Every religion emphasizes the importance of forgiveness — Christianity teaches turning the other cheek; Buddhism encourages the practice of sending loving-kindness to all beings. Yet it is very difficult to simply decide to forgive someone who has wronged you and make the emotions of anger or the feeling of betrayal simply go away. It is equally difficult to forgive ourselves and make the sense of shame or disappointment dissolve and no longer afflict us. Sometimes we hold on so firmly to our resentments that we carry them with us to our deathbed.
When we forgive ourselves and others, we can reprogram the toxic neural networks of our limbic brain; but in order to truly forgive, we must upgrade the programming that is the source of our limiting beliefs. In other words, we face a neurological Catch-22: It is very difficult to create new neural networks until we practice forgiveness, and to practice forgiveness we need to upgrade our neural network.
The following exercise was especially helpful to shamans after the Spanish Conquest of the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries. With it, they were able to forgive the Conquistadors who wreaked havoc on their traditions and enslaved their people. In some parts of the Andes, this practice is known as “Burying the Sword of the Conquest.”
It works by re-imprinting the image of a loved one over the image of someone who has wronged you. This can help you override the programming of your prehistoric brain. It is not an easy practice, because the mind will resist holding the image of a loved one together with that of an enemy.
An Exercise in Radical Forgiveness
This practice works best when you are relaxed.
Sit down comfortably and take a few deep, relaxing breaths. Call to your mind the image of a loved one, and experience the feelings of caring and affection. Hold this image for a count of three breaths.
Now call to your mind the image of someone you feel has wronged you — a former lover or business partner, or someone who abused you physically or emotionally. For one long breath, feel the anger or resentment you have toward this person swelling up inside you.
Now, for five long breaths, superimpose the image of your loved one over this person, and envision how they blend and merge until only the image of your loved one remains, and only the feelings of love and caring endure.
This exercise must be repeated frequently for it to clear the toxic emotions and erase the neural networks in the limbic brain. You will notice that the intensity of your feelings of anger or resentment will gradually diminish, until one day you discover that they are extinguished.
Then, you will be able to draw the lesson that you still have to learn from that relationship and not have to waste time and energy on toxic emotions. Once we learn the lessons that our enemies have to teach us, we don’t need to continue learning that way any longer.
An Exercise in Inner Healing
The practice of Sky Gazing is at the heart of spiritual practice in the Tibetan Dzogchen and other ancient shamanic traditions. It can be done anywhere, and any time we need to leave behind our mundane affairs and conflicts. Sky Gazing transports us into the silent inner world where all healing takes place, where your body’s natural rhythms — pulse, respiration, brain waves, and energy systems — synchronize with each other.
Sit comfortably with your hands resting gently on your knees, eyes open, gazing straight ahead into the real or imagined sky. Relax your jaw and allow your eyes to look with a soft gaze. Take deep, gentle breaths. Relax your belly, keeping it soft.
As you follow your breathing, observe your feelings, thoughts, and moods. Simply witness everything that surfaces in your awareness as if it were a cloud in the sky that appears and disappears of its own accord. As you inhale, note how you are the observer. As you exhale, notice how easy it is to get lost in thought.
With time, you will start to realize that you are none of your feelings or your thoughts but that you are the Seer who observes all. Notice where your mind wanders off to, and then bring it back gently to focus on your breath as you gaze at the morning sky. Rest calmly in this awareness and notice the vast spaciousness that opens up before you.
Observe your mind, nature, your body, and even the sky floating by. Clouds come and go, thoughts come and go, sensations come and go. With practice, as you invest the Seer with attention and awareness, all of the busyness and worries of the mind dissolve and you witness every object, feeling, and thought with a smile on your face. To succeed, you must practice this exercise daily, the first thing in the morning, for 15minutes.
“Still your mind and all clouds disappear. Contemplate a single truth and clear sky appears.”