Thanks for sharing this inspiring excerpt about forgiveness from your blog. It offers another helpful perspective on forgiveness. It’s very interesting perspective on power, something I would like to reflect upon more. This is a very deep understanding: “”I know that in order to even form a grudge I am manifesting ego and attachment to a specific outcome or an aversion to a specific outcome.” All the best to you in these busy times.

  11. I also experienced a similar situation when I felt so betrayed that I could not find myself able to forgive, even though I knew I should. Ego was in the way. My own false sense of self-worth was in the way. The desire to forgive did not leave me, and eventually I felt an immense rush of forgiveness. All the hurt and anger evaporated away. This was a big lesson for me, making it easier to forgive subsequent, perceived insults.

    I now know that if I never accept the perceived hurt to begin with, there is nothing to forgive. Easier said than done, but words I try to follow.

    Kathleen

    • Kathleen ~ You really touched on several important new points. It was true for me too that when I was holding onto that sense of betrayal it was due to be honest about difficult parts of my self – my ego was in the way as you said too. I am glad your experience has made it easier to forgive in the future.

      This is profound: “I now know that if I never accept the perceived hurt to begin with, there is nothing to forgive.” Yes, easier said than done, but having the perspective puts you miles ahead on the right path. Thanks for these insights.

  12. I remember watching a program on Oprah with Dr. Phil many years ago. A woman had lost her husband and spent her life feeling she could never be happy again. She refused to see anything positive and wanted to dwell in her grief and blame herself for her husband’s death. Dr. Phil spoke about forgiving herself and letting herself become free, and how her husband would not want to see her live the rest of her life miserable. That show had such an impact on me and for the first time, it really hit home that forgiveness was for her personal freedom and happiness. Thanks Sandra for your inspiring post.

    • Hi,

      This is such a powerful insight: “…for the first time, it really hit home that forgiveness was for her personal freedom and happiness.” It’s amazing how positive television programming can really have such a strong impact upon us. When we’re open, the shift comes. Thanks for this story.

  13. Wonderful post. Failure to forgive is like swallowing poison and hoping it hurts someone else.

    I find forgiveness easy . . . for passing transgressions. And much harder for “repeat offenders.”

    • Hi there,

      That’s a really interesting point about “repeat offenders”! Thanks for adding this interesting twist. And thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

  14. Thank you for such a special message, Sandra.

    Hawai’i is perhaps the farthest place on Earth from us in SA, but I feel a strong pull to visit there. More so now 🙂

    • Naomi,

      Hawai’i is a special and healing place indeed, although like many parts of the world it has been built up like crazy. I’m lucky to live in a small corner of the island that is developed but not overrun. I hope you have a chance to visit someday.

  15. Thanks for this. I’ve read tons about forgiveness and usually just glossed it over. But as I read this post, I realized that what I need to do most as this year draws to a close is to forgive myself for a few imagined trespasses I’ve been harshly beating myself up for.

    • Hi Charlotte,

      I know what you mean. Sometimes the planets seem to perfectly align so that an old thought hits us like a new thought! I’m glad this post resonated for you in that way and wish you well with your process of self-forgiveness.

      I absolutely love the tagline on your blog – “fall in love with your writing, your life, and yourself.”

      Thanks so much for your comment.

  16. Hi Sandra,
    Thanks for this post. I’ve been on both sides of the fence when it comes to forgiveness. I’ve needed to forgive and I’ve needed to come to terms with not being forgiven. It is a really tough subject. I’ve had to allow myself to be an imperfect soul. I’ve had to be ok with it. To free yourself of anger and grudges means you will not allow the transgressions to define who you are. I guess you have to want your soul to be free. Thanks Sandra!

    ~Dandy

    • Hi Dandy,

      I feel so humbled by the responses I receive on my blog. I’m so fortunate to be connected with so many profound and deep thinkers like you. Your comments and one other spoke to this truth of accepting that we are all imperfect. Your words are really singing to my heart. Thank you!

  17. Amelia

    Sandra,

    You blog really inspired me to reflect on a some negative feelings that still sometimes surface. This, years after a friend did something to hurt me, and which implied I loved their company more than they loved mine. I seem to think that I have forgiven them and then, out of the blue, the anger ‘and stories’ creep up again. How does one really forgive for good. Let go completely of the hurt. Perhaps it is a life- long process in which forgiveness needs to be practiced and its benefts understood daily, in order to let go completely.

    Amelia **

    • Amelia,

      Your comments underscores how deeply hurt penetrates us. Words can be like arrows indeed. You are so on target when you speak of forgiveness and a process. It does take time. When it pops up it’s showing us that the healing is not complete and there’s more to do. It may not take a lifetime – I hope not! – but often it does take time. But I believe in the power of aspiration. If we set our heart on it, forgiveness, healing, and peace will come to pass.

  18. It takes a lot from a individual to for give. But when you tuck away your pride, you become more than a empty , aggressive diabolical vessel. You become someone worth talking to and someone who can live life.

    • Jonathan,

      What a great description: “a empty, aggressive diabolical vessel.” We certainly don’t want to be that. 🙂

  19. Hi Sandra,
    A Course In Miracles states forgiveness is a shift in perception and it’s the way to inner peace. I’ve been a student for over 20 years. I believe part of our journey is learning to forgive daily. There is always a crazy driver, customer service person, next door neighbor or someone or something that we’re tend to have a grievance with and let our peace of mind go out the window. If I’m not in a peaceful state it’s easy for my ego to appear and project ridiculous small stuff onto hubs. Then I can easily go off on a tangent. And the entire thing is the “reality” I made up, an illusion.

    I think the most difficult time for me was when my four daughters were all in their teens at the same time, twins 13, another 15 and the third 17. They were each a “mini me” mirroring my every act and fear 24/7! That’s when ACIM came into my life! I swear it saved me from abandoning everyone;) Anyway wasn’t it Mother Teresa who said we all have a mini Hitler inside? That also helps put things into perspective.

    I’ve picked up somewhere along the way this.
    I bless you
    I release you
    I set you free
    I allow you to be you
    and me to be me.
    It doesn’t get much easier than that! xo

    • Hi Tess and Sandra .. thanks for posting here – while I’m on line: excellent timing and this so applies .. but out of adversity comes opportunity & it sure popped up – a new direction and one I never thought I’d get into … but who knows – life is a turmoil at the moment. Hope is ahead and I can be me .. so be it. Incredible how this blogging world gives us new thoughts, new approaches and calms us on our challenging way .. thanks so much .. cheers Hilary

      • Hilary, It helps so much to know and remember that “out of adversity comes opportunity.” Thanks for this important reminder! Wishing you the best working with the turmoil, may it blossom into learning and opportunity.

    • Tess,
      I can sure relate to this” “If I’m not in a peaceful state it’s easy for my ego to appear and project ridiculous small stuff onto hubs. Then I can easily go off on a tangent. And the entire thing is the “reality” I made up, an illusion.” Fortunately, I have a very patient and loving husband.

      Thank you for sharing this mini-lesson in A Course in Miracles. It’s really a powerful approach and it makes it so simple to understand how we are in charge of our own inner peace.

      I truly can’t imagine surviving the teen-hoods of 4 teens at the same time. You truly are a star. I’m so glad you found ACIM and are able to share this wisdom with us today. BTW, I’ve been seeing ACIM quotes and had no idea what ACIM means. So you’ve also enlightened me on a very basic level. 🙂 Thanks!

  20. We’ve found that acceptance often makes forgiveness unnecessary. Too often, it is our judgment of another that leads to our perceived need to forgive. If we simply accept others as they are, realizing that they are doing the best they can, then there is likely to be far less for us to forgive!

    • Hi, That’s such a beautiful perspective – “…acceptance often makes forgiveness unnecessary.” I will definitely be reflecting upon this sage piece of advice.

  21. Hi Sandra,

    I am a big believer in forgiveness. Everyone makes mistakes in life, myself included. If we were to hold on to grudges, there would be a lot of burdens we would be carrying. It was not easy for me to learn to forgive, but over the years I have learned to look at the bigger picture of life. This has always helped me to see things in perspective.

    I believe that everything happens for a reason. In any conflict or situation where a need for forgiveness arises, we have to bear a certain amount of responsibility. I am not suggesting that we take all the blame. But we have to be aware that our actions may have caused the other person to act the way they did. With this in mind, I always find it easier to let go and not hold grudges.

    Although I may not hold grudges, I won’t let myself be taken advantaged of. If I see that the person has not learned their lesson or is unrepentant, then I have to make the choice to avoid them. There is no point clinging to a relationship that is toxic. I just let go and more on without carrying the grudge. There are some people we are meant to get along with and others that we don’t. We should focus on forging relationships that really matter.

    But if the person shows remorse and repentance, they should be given another chance. Owning up to our mistakes and showing true repentance is not easy and takes courage. This is why I always make it a point to iron out issues fully and put things behind me once and for all.

    If I am the one who needs to ask for forgiveness, I always make the first move as fast as possible. There is no point putting it off and letting the matter drag. Only by doing this can I live a life free of regrets and needless burdens. Of course it is important to make sure that we iron out all the issues fully so that the issue will never happen again.

    Thank you for sharing this important post! 🙂

    Irving the Vizier

    • Irving, I feel you have a very balanced approach to forgiveness and to living, in general.

      So many of us get stuck in not being able to take responsibility when a problem arises as you suggest here: “In any conflict or situation where a need for forgiveness arises, we have to bear a certain amount of responsibility. I am not suggesting that we take all the blame. But we have to be aware that our actions may have caused the other person to act the way they did.” I agree with you ~ generally, nothing happens in a vacuum and it always helps the situation to look at our part, however small it might be. Taking on part of the blame can go a long way to diffuse a situation.

      I really appreciate your balanced perspective on relationships. It’s OK for relationships to come and go and change. It takes maturity to recognize when it’s time to move on. I like the guidance you provide here.

      I always learn so much from your comments and appreciate them so much!

  22. I especially appreciated this post as forgiveness has been a big issue for me, both forgiving others and forgiving myself. I, too, had someone who I found it impossible to forgive, just as you described. I finally use a method similar to your prayer/aspiration. Every time I would think of this person, before I could get caught up in the story again, I would pray, “God bless [name] and please help me mean it.” I prayed this for months, until finally I really did mean it.

    • Perfect! Galen, This is a perfect example of how prayer or aspiration can work to help us forgive gradually over time. I’ve been thinking of the saying “to err is human, to forgive is divine”. It seems to say that it takes a great spiritual capacity to forgive. It’s wonderful to know that we can grow that capacity if we set our heart upon it and use methods like the one you describe here. Thanks for sharing your story!

  23. Great post, Sandra. Perfect post to end the night on… 🙂 Sweet dreams all.

  24. I am having a terrible time forgiving someone who betrayed me.
    I really do WANT to forgive but every time I try, something is holding me back and causing me to never forget what this person did to me out of the blue. I feel that no matter what I do, it’s literally impossible. I pray and ask God to take my bitterness away, but I just feel that I’m becoming more and more bitter as time moves on… If time really is the only answer, then I’m just hoping that God will take it before it’s too late for me.

    • Loor,

      I’ve felt the same way and it was very difficult for me too. Maybe you could explore more what is holding you back. This might lead you in a new direction. I’m not saying that time is the only answer; we do need to keep making an aspiration to forgive and continue to examine our own mind and our own motivations. Sometimes talking it out with a counselor can also help. I wish you well with this. I know it’s not easy. Thanks for reaching out.

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