Editor’s Note: Eileen Barker is an internationally recognized mediator, facilitator, and forgiveness teacher. She is also a pioneer in the movement to integrate emotional healing and forgiveness in conflict resolution. She wrote this essay for our website:
I’ve met plenty of people who told me they ‘thought’ they had forgiven. What they mean is they formed the mental intention to forgive, only to later discover that the judgment and resentment were still there. Does this sound familiar? I call this “forgiving from the neck up” or “emotional bypass.” It may provide temporary relief but it is not lasting. I also frequently encounter people intent on analyzing their experience. They seem to believe if they fully understand the situation, it will enable them to forgive, but this is not the case. True forgiveness cannot be intellectualized.
You can say the words “I forgive” and have the thought “I forgive” until the cows come home, and still not have actually forgiven. The mind can only take us so far. At some point we must enter the arena of feelings in order to release the anger, blame, resentment, and so on. They must be addressed. Of course feelings are vulnerable and possibly unfamiliar, which is why we might want to avoid them, but the only way to heal is to walk through them. Feelings are the true pathway home.
So, how do you enter the emotional realm? How do you forgive from the neck down?
One of the keys for me is guided meditation. I start with the breath and then bring awareness to the body step by step. This creates the foundation for all the other work. For some, it might feel uncomfortable and even unsafe at first to bring awareness into the body, so we go as slowly as necessary to create safety. When we can feel our body and not push our feelings away, we discover that the body has vitally important information for us, information far more reliable than that acquired from the mind alone.
Here is a powerful passage on the topic of embracing our emotions and forgiving, written by Eckhart Tolle in his book
The Power of Now:
Forgiveness is to relinquish your grievance and so to let go of grief. It happens naturally once you realize that your grievance serves no purpose except to strengthen a false sense of self. Forgiveness is to offer no resistance to life — to allow life to live through you. The alternatives are pain and suffering, a greatly restricted flow of life energy, and in many cases physical disease.
The moment you truly forgive, you have reclaimed your power from the mind. Non-forgiveness is the very nature of the mind, just as the mind-made false self, the ego, cannot survive without strife and conflict. The mind cannot forgive. Only you can. You become present, you enter your body, you feel the vibrant peace and stillness that emanate from Being.
A potent reminder that we are so much more than our minds, thoughts, beliefs and words.
Eileen Barker is a San Francisco Bay Area (CA) litigation lawyer who rejected the traditional adversarial role. Instead, she has focused her practice on mediation and conflict resolution for the past twenty years, helping thousands of people resolve disputes outside of court. This work led her into a deep exploration of forgiveness as it relates to resolving conflict and making peace, both with others and oneself. She is the author of the Forgiveness Workbook and Forgiveness Meditation CD. In 2016, Eileen received the Champion of Forgiveness Award from the Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance (along with Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu). Visit her website: The Path of Forgiveness.