Blog entry by Alan Chapman
Forgiveness - Barbara J Hunt
Barbara J Hunt, author of the best-selling 2017 book Forgiveness Made Easy, is an expert and thought-leader in forgiveness, and many other profound methods of healing, enlightenment, life-change, towards personal and planetary peace.
Barbara, an early longstanding core-member of the hugely powerful More to Life personal growth organisation, is also a successful singer-songwriter and musical innovator, and creator of her own uniquely blended transformation work. She is transcendent among other great humanitarian changemakers.
Her works provide a model, example, and inspiration for others to extend, and on which to build the sorts of emergent leadership necessary for cooperative sustainable loving life on Earth.
In this short interview Barbara introduces basic ideas of forgiveness, and the vast powers and meanings of forgiveness - for us individually and in our relationships - especially for our own self-awareness and self-love - and thereby for humanity and global balance.
1. In one sentence, what is forgiveness?
In the words of K Bradford Brown, “Forgiveness is the absolute refusal to hold ill will against someone (or something) for what they did or didn’t do.”
In my words… “coming to a sense of peace, release and reconciliation within yourself about something/someone.”
2. How come forgiveness is your passion?
I see the phenomenal potential of forgiveness like a forgotten superpower that we all have. Yet, I am equally fascinated by our enormous resistance to it and how it can be so hard to authentically do, sometimes.
The potential I see is that refusing to hold any grievance (ill will) or resentment against anyone (or anything) can transform all of our relationships. We often think that money is the number one cause of problems in relationships, but actually, it’s resentment. Grudges and grievances can build up - not just about money, but about everything else as well and is often what drives partners, friends and families apart.
Finding a way to forgive has the potential to transform your work relationships, your relationships in your family of origin, with your kids, your government, your boss, yourself. Forgiveness has been scientifically proven to reduce cortisol levels - the killer stress hormone - to improve your physical health, your heart health, boost your immune system, reduce depression, improve sleep etc. Forgiveness also has the potential to change the world - if (and I know it’s a big if) ...if everyone chose to forgive everyone they needed to, we truly could work together to build a better future. “The secret to global peace is us…” (William Ury - Peace Negotiator)
BUT….. if forgiveness is so great, why isn’t everyone doing it? Why do we find it so hard to agree and to let go? Those questions became my fascination - what gets in the way of forgiveness? It’s the same answer - us!
There are two “dirty secrets” about forgiveness - one is we lie to ourselves about the extent to which we hold onto our grudges. We explain things away - we rationalise someone’s behaviour and think we’ve forgiven them, or we cut people out of our lives or treat them in a certain way. We say “no, I don’t resent them, I just don’t speak to them any more…” It’s not the same thing!
And the second “dirty secret” about our resentment is that we don’t actually want to let it go. There are multiple reasons for this - which is why I find forgiveness so fascinating. We don’t want to forgive - or even feel we “can’t” forgive someone because it would seem like we’d be letting the other person off the hook or condoning unacceptable behaviour, or handing the power over to them, or saying we don’t mind what they did or how we got treated etc.
We are also usually completely unaware that we might actually be getting some benefit out of holding onto the resentment. We’re not bad people, or crazy - most of this behaviour and thinking is unconscious. But whilst it remains outside of our awareness, we have nothing to say about it and can’t change our attitude or behaviour around it and we will find it really hard to forgive until we recognise how much not forgiving is impacting our relationships and our lives.
3. What’s special about forgiveness?
In the words of Ralph Cree, “Forgiveness is pretty much a one word distillation of all spiritual, philosophical and emotional practice.” I don’t know any other single practice that has the same transformational potential or the same abundance of benefits as forgiveness.
I’m a long-time meditator, but you can meditate for decades and never forgive a soul. Then you’re just sitting in your own mess… But if you forgive AND you meditate - there’s no limit to your awakening.
You don’t have to be spiritual to forgive. In fact there are times when having a spiritual faith or an expectation/demand for forgiveness that can be more of a challenge than a benefit.
In essence, forgiveness is about letting go. Forgiveness is the practice of completion, a perpetual release of the past and not dragging the past into the present or the future. In my years of experience of working with clients from all walks of life, forgiveness is the only way you ever get to feel fully free of your resentment. Understanding doesn’t do it, most kinds of talking therapy won’t do it, even having an authentic conversation with the other person (if you can do that) won’t be the same as actually forgiving them. Forgiveness is so subtle - it’s an un-doing of pain from the past which releases you into the present where you can make new choices about how you want to show up in the future.
Forgiveness is meeting the reality of our circumstances, others and ourselves exactly the way they are. It’s a challenge to our (usually) unconscious internal refrain “if this were different, I’d be happy”. Forgiveness is the ultimate practice of freedom - you are the one setting yourself free.
It’s a practice that involves the need for courage, humility, clarity, kindness toward yourself, understanding and compassion - for both you and the other. It’s an act of mercy - not something discussed very often these days. It requires a big heart, a deep and wide perspective, and a willingness to accept what happened, happened, and the resolve to make the appropriate and necessary changes in the future.
4. How can people explore and make meaning and purpose of forgiveness?
The very first step is to admit to your own secret store of resentments. If you lower your bar of definition of resentment to feeling any tension in your body or emotions when you think of or encounter that particular person or thing… It can be a subtle clenching in the jaw or in the stomach, or a sense of tension, or anger, shut-down or even depression.
When I was first invited during a workshop to write down the names of all those I held resentment against… I thought “well, pretty much everyone I’ve ever met…” You might discover that you are like me, judging and holding tiny grudges and grievances against pretty much everyone including yourself too.
We resent people for all kinds of things, not just because they are unkind or hurtful towards us. We resent them for not meeting our needs, for wanting different things, for having different beliefs, for being more successful, for being less successful, for being more talented, less talented, different from us…. I resented my mother for her illness and the devastating impact it had on our family - even though of course, it wasn’t her fault. On and on…
Once you’ve admitted that you’ve been holding some resentment, you can make a list of all those you resent. Then next to each one, write the number of years you’ve been holding onto your grievance. Then add up all the years of resentment into one big total. You might be shocked at all the wasted years of unnecessary stress you’ve been carrying.
Then you can choose to take the time and do a little “forgiveness ritual” on each person. You might think this is a massive waste of time and they don’t deserve your forgiveness. But YOU deserve to feel free and to not let past hurts taint your present experience.
Of course, you don’t have to forgive, but you may have heard the saying, “Carrying resentment is like setting yourself on fire and hoping the other person will be bothered by the smoke.” You can take your resentments to your grave, but they are snakes in your heart, poison in your veins. You can choose to heal the past and set yourself free. Most people have no idea how un-free they are until they do their forgiveness work. It can transform the quality of your life, for real. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.
5. What five quiz questions and answers would be good for teaching, sharing and learning about forgiveness?
(Answers below - and this section may be developed further :)
1) Forgiveness is a 'secular ethics practice' according to: Albert Einstein; The Dalai Lama; The UN; or Joseph Stalin?
2) The world-leading forgiveness works of Edith Eger and Eva Mozes Kor emerged from their suffering and forgiving the acts of: Husbands; Parents; Hitler and Mengele; or The Mafia?
3) Who said, “As I walked out the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that If I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” ? Jonathan Livingstone Seagull; Horatio Nelson; Nelson Mandela; or Harry Potter?
4) Barbara and others like-minded, say that forgiveness releases us from: Love; Gratitude; Resentment; or Forgetfulness?
5) Barbara and others like-minded, say that practising gratitude, like forgiveness, is a powerfully beneficial Emotional: Illusion; Instruction; Intelligence; or Addiction?
6) (Bonus question :) Where/how can you best share/release your resentments - there are two correct answers: Online social media; Workplace; Best friend; Those you resent; Forgiveness therapist; or Verbally out-loud privately using a process such as Barbara's?
1) Forgiveness is a 'secular ethics practice' according to: Albert Einstein; The Dalai Lama; The UN; or Joseph Stalin? The Dalai Lama (importantly forgiveness is free of any official or organised controls, laws or standards - forgiveness is beyond any boundaries of race, creed, ethnicity, religion, nation, age, gender, ability, education and qualification, statehood, class or societal grouping - forgiveness is everyone's and anyone's to practice - forgiveness is what we can do with our own minds and thoughts, the parts of us that nobody else can control except us - forgiveness is something anyone can do, wherever and whenever, in one's own way and at one's own pace - forgiveness is, in a way, a sort of dosing or processing of grief, of 'letting go' of what has hurt us, so that we come to see the trauma as a gift and growth, rather than a negative)
2) The world-leading forgiveness works of Edith Eger and Eva Mozes Kor emerged from their suffering and forgiving the acts of: Husbands; Parents; Hitler and Mengele; or The Mafia? Hitler and Mengele (Edith Eger and Eva Mozes Kor's works and books are particularly notable among several survivors of holocaust and genocidal atrocities - for example Viktor Frankl, Primo Levi, Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel - whose traumas produced miraculously bright and enduring light, love and inspiration for all humanity. If forgiveness interests you then you will understand a lot by exploring the extraordinary stories and examples of Edith Eger and Eva Kors - https://dreditheger.com/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eva_Mozes_Kor)
3) Who said, “As I walked out the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that If I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” ? Jonathan Livingstone Seagull; Horatio Nelson; Nelson Mandela; or Harry Potter? Nelson Mandela (Mandela, who became South Africa's first black president after 30 years of solitary imprisonment, is regarded as one of the greatest leaders of national transformation, freedom and human rights, and global inspiration)
4) Barbara and others like-minded, say that forgiveness releases us from: Love; Gratitude; Resentment; or Forgetfulness? Resentment (i.e., resentment that we feel towards someone or something else - which hurts us, and prevents our freedoms and growth, and not the someone or something we are resenting)
5) Barbara and others like-minded, say that practising gratitude, like forgiveness, is a powerfully beneficial Emotional: Illusion; Instruction; Intelligence; or Addiction? Intelligence (See Emotional Intelligence, also called 'EQ' - also note that Barbara says that the proven benefits' of Emotional Intelligence practices such as forgiveness and gratitude include lowering stress and depression, raising levels of happiness, and boosting the immune system.
6) (Bonus question :) Where/how can you best share/release your resentments - there are two correct answers: Online social media; Best friend; Those you resent; Forgiveness therapist; or Verbally out-loud privately using a process such as Barbara's? Forgiveness therapist; or Verbally out-loud privately using a process such as Barbara's :) (See interview Q&A No4, then maybe contact Barbara or buy the book - it'll change your life more powerfully and wonderfully than you can imagine.)
And Barbara also offers this simple tip about gratitude:
Write down three things every day that you’re grateful for; this is proven to make you happier - simply doing this for just 5 mins a day or less - and this will also boost your powers of forgiveness!
More information about Barbara J Hunt:
Barbara J Hunt