By the time we reach our teen years (and sometimes far earlier), most of us have had a taste of pain or sorrow. For some, it stems from an incident within the family. For others, the end of a friendship or an experience of bullying burns deeply into our hearts. As the years go by, we end up with layer upon layer of emotional burdens. They lie heavy within us. We wonder, what can be done?
Although we can't change the past, we can heal our suffering. As a counselor, I work with people who sincerely want to release their sadness, fears and trauma. I do this through forgiveness and other tools for inner peace. I use an expanded model of forgiveness that includes deep letting go, compassion, silence, prayer, and trust in our Higher Power.
I wouldn’t be able to sit with my clients as they share their deepest secrets if I didn’t use this healing method in my personal life. As I explain in my book, Forgive and Be Free, I found precious sanity and new direction after many painful life lessons, including healing after my mother’s suicide.
At the time, I was twenty-three, eight and a half months pregnant, and just about penniless. My father had stopped speaking to me because of the pregnancy. I felt completely adrift, lost in grief, anger and a huge amount of confusion. My mother’s death sent me a message that Life just wasn’t worth sticking around for. Life was too hard, too messy, too impossible to live through.
Not knowing what else to do, I lavished my love upon my baby daughter, and got help from dear friends along the way. It took me eight years to open the box of sorrow I’d stashed inside my heart. Later, I found the forgiveness work, which gave me guidance and direction. I received permission to release this trauma, layer by layer. Waves of spiritual understanding and peace came to me as I let go.
It’s for this reason that I’m so passionate about sharing the healing path of forgiveness. I’ve taken all of the hardships in my life to its open arms of love. I’m living proof of the power of its soul medicine.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned after twenty-five years as a peace educator. I hope they help you see forgiveness in a new light.
1. We forgive when we are ready, and not a moment before. It’s good to know that forgiveness is an option and that we can accept its invitation whenever the time feels right. Our true nature is eternal, so we have plenty of time. But why wait? The opportunity to experience deep inner peace is available now, in this present moment.
2. This kind of forgiveness is not the traditional one you learned in grade school. It’s not about taking care of a few traumatic incidents and tying them up in a bow. Instead, it’s a way of life. Each moment becomes an opportunity to let go of resentments as they arise. In this way, we can become peacemakers with every thought and every breath.
3. Forgiveness complements every true spiritual path. It also works without a defined religious or spiritual outlook. You can take it with you wherever you go, and add it to whatever path feels real to you. It will always offer you gentle healing and inner strength.
4. Forgiveness is not hard to do. Anyone can do it. All it takes is trust in a loving Higher Power and honesty with yourself about your situation. You’ll also need an open heart and a bold willingness to learn something new. Your sincerity brings you to the bridge, and Spirit helps you to walk across it. Laying down your burdens, you’ll travel from fear and pain all the way to peace and wisdom.
5. True forgiveness involves feeling our emotions very deeply, including the most difficult ones. We open ourselves to memories of fear, resentments and anguish, and we don’t run away from discomfort – even if it gets intense. We breathe deeply and lean into the experience. We trust in a divine essence that holds us tenderly as we explore, learn and let go. Only after releasing can we receive the gifts that lie buried within the toughest moments of our lives.
6. Forgiveness is a beacon of new possibility that accepts us where we are. It accepts whatever we’ve done and whatever we’ve been through. There’s room inside its soft, strong wings to include our human frailty as well as the confusion and violence of our world. As we trust and let go of the past, we are transported directly to a place of serenity. We receive the sweet grace and beauty of Life.
Forgiveness, especially in its expanded version, takes us to the deepest, most poignant places within. Forgiving others is not a sign of weakness; on the contrary, it calls upon tremendous inner strength. Forgiving ourselves, I’ve found, requires the most courage of all. Thankfully, we can do it – if we choose. Even better, we can help each other as we walk the path, creating a world of peace.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Ana Holub, MA, teaches forgiveness and peacemaking as a counselor, author, and poet. Over the past twenty years, she has worked with individuals and couples, schools and businesses, prison inmates at San Quentin prison, and at-risk youths in juvenile hall.
Ana holds a BA in Peace Studies, and an MA in Dispute Resolution from Pepperdine University School of Law. She is also a certified Domestic Violence counselor and Radical Forgiveness coach. She has spent years on the front lines of healing trauma, teaching her clients practical skills to improve their experience of joy, harmony, strength and empowerment. Ana's newest book is called Forgive and Be Free: A Step-by-Step Guide to Release, Healing and Higher Consciousness.
For more information and a free consultation, contact www.anaholub.com