Learning to Forgive with Meditation

By Stephan Bodian

Meditation can help you with forgiveness. Over the years, most people accumulate a heavy backpack full of old hurts and resentments that gradually weigh them down and limit their happiness. Instead of living in the fullness and richness of the present moment — which is where happiness happens, after all — and focusing on the good things they have, they’re often trapped in the past, reliving the pain and disappointment they experienced back then.

Many people bear a special burden of guilt, shame, and anger toward themselves for the mistakes they’ve made and the pain they’ve caused others. If you’re unable to shed this burden with the gratitude meditation, you can actively dissolve it with the power of forgiveness.

Follow these steps to shine the light of forgiveness on yourself and others:

  1. Begin by sitting comfortably, taking a few deep breaths, relaxing your body, and closing your eyes.
  2. Allow images and memories of words, actions, feelings, and thoughts for which you’ve never forgiven yourself to float through your mind.
    Perhaps you hurt someone you loved and drove him away, took something that didn’t belong to you, or said no to an opportunity and later regretted it.
  3. Reflect on how much suffering you’ve caused and how much you may have suffered. Allow yourself to feel any pain or remorse.
  4. Reflect on any lessons you may have learned and on the ways you’ve grown and changed since then.
  5. Gently and wholeheartedly extend forgiveness to yourself.
    Use words and phrases like this: “I forgive you for all the mistakes you’ve made and all the suffering you’ve caused. I forgive you for all the pain you’ve caused others, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I know that you’ve learned and grown; now it’s time to move on. I forgive you! May you be happy and joyful. I take you back into my heart.” (Here and elsewhere in the exercise, feel free to use your own words if you find them more resonant.)
  6. Open your heart to yourself and allow yourself to fill with love.
    Feel the clouds around your heart dispersing.
  7. Imagine a person you love toward whom you feel some resentment.
    Reflect on how that person may have hurt you. Reflect also on how many times you’ve hurt others in a similar way.
  8. Gently allow the clouds around your heart to continue dispersing as you wholeheartedly extend forgiveness to this person.
    As you extend forgiveness to this person, use words and phrases like the following: “I forgive you for the ways that you’ve caused me pain, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I know that I, too, have hurt others and let them down. With my whole heart, I forgive you. May you be happy and joyful. I take you back into my heart.” Feel your heart opening once again to this person.

    Here and elsewhere in this exercise, if you find that forgiveness doesn’t come easily and your heart doesn’t readily open, don’t worry or blame yourself — you can’t force yourself to forgive. You may need to welcome the painful feelings of anger, hurt, and resentment and feel them fully before you can forgive. If that’s the case, you may want to work with your feelings in counseling or therapy, and then pick up the forgiveness meditation again when you feel ready. Or just do the exercise with the intention to forgive and trust that the feelings will eventually follow.

  9. Imagine someone whose forgiveness you’d like to have and gently ask for her forgiveness.
    Use words and phrases like this: “Please forgive me for what I did or said to cause you pain, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I ask for your forgiveness. Please take me back into your heart.”
  10. Imagine this person’s heart opening to you and the love flowing freely back and forth between you once again.
  11. Imagine someone toward whom you feel great resentment — someone, perhaps, whom you’ve excluded from your heart because of how he once hurt you.
  12. Gently allow the clouds around your heart to disperse, and wholeheartedly extend forgiveness to this person as described in Step 8.
  13. Reflect on all the many people toward whom you’ve closed your heart because of the pain they seemingly caused you.
    Feel all the layers of resentment and pain that have built up around your heart over the years.
  14. Reflect on all the many ways that you’ve acted as they did.
  15. Imagine all these people in front of you and, with your whole heart, forgive them all and ask for their forgiveness.
    Use words and phrases like the following: “I forgive you for whatever you may have done to cause me pain, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I forgive you. Please forgive me. May we open our hearts to one another and live together in peace and harmony.” Again, feel your heart opening wide and allow love to flow freely between you.
  16. Take a few moments to breathe deeply and rest your attention in your heart before getting up and going about your day.

After you’ve practiced the full forgiveness meditation a few times, you can use it to extend forgiveness to particular people as the situation requires. But every time you practice forgiveness, be sure to include some for yourself.