January is already half gone. Most of us are in full swing again, our busy lives moving rapidly towards spring. Any resolutions are probably either forgotten or put on the back burner. But the start of a new year is also a good time to reflect and forgive — yourself or someone else — and to extend an apology to someone else for forgiveness.
I have written about the process of forgiveness and how much time it can take. But I learned another approach to forgiveness through an interview of the playwright and author Eve Ensler about her book The Apology. Throughout her childhood, Ensler had been physically and sexually abused by her father. Decades after his death, she decided to write an apology for him – the apology that she had yearned to hear all her life. The book is written entirely from his perspective. In its “Introduction”, she talks about using her imagination to create the words she needed to hear her father say:
“My father is long dead. He will never say the words to me. He will not make the apology. So it must be imagined. For it is in our imagination that we can dream across boundaries, deepen the narrative, and design alternative outcomes.”
As Ensler points out, the first step towards forgiving or making an apology or even hearing an apology can begin with our own imagination. Assagioli said that our imagination has the great power to produce something that never existed before. By using our creative imagination, we help to externally manifest that which we visualize. In other words, by just imagining ourselves forgiving someone or apologizing to someone or having our perpetrator apology to us, we begin to engage in that very act.
Now, like most psychosynthesis techniques, using our creative imagination is not so easy! We can’t just say ‘I’m sorry’ and Poof! Magically all is forgiven and forgotten. The imagination must be fully engaged in creative play. We must physically feel the apologize. We would do well to write it down with pen and paper, say it out loud, imagine the injured or injurer sitting before us. We then need to chew on all of our feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. Allow the apology to sink in our stomach. Perhaps cry and even scream our response. Breathe and imagine again…
I have many examples from my counseling practice of how the imagination can work in this way. Here is just one. During our second session together, Clair talked about her longing to reconcile her relationship with her father, which had ruptured fifteen years earlier. When Clair was 11 years old, her father decided to stop talking to the family, made this announcement to her mother and marked it by shaving his head. He only engaged with the family in angry outbreaks, otherwise he was completely silent. Towards the end of Clair’s detailed description of what had happened, she was sobbing. Five days after Clair shared her longing for reconciliation, she received a letter from her father – completely unprompted by her – requesting that they arrange to talk about what happened when she was 11 years old.
Both acts, whether we forgive someone or apologize to another, brings freedom. Freedom from the visceral memory of the wounds received in body, soul and psyche. Freedom from the inner emptiness left by the harm we may have inflicted on another. By holding tight to this goal of freedom, a higher transpersonal quality, we can endure the wretchedness we might be feeling as we relive painful experiences. Ultimately, as we move towards reconciliation, inner freedom is awakened and nurtured, activating an inner opening within our heart in which peace can move in and take residence.
To help with this process, one reader recently sent me Forgiveness Phrases by Larry Yang – Awakening Together. In this four-part meditation, you are first invited to ask yourself for forgiveness. Then you imagine yourself asking forgiveness for some act you have consciously or unconsciously inflicted on another. Thirdly, you ask that you may forgive someone else. Finally, you ask for the freedom forgiveness can bring.
To move more deeply towards birthing forgiveness or an apology requires self-evaluation and reflection. Both forgiving and apologizing are a remembering. Both are humbling. Both victim and perpetrator become equal, fallible, human beings. Both abdicate power. Both become vulnerable.
An apology means examining the details of what you have done. Forgiveness means reliving the details of what has been done to you. Because God is in the details. Freedom is in the details.
This freedom – for both the forgiver and forgiven – is a spiritual release. Ultimately, you will feel a wave of energy move through your body. Your knees might shake and your chest rattle with sobs. In the end, you will breathe again and see the world differently. You will be more connected to all around you.
I leave the final words to Ensler:
“Find a clergy, a person, a counselor. Start to work on your apology. It’s a process. It’s a journey. It’s a practice. It takes time. And to those who can’t get an apology, write yourself one from your perpetrator. Work with somebody to support it. Write a thorough letter to yourself from the person who harmed you. The impact on me was profound. I feel free in a way I have never felt in my life.”
Many thanks to Clair (not her real name) for letting me share her story.