True Forgiveness Is an Act of the Heart

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.
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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.

Edgewood College Honors Dr. Robert Enright as a “compassionate educator and voice for healing. . .”

Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), has been named the 2019 Mazzuchelli Medallion recipient by Edgewood College in Madison, WI.

Dr. Robert Enright received the 2019 Mazzuchelli Medallion from Dr. Mary Ellen Gevelinger, O.P., Ed.D., Interim President of Edgewood College.

The Samuel Mazzuchelli Medallion recognizes those “who cultivate intellectual and spiritual resources to empower others.” One of the College’s highest honors, it is named for Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, who founded the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa in 1847.

“Tonight we recognize a compassionate educator and voice for healing, Dr. Robert Enright,” said Sr. Maggie Hopkins, O.P., Assistant to the President at Edgewood College, in her opening remarks at the Nov. 4 Award Presentation Dinner. “His vision, direction and scientific research served as groundwork for the International Forgiveness Institute he founded in 1994. To date, his Forgiveness program has impacted more than thirty countries around the globe, inspiring and assisting others to examine and navigate what can seem a difficult and sometimes an insurmountable path to personal freedom – the process of forgiveness.”

According to Sr. Hopkins, the Nov. 4 award presentation date was significant because Fr. Mazzuchelli was born on that date in 1806. She outlined how the Catholic priest, an immigrant from Italy to the US frontier, was a compassionate “voice for the voiceless” in the new American wilderness. His missionary vision, she added, centered on his conviction to offer healing, comfort, forgiveness, hope and justice.

“Similarly, at the heart of Dr. Enright’s vision and teaching is the conviction that forgiveness is a choice as well as the space where transformation begins. As Fr. Mazzuchelli sought to build up others in his time, TODAY through research, learning and expansive outreach, Dr. Enright continues to teach people to choose compassion and forgiveness, to see ‘the other as sister, brother, and friend.'”

Following Sr. Hopkins’ presentation, the Mazzuchelli Medallion was presented to Dr. Enright by Dr. Mary Ellen Gevelinger, O.P., Ed.D., Interim President of Edgewood College–a liberal arts Catholic college that has 1,460 undergraduate students and 700 graduate students. Founded in 1927, Edgewood College has been named to the 2019 “Best National Universities” list by U.S. News & World Report and one of the top ten colleges/universities in the country for promoting social mobility.


LEARN MORE:

  • Read Sr. Hopkins’ full Award Presentation Remarks: click here.
  • Edgewood College is located on a 55-acre wooded estate on the shore of Lake Wingra in the heart of Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison. It was donated to the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa in 1881 by Cadwallader C. Washburn, a Civil War general (Union Army) who built an industrial empire (founder of the company that became General Mills) and who became an influential politician (two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, three terms in the U.S. Senate, and Wisconsin’s 11th governor from 1872-1874).
  • Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa (formally: The Congregation of the Most Holy Rosary of the Order of Preachers) are dedicated to preaching and teaching the Gospel.  Today, more than 400 Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters serve in the United States and abroad (including missions in Bolivia and Trinidad and Tobago). Their General Motherhouse, the Sinsinawa Mound Center, is located in southwestern Wisconsin.
  • Dr. Mary Ellen Gevelinger, O.P., Ed.D., is a seasoned leader and administrator with decades of experience at the helm of complex organizations. She served as both Vicaress(Vice President) and Prioress (Chief Executive) of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa congregation. Earlier in her career, she served as Director of Personnel and Planning for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, with responsibility for more than 100 Catholic schools.
  • Sister Maggie Hopkins assists the Edgewood College President, leadership and the College community in assuring the consistency of the Dominican Catholic school’s identity and tradition.  She became a vowed member of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa in 1966 and has served Edgewood College since 1991.

Is it possible for someone to actually improve in forgiveness? If so what do you suggest as some keys for me to do that?

Forgiveness is not a superficial action (such as saying, “It’s ok” when someone is unfair to you). Instead, it is a moral virtue, as is justice and kindness and love. Aristotle told us thousands of years ago that one challenge in life is to become more perfected in the virtues. In other words, we do grow more proficient in our understanding and expression of the virtues, but only if we practice them. It is a struggle to grow in any virtue, including forgiveness. So, first be aware that you can grow in this virtue. Then be willing to practice it, with the goal of maturing in love, which is what forgiveness is (loving those who are unkind to us). You need a strong will to keep persevering in the struggle to grow in forgiveness. In sum, you need: understanding of what forgiveness is, practice, a strong will, and keeping your eye fixed on the goal of improving in love a little more each day.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

“THE ANTI-BULLYING FORGIVENESS PROGRAM” — FREE FOR A LIMITED TIME

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Initiated in 2006 by the PACER Center, it is the designated 31-day period each year when schools, organizations, and communities across the country–and in more and more countries around the world–join together in their battle to confront and stop bullying and cyberbullying. 

As its contribution to that initiative, the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) is making its groundbreaking guide, The Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program, available free of charge for a limited time. Developed by Dr. Robert Enright, this program is an invaluable tool for school counselors, social workers, teachers, and homeschooling parents.

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bulling may be verbal, social (hurting someone’s reputation or relationships), or physical. Cyberbullying is that which takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets–often called “online bullying.”

Bullying is a problem that can derail a child’s schooling, social life, and emotional well-being. According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, about 1 of every 5 students ages 12-18 reported being bullied at school during the 2017 school year. While some adults have a tendency to ignore bullying and to write it off as a normal part of life that all kids go through, bullying is a real problem with serious consequences.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s website Stopbullying.gov, being bullied can lead to negative health and emotional issues, including:

  • Depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities the person used to enjoy. These issues may, and often do,  persist into adulthood.
  • Health complaints and mental health issues.
  • Decreased academic achievement (both GPA and standardized test scores) and school participation. The bullied are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.
  • Negative behavioral changes including substance abuse and, in extreme cases, suicide. 

Countless anti-bullying techniques and programs have been developed over the past several years with administrators and teachers reporting varying levels of effectiveness. The IFI program is significantly different than most of those because it is not based on confrontation and/or disciplinary action. Instead, Dr. Enright’s approach focuses on the behavior of the one doing the bullying because “hurt people hurt people.”

That pithy observation is more than a clever phrase; it’s a sad truth. Dr. Enright’s scientifically-conducted research projects have repeatedly confirmed his contention that “hurt people hurt others because they themselves have been hurt. We’ve all been hurt in one way or another and those hurts cause us to become defensive and self-protective. We instinctively may lash out at others so that hurting becomes a vicious cycle full of pent-up anger.”

"Unless we eliminate the anger in the hearts of those who bully, we will not eliminate bullying."
                                              Dr. Robert Enright

Forgiveness can be a powerful way of reducing pent-up anger, Dr. Enright says about his strategy of incorporating forgiveness education into his anti-bullying approach.

“It is our contention that bullying starts from within, as anger, and comes out as displaced anger onto the victim,” according to Dr. Enright. “Forgiveness targets this anger and then reduces it, thus reducing or eliminating the displaced anger which comes out as bullying.”

The Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program is for children in grades 4 (age 9) through grade 9 (age 14). It includes 8 lessons, each taking from 30 to 60 minutes. All of the material needed to teach these lessons is self-contained in this guide; there are no other textbooks or materials to purchase. The manual is now being offered free for a limited time and is available only in the electronic version. To order, email your request to the IFI Director at director@internationalforgiveness.com. Indicate whether you would like the Standard or Christian version. ⊗


Additional Information:

How can I keep the light of forgiveness burning in my heart? There are so many distractions in contemporary culture. Forgiveness could be easily forgotten.

A key is this: Know that what you call “the light of forgiveness” is important to you. Know further that it could fade in you if you do not give it the attention it deserves. Aristotle emphasized practice as a way to grow in the virtues. The more you practice forgiveness, the better you become at it. The better you become at it, then the more you develop what Aristotle called a love for the virtue.

In my book, The Forgiving Life, I focus on what I call the strong will. You need this strong will to persevere in the practice of forgiveness, even though all around you are opportunities to ignore forgiveness and seek pleasure to avoid pain. Forgiveness can be painful work, but the pain, in my view, is far less than carrying the pain of deep resentment for many years.

I wish you the best in your persevering journey to develop a love of the virtue of forgiveness.

Learn more at The Forgiving Life.

If I forgive another, I am worried that I then will no longer see the truth: What they did was wrong. Can you help me with this?

There is a large difference between forgiving people and excusing their behavior. Forgiving necessitates this: You continue to see their actions as wrong, but those actions no longer are the exclusive or primary way in which you think about those people. You begin to see them as far more than their actions against you. Again, you do not invalidate the wrong, but you make room in your heart for the person as person. Reconciliation then is possible if they are trustworthy and do not continue to harm you.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

I forgave my ex-partner and all was forgiven and forgotten. This was years ago. All of a sudden, I find myself angry all over again after three years. Did I not go through the forgiveness process the first time?

Forgiving others is not a perfect straight line that gets you to the end of anger and then all anger is finished. The late Lewis Smedes said that forgiving is an imperfect process for imperfect people. Sometimes anger does resurface and it is good to once again go through the forgiveness process. This time, it likely will be a shorter journey, well worth your time and effort. Anger does not necessarily go away completely and so please be gentle with yourself as you forgive again. You may have to do this in the future and this is not unusual.

For additional information, see Forgiveness for Couples.