The Power of Forgiveness During Shelter in Place

More time at home may be an opportunity to connect with loved ones—or it could bring up emotional wounds that have yet to be healed. Here are three mindful practices to forgive ourselves and others.

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With less freedom and more family members at home together during this time due to shelter in place, the circumstances may be creating more tension than meaningful connection. For some, this additional time together may be bringing greater intimacy, care, and empathy, but for others, it may be adding salt to a resentment wound that has yet to be healed. In trying times, we can use whatever arises as a path for practice.

As we prepare to slowly re-open our workplaces in the next few weeks, it feels like a very important time to ask ourselves, “How do I want to show up right now as a leader, partner, friend, coworker, and member of  my family?”

Personally, I have been using this time of quarantine as an opportunity to take greater personal responsibility, shed the stories that keep me disconnected or stuck in patterns that no longer serve, remove the armor of self-protection, and notice where I can create more connection and harmony with the people in my life. The following questions are ones I ask myself daily—especially when I notice rupture or disconnect in a relationship.

  • Where can I take personal responsibility?
  • Is there an opportunity to invite repair?
  • How can I be more vulnerable?
  • Where can I forgive myself and others right now?
  • How do I want to show up to create more connection and trust with this person?

How to Foster More Harmony, Connection, and Forgiveness During Shelter in Place

Step 1: Awareness

The first step is to notice where there is resentment. It may be a narrative that is keeping me disconnected from a family member, friend, roommate, colleague, or partner.

Ask yourself, “What story is keeping me stuck in ‘being right’ or in conflict with this person right now?”

Step 2: Cultivating Compassion

Our mindset and our willingness to practice compassion and forgiveness will make all the difference in our ability to create greater connection and trust during this important time at work and home.  

Compassion is our willingness to face difficulty with presence and kindness. For example, “Wow, my daughter jumping into my bedroom during my Zoom office calls is really challenging.” How can you meet this challenge with kindness and presence? What kind of compassionate boundaries might be appropriate for working remotely? When we bring love and attention to anything difficult, the tension diminishes and we can be compassionate toward ourselves and others.

Step 3: Opening to Forgiveness

Forgiveness is the decision to free ourselves from the personal offense and blame that keep us mired in a cycle of suffering. In my experience, teaching at Stanford University and consulting with leaders and companies on the topic of forgiveness, I have found people are often readier to forgive than we think—they just might not have access to the tools. Below are three mindful practices for self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others.

Three Mindful Practices for Self-Forgiveness

1. Guided Meditation

An 11-Minute Practice for Forgiveness

  • 11:05

2. Write a Forgiveness Letter

For this practice, I invite you to write a forgiveness letter to yourself. Begin by writing on a piece of paper: Dear Self, I forgive you… Forgive yourself for all the times that you didn’t speak up, that you didn’t take good care of yourself, that you didn’t give yourself permission to name and claim what you want, that you didn’t hold healthy boundaries, that you didn’t say No, etc.

3. Create a Loving Phrase

I find that if I am struggling to forgive myself or another, I bring in a loving phrase. You can try the one below, or create one that feels true to you. I am a loving person and deeply want the best for others. I forgive myself.

Forgiveness Has Layers

With these three practices we can discover that forgiveness has layers.

  1. The first layer of forgiveness is internal: letting in emotions and thoughts to the surface to be seen, felt, and acknowledged with kindness. We must feel, before we can heal and release the narrative we’ve held onto.
  2. The second layer of forgiveness is external: focusing on our experience of gratitude for the lessons we learn along the way.
  3. The third layer of forgiveness is internal and external: beginning to cultivate compassion toward ourselves and those we are having difficult relationships with.

Forgiveness is a Choice

Forgiveness is making peace with the word no. When someone has crossed a boundary, the first emotion we will feel is anger, which is appropriate. The wisdom of anger is to protect, but if we hold onto the story of hurt and never allow ourselves to fully feel anger and other feelings associated with pain, we won’t be able to open to forgiveness. The practice of forgiveness can feel totally counterintuitive sometimes. We think we find strength in our anger. But holding onto anger or resentment actually limits how we show up in the present because we are still feuding over the story. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or pardoning an offense. It means acknowledging the grievance and the feelings it creates, acknowledging that people are wounded, flawed, and messy—including our own self, putting appropriate boundaries in place, letting go, and moving on, either with that person in our life or not.  

Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or pardoning an offense. It means acknowledging the grievance and the feelings it creates, acknowledging that people are wounded, flawed, and messy—including our own self.

Forgiveness is a choice, it has a decisional quality to it. We can begin the practice of forgiveness by starting with ourselves and seeing how the motivation to forgive or not forgive can create increased or diminished resilience in our relationships.  

I have been practicing forgiveness for many years and it was one of the first topics I began teaching at Stanford University with one of my mentors and friends, Dr. Fred Luskin, who conducted his dissertation on forgiveness.  Since the beginning of our widespread sheltering in place, I began a daily forgiveness practice for myself and others.  It has been 60 days of practice now and I am feeling the benefits of more compassion, healthier boundaries, and a letting-go of expectations and resentments. Forgiveness, I feel, is an essential practice in our world.  

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