I walk up to the bank of the river and kneel down to look at my reflection on the surface. At this calm bend, the water is smooth as if it has never been disturbed. The day is extremely cold and I have just walked away from feeding the cows with my father. At this time in my life, I often stole off into nature, away from other people in an attempt to feel connected and safe rather than live with the distance I felt around my family.
As I stare down into the water, I attempt to look past the light bouncing off the surface and into my own eyes. What I see is the face of a boy searching for freedom and connection, but not sure how to get there. I pick up a rock and say a spontaneous, made-up prayer asking for guidance on how to resolve the painful and heavy emotions I feel around my family. I drop the rock into the water and the surface becomes wavy as the ripples spread across the glassy surface. As I look down at my reflection my face becomes distorted and I can no longer look into that young boy’s eyes. I rise up off the ground and feel the stiffness of my cold knees that had rested on the frozen bank. I hear my father’s loud and boisterous voice shouting for me to come back to the truck. I feel heaviness rise up in my chest, sucked back into the role I try to fulfill: a good, hard working son who contributes to his family farm. I walk back over the riverbank and approach the truck — back towards that mold that never really fit.
My father has always encouraged me to jump head first into things. When I was five, he picked me up and threw me into a lake on my family property. He wanted to teach me to swim, so he tossed me right in. Another time he treaded water in a pool, urging me to jump off the diving board into the water. As I stood at the edge of the diving board, I kept asking my father, “Will it be fun?” and he encouraged me to take the leap of faith into the water and into his arms.
I remember another occasion, sitting on the side of a soccer field, watching my father play with a bunch of adults. I remember feeling comfortable and connected to my body, content walking along the sideline and playing with the grass and flowers. As I watched the grown men playing, I saw only chaos as men threw themselves at each other, attempting to regain possession of the ball. I saw my father stop playing and look from side to side: he was searching for me and I felt a sense of fear rise in my little chest, throat, and face as I became nervous and tense. My dad approached me and I knew that I was about to leave the comfortable space I had created and be thrown into the chaos of the grown men playing. My dad got down on his knees and pulled me in close to him. He looked directly into my eyes and said, “You need to go on the field and be aggressive and tough.” He pointed at another young boy who was fighting the grown men for the ball and said, “You need to be fierce like him.”
What I felt in that moment was the first splash of the rock hitting the smooth glassy surface of my being. I felt a sense of confusion and disconnection replace my feelings of peace and contentment as I froze, unable to step onto the field. I felt the second ripple of doubt materialize from my dad’s comparison to the other young boy who was playing. I felt a subtle, simple conclusion about the part of me that was content on the sideline rise up in my consciousness: “There is something wrong with me.”
As this wave reverberated out, I left behind the gentle, calm and sensitive boy that sat in the light on the side of the soccer field. I eventually made my way onto the field and stepped into yet another ripple: the development of new patterns that would enable me to fit in with my father and the other men. I imitated the little boy who was the reflection of what my father wanted from me. I ran after the ball and pulled at the grown men’s clothing. I did whatever I could to perform the way in which my father had asked. I wanted him to be proud and to turn his attention toward me with approval and satisfaction. I wanted to overcome my dad’s disapproval of the shy, sensitive boy as I fought to be the best, to prove that there was nothing wrong with who I was.
Now, as I look back, I can see why I felt that I needed to change in order to survive on the soccer field with my father and the other men. The shock of realizing that I did not fit in as my father looked me in the eyes on the side of the soccer field caused a reverberation out into my entire life, all the way to the point when I wandered up on that riverbank on that cold winter day as we fed cattle, kneeled on the freezing ground, looked down at the reflection of my sad, stiff face and decided to take a new step into healing and forgiveness. In the reflection of that young man’s eyes I could see all the years of proving that I was tough, a winner, portraying self-confidence in sports, proving that I worked hard and never gave up; but the reality was that underneath the surface I actually felt that I was never enough and that there was something wrong with me.
As I grew up, this feeling led to anger and resentment towards my father and we found ourselves locked in constant confrontation. He was consistently pushing, prodding, and urging me to become a farmer. I wanted so badly to please him and I moved through my life with the guilt of never being able to live up to this expectation. I knew there must be something wrong with me because I never felt passion for the work of raising cattle. When I approached the river on that cold day, I was disconnecting from my father, from his expectation, and decided to make a commitment to myself. I acknowledged that my own self-judgement was the root cause of never feeling that I belonged. In this moment, I was taking a huge step toward taking responsibility for myself: I was letting go of my father and looking toward myself for the answer as to why I searched for a sense of belonging in other people’s approval.
Self-forgiveness is how we take personal responsibility for our own energy and stop making other people the cause of our suffering. It is how we finally face the ripples of inner conflict and how they distort the clear image we have of ourselves, like that little boy had of himself in his contentment on the side of the soccer field, exploring the flowers and grass. When we forgive ourselves, we acknowledge the rolling momentum of these ripples and decide to no longer use them to propel us forward through life; we decide to finally give space and time to return to that point from which this pain originated. Self-forgiveness allows us to see that what we currently experience as self-judgement originates from the perception of an innocent child who wanted to please and be loved by others. Self-forgiveness is how we begin to be present for this old perception of not belonging. In my own story, forgiveness gave me a practice of acknowledging that my self-judgements were connected to the pain caused by my own rejection of that little boy. The more I practice self-forgiveness, the more I feel capable of acknowledging my judgements, validating my feelings in relation to them, and embracing the sensitivity that is connected to a sense of belonging.
Looking Within: Practicing Self-Forgiveness
This practice of forgiveness will guide you through becoming aware of how conflict exists in your relationship with yourself and others. This internal practice helps you acknowledge this energy and uncover your deepest intentions within your relationships. Through this practice you will feel a clearing and cleansing in your relationships and a deeper connection to your authentic self.
Choose a Current Conflict
Begin this exercise by first choosing a conflict that you are experiencing with someone in your life. This conflict should be one that disturbed your peace and has been replaying in your mind: a relationship in which there is unresolved tension that has led to awkwardness, separation, and avoidance. We all have conflicts in our life and we have the option to go through this process with any situation, whether it be a mild or long standing conflict that has lasted for years. Forgiveness can bring healing and resolve to both depending on the amount of time we choose to devote to a situation.
Reflect on how you act within the relationship you have chosen to process: do you avoid this person or situation, become defensive or angry, overly nice or accommodating, are unwilling to commit time or effort, quick to lash out or belittle, or overly competitive? These are just a few examples of how we react in relationships that cause us conflict. It is important to remember that our energy moves out and attaches to people who trigger us and our patterns occur as altered behavior based on this attachment within our energy. By acknowledging our patterns in the conflict, we claim responsibility for how we express energy within the relationship. After identifying the patterns, we can begin the forgiveness process by embracing the pattern with forgiveness. For example, in relation to my father I would say to myself, “I forgive you, Jake, for always needing to be the best, for isolating yourself, for always doing what other people want from you, and for lashing out.” As we acknowledge these patterns, we accept and forgive our role in the conflict.
Forgiving Belief Systems
The next step is to acknowledge belief systems in relation to this conflict. To get in touch with these beliefs, we have to dig in and explore the inner workings of our own reactivity. Beliefs systems are formed in moments like the one I experienced on the sideline as a little boy: we come to a conclusion about ourselves in relation to another person’s reaction. We create beliefs around emotional wounds in order to distance ourselves from the feelings of rejection.These turn into deep-seated perceptions about ourselves, so deep that they seem inherent to our being, and emerge in the face of conflict. Other people act as a mirror, reinforcing these core beliefs when we perceive that they are not valuing who we are. In order to become aware of core beliefs, notice how you feel that you are not valued in a relationship. In relation your current conflict, ask yourself, “What do I want this person to recognize within me?” It may be your voice, your right to be who you are, your contributions, personal space, opinions, or preferences. As you identify the aspects of yourself that are not being appreciated, you can then get in touch with how this makes you feel. You may identify not being enough, feeling wrong, unlovable, worthless, or flawed. In my own process, I identify these perceptions by saying to myself, “I forgive you for believing that you are wrong, not good enough, weak, or intrinsically flawed.” As I acknowledge these core beliefs, it invites the feelings to arise in my body. In my self-forgiveness practice this is the most essential part: to validate and give space to my emotions in relation to conflict. Invite yourself to deeply feel the vulnerability of long standing conflicts with yourself and others in order to open up to the opportunity for emotional healing and cleansing.
The next step is to acknowledge feelings in relation to beliefs. I say to myself, “I acknowledge your pain, frustration, resentment, anger, and disappointment.” I take a few moments to feel the energy in my body and the waves of these feelings as they flow through me. I create space for them to belong and to validate my experience. In this practice it is important for me to remember that as a little boy, I was not capable of fully feeling stable and safe within myself in the face of a painful experience. I had to look outside of myself for guidance on how to be me in relation to other people. Staying with the energy of emotions sends a signal to our entire being that we are here to support this vulnerability and have no intention of leaving.
Embracing Our Deepest Intentions
After taking the time to process emotions, I always try to look into my deepest intention in conflicts with others. I identify what I was searching for in this relationship that I was not getting but can now acknowledge in myself. Often times, we rely on other people to fulfill our innate need to be loved unconditionally. I say to myself, “I acknowledge your desire for love, respect, appreciation, and recognition.” These are the innate qualities that we reclaim for ourselves. By taking this last step, we embrace these aspects of ourselves that were previously abandoned and now allow them to be fully felt and expressed.
After this practice you will notice some subtle changes in your body and mind. You may start to feel a sense of clarity and release as you close your process. As you practice over a longer period of time, this consistent clarity will result in feeling less reactive. You will find yourself focusing more on your emotions rather than the content of your mind, which tends to attach to stressful situations. Because of this shift toward focusing on emotions, stress becomes less prevalent and more manageable. Through resolution of emotion you may also find yourself more open to connection with others and others feeling safer around you. You may notice individuals wanting to connect with you or stand close to you. People with whom you have experienced tension might feel safe to approach you and even ask for forgiveness for conflicts that have remained unresolved. In my experience, these instances have always been a confirmation of my practice. These moments of resolution with others represent the subtle shifts toward being more gentle with yourself and others: the real gift of continual practice. This subtle, gentle feeling is the light of forgiveness that wants to be reinforced and applied to every situation in your life.
Now, when I walk to the river and gaze down at my reflection, I see a different person. I see someone who is willing to look at himself in order to resolve conflict rather than waiting for my father and other people to change. If I look deeply into those eyes I see joy, commitment, and love. The water seems clear without the waves of sadness that made it impossible to recognize the person I was looking for. I know that the water is not always going to be still, but I have a practice to fully see every part of that rippling surface. I hope you will make the commitment to see for yourself that conflicts do not exist outside; they exist within yourself. With a practice of self-forgiveness, you will be able to process the waves and reclaim that part of yourself that is waiting for love and acceptance. As I look at my father now, I see an open door for connection and friendship. With forgiveness anything is possible.
This spring I will be offer the Self Forgiveness Program, which is a personal journey in learning how to release conflict from your life while creating a foundation of personal responsibility, self love, and support.
Click below to learn more.