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STS project diary 7 – Introduction to Forgiveness

Updated: Apr 24, 2022

Introduction to Forgiveness and its place in building resilience and trauma healing

July 10 & 18 – both cohorts

The Forgiveness module of this project will span over the coming 8 sessions, one building and weaving upon the other, focusing on trauma healing and resilience building through the pathways of forgiveness.

Forgiveness Stories
In our less-than-perfect world, some people were able to find a place in themselves where what they cherished most, had greater weight than the need to be right, to blame, to avenge… a place of hope, love, and freedom. Each in their own time and space, for some it was instant, for others, it is still a continuous journey…

Forgiveness has many expressions, outplays, layers upon layers of struggle for some, and yet instant for others.  In some ways – it has a life of its own inside the person, it cannot be demanded, expected, or hurried. You don’t have to agree to forgiveness, it has its own timing and is indeed a very intimate process within the person.    The seven qualities of forgiveness are, at the same time seven pillars of resilience, and have the capacity to heal trauma and we are going to spend a lot of time with these qualities of resilience and forgiveness.

We all make mistakes in our lives, and anyone alive today, anyone who has ever lived and will ever live – wrestles and struggles with issues of forgiveness, as we try to make right whatever caused offense, hurt, or damage, be it towards another or towards ourselves.

But what if Forgiveness was not possible? What if we had to carry the burdens of our mistakes all our lives?  Participants have reflected on the questions:

What does it feel like in you when there is no forgiveness?

Participants remarked: “While there is a great weight, there is also a great sense of emptiness”. Another expressed: “Being trapped and stuck, imprisoned with no way forward”.  All the comments expressed a very low functioning state.

History has demonstrated many times that the remarkable ability to reach forgiveness in oneself has caused the healing of traumas, mending wounds of the past, and strengthening mental and emotional resilience, allowing the person to continue with their life’s purpose.

Nelson Mandela President of South Afrika visiting his cell in Rodden Island
Nelson Mandela – the leader of the ANC (African National Congress that fought against the Apartheid in South Africa), was imprisoned for 27 years with 152 others. Many Afrikaners (ruling power at that time), were convinced that all blacks were somehow lesser, needed to be managed and controlled to be productive as humans, and they believed it was their duty to do that.  Unable to believe in the other’s humanity, it spiraled into mutually assured destruction, including the destruction of our better selves. While in prison, Mandela came to realize the only way forward was to find a way to have a fresh clean start for everyone. He worked daily to understand the Afrikaners, insisted on learning their language. As he practiced their language with the guards, he sought for the capacity to find humanity in others, to understand each life, to wish for them, as he wished for himself, to be free of racism and of prejudices; a place that did not measure people by their mistakes, or their past wrongs. All this while he endured hard labour from morning to dusk, breaking rocks in the sun, as he saw his friends and colleagues die working on those rocks… That struggle led to his life being charged with understanding and forbearance, hope, and human warmth as he sought the remedy. On the dark days, he would recite the Poem ‘Invictus’ and found it restored his intactness, it charged his resilience.

Lack of forgiveness applies not only on a personal level but in whole communities, outplayed in generational continuous prejudice, fears, national or tribal conflicts, and wars, carried on from the past into the present and which, unless something changes, continue the cycles of violence and revenge into the future (which ends up replaying the past).

In small group sessions, participants selected and worked through individual stories of Forgiveness and together reflected on the inner values, which either led to forgiveness or made the journey possible.

sunrise, brand new day, clean slate
Think of the fact that we get the love and warmth of a fresh start every day, every morning, and what is the fabric of the values that provide that for all human life -regardless of what they have done… something hopes for the human and graces us every day with a fresh chance to be better, to improve, to try again, to refine, to learn, to evolute… which goes way beyond who is right or who is wrong… Can WE extend this to another and to ourselves??

The capacity to forgive is natural, inherent to every human. It is easily found in children. No baby, no child is born with hate or prejudice. With age, when stressed, when disappointed – at distance from our inner values – we harden, find it more difficult to forgive – ourselves or others – or even think about forgiving.

The seed of Forgiveness is in there, it needs to be grown and nourished by regular practice and conscious decision, mental and emotional straight and honest “soul searching”, examination of values, reasons for what one does.  It is a journey of developing values, refining values, establishing values, and coming to an awareness of what it is we really care about and find important to us. This gradually builds resilience against whatever gets in the way of forgiveness – our low functioning limbic system, all that stops us (link to Stop Situation session) fears, wounds, trauma, cultural and societal ‘norms’, and a myriad of psychologies that sway us to biases, prejudices, and revenge.

It is not about what is right or wrong, but about what you value and the fabric of it in your life.

The session ended with the reading of INVICTUS (by William Ernest Henley) which Nelson Mandel recited it to himself at his darkest times…

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