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Unconditional Friendship (for yourself and others)

birthday celebrationHave you ever heard the saying, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold”? We used to sing it in rounds when I was a Girl Scout.

The photo to the right is me with dear friend of almost 20 years – taken at the special dinner she treated me to for my birthday last week.

Another friend of almost 40 years (a true BFF!) wrote me a card and mentioned how remarkable our friendship is for its ability to bring out the best in each other.

With all of my “gold” friends it seems that we have always been able to see each other’s truest, wisest selves. Yes, that kind of friendship is a gift indeed.

Of course, over the course of many years, even the deepest friendship is not immune to misunderstanding and hurt feelings. It’s in those times that we often need to dig deep and find forgiveness.

I think it is most challenging to do this when I feel hurt by someone’s behavior or when I am aware that I have hurt someone with my own. Keep reading for more about my process of finding and practicing unconditional forgiveness.

“My parents never supported or encouraged me.” “I’m ashamed when I yell at my kids.” “My partner doesn’t appreciate me.” “My boss makes too many impossible demands.”

Thoughts like these can enter our minds throughout the day and often cause stress, anger, fear, depression, and other painful emotions to brew inside us.

But we have a choice about what we do with those thoughts. We can repeat them ad infinitum and become supremely dissatisfied with our lives, or we can question them and choose new thoughts. That will allow us to feel better about ourselves—and then, in turn, allow us to think better of ourselves.

Choosing other thoughts that feel better often starts with forgiveness – of ourselves and others.

Oprah probably said it best when she said this about forgiveness: Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.

Forgiveness is also:

  1. A process of intention. There is never an explicit timeline for healing. What is important is our intentional commitment to forgive or to seek forgiveness. It is a process that you will likely need to practice again and again.
  2. An opportunity to change. If a transgression has occurred it is a wonderful time for one person to apologize (without defensive excuses) with the expectation that the other person will listen and accept the apology, and that together they will find ways to make amends and move on. To forgive is to give oneself, and others, permission to change and go forward in the future.
  3. A wellness boost. People who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. A study from Hope College in Michigan discovered that when people think about forgiving an offender it leads to improved functioning in their cardiovascular and nervous systems. So, when you forgive someone, instead of thinking that you are doing them a favor, remember that you are healing yourself.
  4. Unconditional friendship. Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, talks about how the combination of honesty, clarity and kindness are the essence of forgiveness or unconditional friendship with ourselves and others.

friendshipNote, however, one thing that forgiveness is not. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. And, again, it is quite different from making amends (see above).

If you want more help with making amends I’ve mentioned before that Byron Katie’s “The Work” is a simple yet profound process of inquiry that teaches you to identify and question your stressful thoughts. It can be especially helpful when you want to forgive someone—or at least when you realize your resentment toward them is hurting you.

If the Work isn’t your thing, there are many other practices that are considered time-honored rituals for achieving forgiveness.

Here are a few:

1. Meditation/Reflection: This is a powerful tool in any healing process. You come to appreciate that you cannot change the past, but you can own the present moment. One of my favorite practices is the Loving Kindness Meditation. Begin by repeating the following phrase over and over.

May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be happy.

Direct it to yourself first and then extend it to your loved ones. Finally, when you are able, try to include the person with whom you are having the most difficulty.

2. Use a Mantra: Use a mantra either during medication or reflection or just at any time when you have a quiet moment. This exercise will help you change your thought patterns over time.  Good ones for forgiveness include “I release this,” (Or even more simply, “Release.”), “All is well,” And “This too will pass.”

3. Journaling: Recording your stressful thoughts in a journal is a valuable way of releasing them.

No matter which practice you choose, learning to practice forgiveness will bring you to a happy and peaceful life.