My Favorite Forgiveness Process
“Only the brave know how to forgive. A coward never forgives.
It is not his nature.” —Abigail Van Buren
By Cat Saunders
My Favorite Forgiveness Process combines ideas from two of my most important forgiveness mentors, Morrnah Simeona and Sondra Ray. In the mid-1980s, I did extensive work with Sondra Ray. Sondra is a rebirther, teacher, author, and founder of the Loving Relationships Training. Sondra, in turn, introduced me to the late Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona. Morrnah was a native Hawaiian kahuna, which means “keeper of the secret.”
Morrnah taught a forgiveness process called Ho’oponopono, which is designed to cut and clear karmic ties back to the beginning of time. Together with her colleague, Ihaleakala Hew Len, Morrnah traveled all over the world to teach Ho’oponopono. She and Ihaleakala worked with thousands of individuals and numerous organizations, including the United Nations.
It’s not right for me to teach the Ho’oponopono prayer. But I’d like to share a principle of healing that I’ve learned from using it since 1985, when Morrnah first imparted it to me. I call this principle the intention of two-way healing.
That is, when I do Ho’oponopono, I affirm (in very specific ways according to the prayer) that forgiveness is happening in both directions.
For example, if I’m doing Ho’oponopono in relation to my mother, I speak the prayer in its entirety in terms of forgiving my mother, and then I do it a second time in terms of her forgiving me. Obviously, this is a gross oversimplification of a long and eloquent prayer. However, I trust that this brief explanation illustrates my intention that healing will happen both ways.
Some people might object to me affirming that my mother forgives me. After all, isn’t she the only one who can do that? The truth is, I don’t know the answer to that question. But I believe something mystical happens when either person expresses a desire for healing to happen both ways. I won’t digress into lengthy metaphysical explanations for this belief. Instead, I’ll simply encourage you to experiment with this idea to see what you discover.
In addition to the principle of two-way healing that I learned from Morrnah, I learned another powerful forgiveness tool from Sondra Ray. Sondra said there’s a line in the Bible that states (very roughly paraphrased): If you really want to forgive, you must do it seventy times seven. Sondra decided to incorporate this 70 x 7 concept into her use of affirmations.
For her 70 x 7 process, she suggested that you write the following sentence seventy times a day for seven days in a row. You fill in the first blank with your name, and then fill in the second blank with the name of the person, place, or thing you’d like to forgive:
I, __________, forgive ___________ for everything.
If you prefer, you can substitute a description of some incident that bothered you, instead of using the word everything at the end of the sentence. However, if you’re going to write something seventy times a day for seven days, you may as well cover all the bases and keep it simple.
I put Sondra’s 70 x 7 affirmation idea together with Morrnah’s principle of two-way healing. That brought me to the following sentence, which I use for My Favorite Forgiveness Process:
I forgive ____________ and____________ forgives me.
You can add your name at the beginning, as Sondra recommends, or do the abbreviated version, as shown above. I use the shorter version for the sake of brevity. The short version is long enough when you’re writing it seventy times a day for a week!
Once you’ve completed your seventy sentences, you can save the pages until the end of the week if you like. But if you do, be sure to destroy them. Tear them up and recycle the papers, or burn them in a ritual of release. Another option is to recycle or destroy the pages each day. Either way, don’t save them. Let go! That’s the whole point.
It’s essential to do the forgiveness process seven days in a row, without skipping a day. If you miss a day, you have to start over. This isn’t meant to be punitive. Rather, the purpose of doing something seventy times a day for seven days is to keep your focus clear, and your follow-through strong.
If you space out, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just start again. Whenever I’ve forgotten a day and had to begin again, it invariably happens when I need extra time to work with that particular person or issue. Not surprisingly, this usually only happens with the people or things I most resist forgiving. Busted!
There’s another important tip about doing My Favorite Forgiveness Process. That is, the affirmations must be written by hand. No typewriters, computers, tape recorders, or dictaphones! Something very different happens when you write by hand, as opposed to working on a machine. I’m not enough of a scientist to explain it, but I know from experience that this is true.
Apart from any scientific explanations, writing by hand takes more time. And more time allows more space for thoughts and feelings to arise. This process isn’t about writing for the sake of writing. It’s about writing for the sake of healing. Sure, there are shortcuts. There are also lobotomies! I don’t recommend either one as a substitute for the hard work of forgiving.
As an aside, I encourage you to read a chapter called “The Dilemma of Forgiveness” in Dr. Cat’s Helping Handbook. It’s fine if you want to experiment with My Favorite Forgiveness Process without reading that chapter, of course. But if you want to look at some of the deeper intricacies of forgiveness, I recommend that chapter. (If you don’t already have or want to buy the book, perhaps you can get it from your local library.)
As I mentioned in “The Dilemma of Forgiveness,” you don’t have to feel forgiveness toward your chosen subject in order to show your intention for forgiveness. This is a good first step: to notice your unfinished business and demonstrate your intention for healing. Then, over time, you can work with your feelings and your behavior in regard to the unfinished issues.
Emotional and behavioral work are like the mortar that holds the bricks of your intention together. Mortar can be plenty messy, but when it’s handled carefully, it makes a wall beautiful as well as strong. It’s the same with feelings and actions. If you’re sloppy with them, or if you neglect details in cleaning them up, all your good intentions will be for naught.
The structure of healing that you build will reflect the quality of your care for every aspect of the work. Let the quality of your mortar match the strength of your bricks, so to speak. In other words, your emotional and behavioral efforts should support and solidify the power of your intention for forgiveness. It doesn’t help to intend forgiveness and then act like a jerk!
When you’re doing the 70 x 7 sentences, pay attention to the rest of your life as the week progresses. Whenever I do a round of My Favorite Forgiveness Process, I notice that it usually stimulates all my stuff to rise to the surface, like scum on a pond. Whatever stands in the way of forgiveness makes itself painfully apparent. There’s nothing like a little intensity to test my resolve!
See if the same thing happens for you when you do a week of 70 x 7. See if you notice any synchronicities that might be related to your forgiveness writing? Do you feel the desire to act differently? Do you find yourself wishing the other person (or situation) would change, so you wouldn’t have to do so much work?
What kinds of feelings come up for you: anger, grief, fear, joy? Notice if you feel more accepting or, conversely, less tolerant? Do you notice anything unusual happening in your dreams? Do you feel more tired than usual or more energized? See if you perceive any difference in your attitude toward the person or thing that you’re forgiving.
It’s perfectly okay if you don’t notice anything related to any of these questions. Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions for you, or maybe you’re a strong skeptic. Or maybe you’re determined not to let some silly exercise make a difference in your life.
Whatever the case, I congratulate you for giving it a shot. Consider taking this leap of faith: Assume that you’re planting seeds by doing the forgiveness sentences. Perhaps you’ll discover the fruits of your labors later, when you’re least expecting it.
Sondra said that whenever she did her forgiveness process, she received an abundance of flowers from people. This intrigued me, so I decided to test it. I didn’t tell anyone in advance about my little experiment. The same thing happened for me as happened for Sondra. I got lots of flowers! It didn’t just happen the first time, either. The same thing happened whenever I did a week of 70 x 7 sentences.
One time I vowed that I would do My Favorite Forgiveness Process for as long as it felt right, choosing a different subject each week. I didn’t stop for seventeen weeks. The first week I forgave everyone, and the last week I forgave everything.
In between, I worked with forgiving my body, food, womanhood, family, men, and even God (that was scary!). I also forgave Cat, pain, sex, money, and a number of other people and things. It was very liberating—and you’d never believe how many flowers I got!
During the four-plus months that I was doing my forgiveness marathon, all kinds of people brought me flowers. Clients gave me flowers “for no reason.” Friends showed up with bouquets. People I’d just met left me flowers on the doorstep. Those months of floral abundance gave me a chance to test my belief that you can never have too many flowers!
In that span of 17 weeks, the only week I didn’t get any flowers was the time I was forgiving Cat. When that week was over, I realized that I should have given myself flowers. So I bought myself some stargazer lilies, my favorite flower.
During those seventeen weeks that I repeatedly cycled through my forgiveness process, I figure that I wrote the word forgive 16,660 times. I wrote it twice in each sentence, seventy times a day (2 x 70 = 140), for seven days in a row (140 x 7 = 980), for seventeen weeks (980 x 17 = 16,660).
That’s a lot of focus on forgiveness! Needless to say, it was also a very rich time, psychologically and soulfully. There were plenty of butt-kicking lessons to show me where I was stuck. On the flip side, there were equally plentiful gifts of healing and grace.
I don’t believe it’s fair—or even accurate—to say that everyone must forgive in order to heal. How can anyone judge another person’s path of healing? For all I know, some people may need to learn what happens when they hold a grudge for an entire lifetime. Who can say? Still, I must acknowledge the power of forgiveness in my own life.
For me, forgiveness is not necessarily about forgiving an act; it’s about forgiving another human being. For me, forgiveness brings a softening, a yielding to a larger perspective. It brings a sense of accepting of my commonality with everyone and everything. Forgiveness deepens my humility.
Ultimately, I believe I am simply one cell in the body of humanity. This means that at some level, I am capable of—and perhaps even liable for—every possible human act, no matter how devious or destructive. This also means that when I forgive others, I forgive myself, and vice versa. Taking responsibility for my shadow may be difficult, but it’s a necessary step toward forgiveness.
Whatever your perspective on this loaded subject, I hope My Favorite Forgiveness Process supports you in a way that fosters more compassion for the human experience. It seems that we are all victims and perpetrators, exchanging roles in blatant and subtle ways, not always realizing the ripple effects of our actions.
Forgiveness provides one way to embrace the duality of these roles by surrounding them in a sea of understanding. It provides a way to interrupt the pattern: to get off the wheel of harm and retribution. Someone has to take responsibility and make the first move. Perhaps that someone can be you.
This article is a chapter excerpted from Dr. Cat’s Helping Handbook: A Compassionate Guide for Being Human (available at Amazon.com).