North American Institute for Conflict Resolution
Home About Us Of Seeds and Sowers Our Library Links Contact Us
Steps to Forgiveness
books on forgiveness
Other links

Forgiveness Overview

Forgiveness - Prerequisite to Presence

There are two paths to releasing the continuing burden of past pain - what we call forgiveness. Since the language of each one is different, you may find it helpful to distinguish the two.

Stauffer Method -

One is the Stauffer Method - a simple, easy-to-learn method for letting go of what we and also others have done that brought pain into our lives. The focus in that approach is "I've had enough. I'm through suffering for what this (other one) did to me." It is completely non-religious, even though there is a final step in the process that requires you to bring in an awareness of spirit - however you define it - to fill the void left by the release.

You may use the Stauffer method to free yourself of whatever the immediate burden you are carrying and once you learn it, you can use it as often as you wish - it only takes perhaps 10 to 30 minutes - to keep up with your internal housekeeping. It is a tool - but a clean one: it simply puts you and the events face to face and allows you to recognize and acknowledge your part in keeping the continued pain in your life - and then to release that holding.

Transformative Forgiveness -

There is a larger context of forgiveness. We enter it when we allow ourselves to fall into it and never by design. Recognizing how ugly and destructive it is to live with hatred - for us and for those around us and the world we live in - any one may, at some point, cry for release from their own destructive attitudes. If this surrender is genuine, life provides an opportunity for us to walk through that doorway to a whole different way of being. Only we can walk through. No one can do it for us.

People who walk through that doorway find that forgiveness becomes a permanent life attitude - a way of life, permeating every corner, every crevice of the life. Often, this transformative forgiveness occurs with people who have suffered the most terrible of wrongs - who have been pushed to near-madness by torture, rage, and terrible suffering. When they are freed of any quest for revenge, when they can see themselves in the other, when their hearts break with the recognition of their own participation in the same destructiveness they resist through hatred - there can be the most tender surrender of control of their lives to a higher power, usually expressed in our culture as God, or in Muslim cultures as Allah, or something similar.

Most of us in Western culture rarely see our own contribution to the evil abroad in the world. We justify and explain our judgments to make them fit our mental models of who we are. When we notice the daily cruelties we perpetrate on those we love, those we work with, those we meet - we paper it over with excuses so we don't feel the real pain of it. This is dishonesty. Honesty is looking at these things, unvarnished, unjustified, unexcused - in tenderness and without judgment - and simply letting the pain in and letting it keep on going - not holding onto it. That can feel like a knife in the heart, but when it cuts deeply, it provides an opening for love and compassion to flow through from deep within us into the world. Lives are transformed by this in the most unforeseeable ways.

Part of the legacy of the century of wars, the 20th century, are growing ranks of those who suffered greatly and found within themselves the courage to forgive and to seek reconciliation. The book, Forgiveness - Breaking The Chain of Hate, by Michael Henderson, documents many of these. Through movements large and small, our peers and predecessors are facing past wrongs and in seeking forgiveness and reconciliation, they are finding freedom and honesty in their lives that are deeply transformative - to themselves and to their worlds. Here is one story he tells:

Leif Hovelsen, a Norwegian youth and patriot of WW II, betrayed, captured, tortured, and condemned by the Nazis had a chance to reverse roles with one of his persecutors. As he meted out the revenge that seethed in him, he saw what that was doing to him. Unable to live with that, later, he sought the man's forgiveness and learned that he, too, has sought forgiveness prior to his execution.

More than 50 years later, after a life filled with the work of reconciliation with Russians and Germans, he spoke of the broader complicity of his generation in those terrible events: "We in our generation, and those older, have never faced that we were also responsible for the Holocaust in the sense that we didn't have the moral and spiritual insight to see it coming and the political will to do something to stop it. Instead, we in our countries adopted the spirit of Munich."

Of his own experience, he wrote: 'When I answered the Nazis with the same treatment meted out to me, their spirit had conquered me. When I forgave I had conquered National Socialism."Fifty-two years after the war, he traveled to Germany to seek out one other of his guards. Finding him deceased, he tendered to the man's daughter his apologies for the hate he had harbored in his heart towards the man during his incarceration. After she forgave him, they journeyed to his grave, where he placed three roses.

Hovelsen, like so many others deeply touched by it, sees forgiveness as a fruit of being obedient to the truth revealed in the heart. It is not just an isolated act. It is, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, an attitude toward life. Hovelsen became outspoken about his own and other nations' complicity in the Holocaust - recognizing that our failure to act when we could have prevented the catastrophe was a key contributing factor in the events that followed.

Imagine you are a mother. It is the end of a war that your country spent in bondage and your children are thin and sickly, due to malnutrition. One son had been captured by the occupying forces and was tortured. Friends and colleagues were removed and were later found in mass graves or to have died in prison camps. When the war ends, you who have fought the invaders underground, now enter the political arena. You are seething with anger. You long to see the extermination of the nation that committed these atrocities. You hate the whole nation of people who did such things. You have been a fighter all your life - on behalf of workers against employers in what you have seen as a class struggle. You now transfer all of that fight to the nation and the people that wronged you and your country. As a leader now within your country you are invited to a conference on reconciliation at which people from that nation will be present. You feel the hate screaming inside of you - no! no! Never with them there! But you go. You know in your mind at least that hatred is something that creates new wars. You long to be free of the hatred, but it grips you. You are French. The people you have so hated are German.

The woman you are was Irene Laure. After two days and nights of internal struggle and sleeplessness at this conference, she shares a meal with a German woman, Clarita von Trott. Each tell their stories. Von Trott's husband, Laure learns, opposed Hitler and was part of a plot to assassinate him. The plot failed and her husband was executed, leaving her to fend for herself and her small children. Laure, a Marxist Socialist, suggested (much to her own surprise) that perhaps if they prayed together, it would help. Laure prayed first to be free of hatred so that a new future could be built. Von Trott then prayed in French. Instinctively, Laure placed her hand on the other woman's knee. She said later, "In that moment, the bridge across the Rhine was built and that bridge always held, never broke."

Afterwards she told the six hundred people in the hall, including the Germans, all that she had felt. But she continued: "I have so hated Germany that I wanted to see her erased from the map of Europe. But I have seen that my hatred is wrong. I am sorry and I wish to ask the forgiveness of all the Germans present." Laure said that it was as if a great weight had been lifted from her. A German woman stepped up to the platform and took her hand. Laure said "At that moment, I knew that I was going to give the rest of my life to take this message of forgiveness and reconciliation to the world." The daughter of that German woman had her own life changed on the spot, as well, seeing what her mother had done. When she and her husband spent weeks traveling in Germany, speaking to nearly all state parliaments and others, she repeated her apology. Her resolve to help find a better way was strengthened as she saw the suffering of the German people.

For over forty years, she, her husband and at times her children, traveled the world on behalf of world peace, overcoming the claims of colleagues that she was a traitor. "It took a miracle to uproot the hatred in my heart," she said. "I barely believed in God, but he performed this miracle. I became free to struggle for the whole world, with a deep desire to heal the past. After I asked the Germans for forgiveness for having wished their country's complete destruction, I was finally able to work effectively for world peace." When Laure died, the Times of London header her obituary, "Resistance heroine and healer of wounds."
(Henderson, Forgiveness - Breaking the Chain of Hate, 146 - 150)

Forgiveness isn't about the other guy.

Forgiveness is about you. When you are holding on to past pain, you are the one who suffers. When you let it go, you are the one whose load is lightened. Nothing can ever take another person off the hook for what they did. What is done, is done. Forgiveness does not change the past. It only acts in the present to change your relationship to what was done.

When you are in a state of unforgiveness, you are living in the past.

You are expending energy and giving attention to the past, and thereby missing the reality and potential of the present. You may find yourself saying, if only . . . if only things (past) had been different.

The past doesn't need you to keep it in place.

In reality, what happened, happened. That is all. There are civil consequences when people do bad things to each other. But there is no requirement, anywhere, that you continue suffering from what others have done. Unpleasant as it sounds, you hold that past suffering in your life by choice.

You will never be beautiful in unforgiveness.

Forgiveness is the best-kept beauty secret going. When the forgiveness is true and deep, everyone notices how much younger and more attractive you look. It's automatic, for the cloud of judgment you have held has lifted and the light which is you shines through.

When you are ready, you can let that suffering go through forgiveness now, in the present and from now on. And when you do, there is healing that flows into the world from your choice.

More on the Stauffer method -

The following relates specifically to the Stauffer Model of letting go of unforgiveness.

Forgiveness Frees You

from past hurts and entanglements by working with what you, alone, control: your own body and minds, your attitudes and feelings, and your will.

You Are the One Who Suffers

when you hold on to anger and resentment. It separates you from yourself, from others and from the power of love. The need to keep suffering is often the underlying reason for continued anger. And the passionate desire to stop suffering signals readiness to forgive. what others have done.

Forgiveness Does Not Condone

Done is done. No one can change that. What you can change is your relationship to it. You can transform your relationship from one of denial, pain and darkness to one of acceptance, wisdom and light.

Forgiveness Empowers You

When one person heals, the whole world changes. It never happens when we go out with the goal to change another. When you change, relationships improve, people are friendlier, even the sky is brighter and clearer. By learning how to forgive, we change both ourselves and the entire world for the better.

Forgiveness Is Done Individually

You do the forgiveness work to an empty chair in which you imagine the person you wish to forgive to be sitting. You speak from the heart about what wrongs they committed, how it made you feel, and how you would have preferred them to have behaved or been.

Then you acknowledge the reality of their failure to live up to your expectations. You give them responsibility for their own lives, and reclaim your responsibility for your own feelings, your life, and your destiny. You acknowledge and cancel your expectations which have brought only frustration and grief.

Forgiveness Is Sealed in Spirit

When we let go of the huge expectations -- (e.g. that our parents should have loved and cared for us, our boss should treat us fairly, our lover should be honorable, that our children should by grateful for our sacrifices) -- we feel full of holes. Although we are empty and at peace, the juice of life we found in our conflicts is gone.

To seal the forgiveness, by active imagination, we bring in the life force, the qualities of the Creator from where they reside in our own higher selves, or as the Essenes put it, our Naphsha.

Forgiveness Is Complete

only when we will to forgive and when the four aspects of our being are engaged - emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual.

The emotions must be felt during the forgiveness. This can not happen when we have repressed our rage and feel only sadness. The experience of the anger is the engine for healing.

We Heal Ourselves - the teacher only shows us the way

Through compassion, the teacher may help us be able to speak our own truth. In forgiveness, we do our own healing. The teacher simply helps keep the process moving.

It Is Not Hard to Forgive Someone

Often, we just don't know how. This easy and powerful method of forgiveness can be learned in a day and used for a lifetime.

Forgiveness is not something that you do to or for another person. You do it for you. You do it in order to be free of the burden you have been carrying. The steps are simple and in this model, the person being forgiven is never personally present. Only when you have actually forgiven and recognized your own participation in hardness within, is there a clean slate to ask another for their forgiveness.

The Stauffer model of forgiveness works this way:

You face an empty chair in which you imagine the person being forgiven to be seated, your guide or teacher sitting beside you. You begin with a statement of will, for without your willingly giving up what you are holding, nothing will happen. Next, you tell that person exactly what they did or failed to do and how it made you feel. These are specific and not general, or they are useless for the purpose -- specific events, specific recollections. In this part you are honestly stating how things have seemed to be to you.

The next step is to tell (that person in) the chair how you would have preferred them to be, an easy step for most of us who spend so much time in our mind. In this phase, you acknowledge how it actually is or was with them and you cancel your expectation that they be otherwise. The canceling is done with a chopping motion with the arm, which engages the physical body in this letting go process. Next, you cancel all your demands and expectations that they be other than they are and have been and you take a momentous step:

you give them responsibility for their life, their words, their actions, their deeds, and you take responsibility for your life, your words, your deeds, your actions and inactions -- and the whole condition of your life.

All of a sudden, you have no explanation for all of the things in your life that you thought were wrong -- the things you didn't do -- seemingly because of someone else -- the aspirations, passions and creativity still unexpressed. You feel like a piece of Swiss cheese, for you have let go of one of the props you've been using to justify how things are with you. If you stopped there, this holding would all flood back in on you. So one more step is needed.

You raise your consciousness to a higher power, and particularly to that aspect of it that is within you and a part of you. The Essenes called it the Naphsha, and visualized it as a little light about 2 feet above your head. That is where all the divine qualities you express in your life -- tenderness, compassion, clarity, love, wisdom, understanding, for example -- where all of these qualities reside. (You may feel when this tender core of your being is touched, deep inside of you. The fact that for the Essenes, it was seen externally does not detract from that.)

From the perspective, then, of the Naphsha you review your life, solely with compassion, and you feel your heart opening and this flood of tenderness, compassion, unconditional love and acceptance of yourself just as you are and just as you have always been -- flooding down into your body, washing away unneeded debris and filling all of the holes, while at the same time filling you with unbelievable energy.

It really works. The peace you will feel, when you let go of the self-justification and self-righteousness, is indescribable. The inner beauty and cleanliness that was hidden by your inner tightness shines through you now and is obvious to all who see you.

Home | About Us | What's New | Of Seeds and Sowers | Calendar | Contact Us | Our Library| Related Links | Site Map

2004 North American Institute for Conflict Resolution. All Rights Reserved.