The Art of Love and Forgiveness:
4 Deep Practices for Cultivating Lasting Joy and Harmony in Your Life
BY JIM DREAVER
mastering the art of love and forgiveness connects you with the deep joy, peace and harmony at the core of your being.
The Power of Love and Forgiveness
With the awakening to our true natures as consciousness, each day becomes rich in love, meaning and purpose. In this article, I want to speak about love and forgiveness.
Love, after all, is the most important and vital emotion we human beings can feel. The East Indian sage, Ramakrishna, said, “The mind will take you into the courtyard of the Beloved, but only the heart will get you into the bedroom.”Love and forgiveness is what humanity needs to show more of if there is ever to be any kind of global healing. Since long before the time of Jesus, whose teaching was all about love, prophets and sages have been telling us we needed to love and forgive each other more. Yet people everywhere seem to struggle with loving one another as much as they struggle internally with everything else.
“Love and forgiveness is what humanity needs to show more of if there is ever to be any kind of global healing.”
Modern psychology is on the mark when it says we must learn to love and forgive ourselves first, and then we can love and forgive others. But so long as we remain in the realm of the psychological and emotional, it is not so easy. There are the selves we think we are, and the selves we are trying to improve, to love. It can be very confusing—as it usually is, when we are still identified with the personal, when we cannot see beyond our own ego concerns.
Through doing the practice of freedom I have presented here, through embodying the teaching that you are not your story, you are led to the understanding there is just one energy, one universal consciousness manifested in an endless diversity of forms. You are that energy, and its very nature, as it is expressed through the human heart, is love.
Reality is an indivisible Whole. Every living creature is a wave flowing out of and receding back into the one ocean of creation. Connecting with the oneness or wholeness of life paves the way for opening the heart. When you realize all fears are self-created, there is a deep relaxation or letting go at the somatic level. Then your heart will naturally feel the flowering of goodness, kindness, and love.
This is the very essence of love and forgiveness—to open our hearts and tap into our true compassion. It is to feel our energetic oneness, our interconnectedness, with every other human being and every living thing. However, in most of us, this flowering in the heart needs to be nurtured and brought forth.
practicing love and forgiveness is a moment by moment discipline that pays off immense rewards for yourself and others. photo: danka & peter
The more we feel it, the more we extend our love and forgiveness outward, and the more our actions are governed by such heart qualities as empathy, kindness, affection, tenderness, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, gratitude, and courage.
This is where enlightenment comes down from the mountaintop and enters the marketplace. What I call the “mountaintop view” describes time spent in meditation, contemplation, self-inquiry to discover our true nature—the wisdom, love, and freedom inside us.
But this awakening to truth, to the divine love within you, is only the first step. Our ability to bring this love down from the mountaintop into the marketplace is the test of how deep and real our awakening is. It reveals our ability to be there with and for others; it shows the degree to which our hearts are truly open.Inner freedom is absolutely attainable. Once you are free, you are always free. Other than those minor residues or echoes from the past occasionally cropping up, there is no getting stuck again. Residues are most likely to occur when the body is going through pain or illness of some kind, or survival is being threatened in some way.
But the mastery of love and forgiveness is something else altogether. In a way, we are all beginners at love. Mastery of your mind brings you to the experience of clarity and detachment, of freedom and openness, of spaciousness and presence. But opening and awakening the heart brings you into intimacy with life and with people.
As your heart opens and fear dissolves, your chest expands and is filled with warmth and love. This feeling of expansion is the sign that consciousness is entering your heart. When you trust and live from your heart, your true passion is liberated. The heart is the true healer.
Nisargadatta Maharaj said, “Wisdom is knowing I am nothing, love is knowing I am everything, and between the two my life moves.” This is a beautiful expression of truth.
As you awaken, you will indeed discover you are nothing and everything. In that discovery, you will feel the power of the universe moving through you and realize you are connected to everyone and everything. True freedom arises in knowing, which is articulated in wisdom, and feeling, which is expressed as love.
Life then becomes very rich, because you are connected to the love within you, to the power of the universe itself. You still welcome love from other people—after all, you want to see the whole world awaken to this love within—but you no longer need it. The light and love shining in you are strong enough now. In fact, they overflow, so that you cannot help but share your radiant, loving presence with those who are open and receptive to it.
“Wisdom is knowing I am nothing, love is knowing I am everything, and between the two my life moves.”
— Nisargadatta Maharaj
When I talk about love in this way, I often get this question: “What you are saying sounds true, but I still find it very hard to love and forgive certain people. I think many others would find it hard to love, too. I mean, what about terrorists, whose sole purpose is to kill and destroy? Are we supposed to love and forgive them? Or, closer to home, how can you expect a grieving mother to love her child’s murderer?”
We have to look at love from a very practical perspective. Love and forgiveness is not necessarily about liking every human being on earth, or even your neighbor, especially if he or she is mean-spirited, malicious, or ill-willed. It is not about condoning harmful or destructive behavior. And even though people may be partially or almost totally disconnected from it, love is fundamentally about respecting the inherent humanity of all people and looking for the spark of truth, goodness, and light residing somewhere deep within everyone’s heart and soul.
The ongoing work of awakening is to bring love and forgiveness from inside your heart out into the world, where it can make a difference. Learning to do this is a lifelong process. It requires you to be very conscious and aware throughout the day. When you notice you are not being aware, when you are caught up in distraction, in judgment, in some story, take that as your cue to come back to awareness. Take it as your reminder to come back to being here now.
You have to be vigilant. Sometimes you might have to remind yourself to listen more carefully, to be more compassionate, to reach out and put your arm around someone.
You may have seen through the illusion of the person, of your own story, but opening your heart is an endless process. It is a journey of growing into love, of learning to express your true, compassionate nature ever more fully. It’s about being very aware, present, open, and grounded in your body in each moment.
As freedom becomes more real for you, being centered and grounded happens naturally and effortlessly. From this place, you can reach out and share who you are with others. You can open your heart to them. If you are invited to speak or someone asks you a question, you can introduce the awakening conversation. Above all, you will be able to share your silence, your stillness, and your peace.
Discover the Healing Power of Forgiveness
Forgiveness, simply defined, is the letting go of blame or resentment toward anybody who has hurt, offended, or slighted you in the past.
So long as you are still living from your ego, story, or image about who you are, you will always be subject to being hurt. Sooner or later, someone will do or say something to offend you. Then you will live with the feeling of being hurt, and of being angry because you were hurt, for some time. Some people nurse their hurt feelings and anger for weeks or months, while others do it for years or decades.However, if you are on a path of personal or spiritual growth, you will, at some point, realize the hurt and anger you are holding onto are actually causing more harm to you than they are the other person. The other person is merrily going on with his or her life (which just pisses you off even further!), and here you are, suffering miserably because of what he or she said or did months or years ago.
“Coming to the realization you are suffering and you want to be free from suffering more than anything else is the heart and soul of love and forgiveness.”
One of the keys to love and forgiveness is realizing the people who hurt you are only acting out of their own belief systems, their own stories of need and suffering. In the case of my former girlfriend, she was still exploring and trying to find herself. If I was the lover of inner truth and freedom I said I was, who was I to try and stop her? Heck, my whole life was about supporting people in waking up. This realization helped me get over my own pain fairly quickly.
Coming to the realization you are suffering and you want to be free from suffering more than anything else is the heart and soul of love and forgiveness. Your suffering is the result of the anger, hurt, and blame—the story—you are holding onto. You are smart enough to see that if you act out your anger, if you dump it on the person who hurt you, it is going to perpetuate the cycle of suffering—for yourself and the other person. You might feel a certain pleasure in acting out your anger, but so long as you remain attached to your self-righteous story, you will continue to attract people who offend or hurt you.
In the end, you come face-to-face with the cold, hard truth of the matter: you have to let your blame and self-righteousness go. You might practice kissing or waving goodbye to it, or visualize wrapping the anger and hurt in a silk cloth and tossing it into an imaginary fire. Do whatever works for you.
Ultimately though, it always comes back to the direct path. You breathe deeply, shrug your shoulders, and metaphorically shake off whatever you’re holding onto, which is not you. You become supremely present, relaxed in your body, your heart open. You are right here in this moment—aware, alert, awake.
Through the power of clear, present-time awareness, you reconnect with the true beauty and vastness of life. You feel the energy of the universe moving through you again. You realize you are one with the universe. You are the universe.
In this oneness, all feelings of separation, hurt, and anger eventually dissolve and are replaced by clarity, light, presence, and a great feeling of peace…
Be the oneness right now… Go within and visualize your body as vast, empty space, space which is at the same time infinitely full… Connect with your heart, the love breathing within you, the love you are… Now think of someone who has hurt or betrayed you in the past… See them, the image of them, enveloped by the love you are… Whatever their intention was, they were clearly misguided… They were operating out of their own inner demons… Thus, it is easy for you to forgive them now… Send them love, radiate love, as you breathe out slowly, and then let the image of them go… Now just be here, as the awareness, the presence you are…
As you do this practice of being the loving awareness you are, a wonderful, relaxed feeling of ease, spaciousness, and wellbeing may unfold within you. Remember: you can’t hold on to this feeling or keep it, because it is what you most essentially are. It is your natural state. So don’t try.
If you feel yourself contracting—getting caught in conflict, stress, or upset—it is your cue to come back to presence. It is in presence, in the awareness of being here right now, that you rediscover your true universal nature. But to fully and completely awaken, you must inquire into who you are. You must investigate the I. You must look deep within to find its source or origin.
No matter how deeply you look, you’ll discover you cannot find it. Your I, your ego, has no reality in and of itself. Only consciousness is ultimately real. This is the great liberation those who have awakened come to. This is the key to unlocking the secret of inner freedom.
Toward the end of my time at the Zen Center, I felt much better, much clearer, more truly in a place of love and forgiveness. I processed all my feelings, and by and large, they fell away. The falling away or letting go is the essence of forgiveness. In the space that opened up, a whole new creative energy began to pour through me.
Somewhere around the same time, I read the book The Chasm of Fire, by Sufi teacher Irina Tweedie. The book is about her studies with a Sufi master in a small village in India—all her trials and difficulties, her amazing energy experiences, and her insights and breakthroughs.
“We have to empty ourselves of everything—our egos, personal histories, our stories of suffering and blame—and then we can, at last, open to the flowering of love.”
On the first page of the book she says, “Only a heart which has burned itself empty is capable of love.” This is a beautiful statement of truth. We have to empty ourselves of everything—our egos, personal histories, our stories of suffering and blame—and then we can, at last, open to the flowering of love and forgiveness. Then love and forgiveness can move through us. In most traditional spiritual paths and in the psychological approach, this emptying happens progressively as you practice releasing the past and forgiving those who have hurt you. But in the direct path approach, the letting go happens naturally and effortlessly as you see what you were holding onto isn’t even real.
Through doing the practice of freedom, and through contemplating the teaching, you realize if you can observe the stories, beliefs, and images causing you to suffer, you cannot be them. You are the vast, timeless awareness that observes and experiences.Be who you are, then. Dwell in the freedom, clarity of mind, and openness of heart that are your true nature. Then the love and forgiveness flowing through you will always be unconditional for there is no you in it, no ego-self laying down rules, expectations, conditions, or agendas.
You just love because you love, plain and simple. What others do with your love is up to them. Those whose hearts are sufficiently open and whose levels of trust are deep enough will accept your love, appreciate it, and reciprocate. Those whose hearts are closed will not be able to receive the gift you have to give them. But it’s okay. Remember, there are no conditions on your love. Maybe they will be ready next time.
The freer you are and the more your heart opens, the more naturally you feel compelled to reach out and connect with your fellow human beings. Because we are all part of an indivisible Whole, you feel their suffering, but you don’t take it personally.
I remember British novelist and philosopher Aldous Huxley saying something beautiful about the interconnectedness of all people. He was comparing Christ’s famous injunction to “Love your neighbor as yourself” with the great phrase from the Hindu Upanishads, “You are That.”
The Upanishad teaching is a profoundly nondual statement. It is saying that you and God—That—are one. You and the divine energy, the consciousness behind creation, are one. It’s the wave and the ocean again.
To see and understand this with the whole of your being, you have to see it from the perspective of consciousness, the vastness of your true nature. This is why I say there is something more important than love. That something is consciousness itself. After all, without consciousness, what is love? Without consciousness, love is always conditional. It is not pure. It is emotional. It has an agenda behind it. It can turn to coldness, dislike, even hate.
But with the light of consciousness and timeless awareness behind it, love is always unconditional. Look at everything in life, then, from the Whole, rather than from the parts. Get the big picture. Take the unconditional perspective, and your love will be unconditional.
Or, as Kunihiro Yamate put it: “The secret of this way is to look at everything from the perspective of self as pure Consciousness. It is the only real, true way to look at things” (The Way of No Thinking).
Two Practices for Cultivating Love and Forgiveness
1. The Practice of Forgiving Your Parents
One of the main barriers to spiritual awakening, enlightenment, or self-realization is our unhealed relationships with our parents, whether they are living or not. If you have an issue with a parent, bring him or her into your daily meditations too, just like you learned to do with other upsetting situations in the practice at the end of chapter one.
If your parents evoke resentment, anger, guilt, abandonment, regret, blame, or fear, again, learn to welcome it because it is showing you where you are not yet free. If the relationship brings up a lot of intense feeling, you may have to breathe deeply and slowly, very consciously, to stay present with it. If it gets to be too much for you, take a break and come back the next day. Ultimately, though, you want to be the spiritual warrior you are, and face this demon—the unhealed relationship with your parent—within you.
Visualize yourself being with your being with your mother or father (work with one at a time) in past situations. in past situations. Allow whatever wants to come up to come up. Notice the stories you have and the feelings triggered, and see that you are not the story, but rather the luminous, ever-present consciousness that is always here, now. This is the essence of forgiveness: letting go of your story of blame.
You will know the relationship with your parent is complete when you are at peace within yourself and you can look into your mother’s or father’s eyes (face to face or in your imagination) with affection, kindness, love and forgiveness. This practice paves the way for others you may need to forgive. Bring them into your meditation, and follow the same process.
Or maybe there is someone you have wronged, done harm to, and you need to seek forgiveness from him or her. Bring that person into your meditation. Silently ask for forgiveness and, at the same time, visualize yourself beaming a wave of compassion, love and forgiveness in the person’s direction. Surround him or her with love, light, and goodwill…
2. The Practice of Loving and Forgiving Yourself
Learning to love and forgive ourselves for the ways in which have failed to perform, or have harmed someone, or haven’t measured up to our own high expectations, is extremely important on this path of awakening. Forgiveness really does start within.
When you feel as if you have let someone down, or have failed to measure up to your own expectations, or are judging yourself for being a “bad” person in some other way, softening and opening your heart, and saying the following mantra can be powerful medicine: “I forgive myself for… ”
Simply insert the appropriate words: “I forgive myself for [a particular harmful behavior, an action, a failure to act, being unkind, being a jerk, being an asshole, and so on].”
Say it as often as necessary, in a whole-hearted, self-embracing way, until you really have forgiven yourself for that particular failing or fault. You have let go the story of self-blame, and of course it lets go of you when you see that the story of why you’ve been so hard on yourself isn’t even real. It’s just a story, a memory about a long-ago past event you’ve been identifying with, clinging to, inside your head.
And you are not your story… You are always this beautiful, clear, conscious being who is reading these words right now!
Two Practices For Eye-Gazing
The most accurate gauge of how present and inwardly free we are is in our ability to connect with not just our parents, who may have hurt us, or people we may have harmed, but anybody, without fear or judgment, in a relaxed, nonthreatening way. Our look is open and welcoming. We have nothing to hide or prove. We can apologize if necessary.
The following two practices will help in the process of becoming free.
1. Eye-Gazing with Yourself
Most people spend time looking in the mirror, so this is the perfect practice for helping you awaken to the truth and beauty of who you really are—to the empty mirror experience I wrote about earlier.
Simply gaze at yourself in the mirror, paying attention to any self-judgments or self-criticisms or any other negative thoughts that arise. Then do the practice of freedom around these criticisms.
Step 1: Be present with the criticisms; learn to welcome them.
Step 2: Really notice them; you can tell yourself, Oh, I’m getting caught up in that judgment again…
Step 3: See the truth… and the truth is that judgments and self-criticisms come and go, just like the suffering they create comes and goes, but you, the beautiful, conscious being, are always here. So breathe, relax, and, as you look at yourself, be the beautiful person you are.
The ultimate goal of this practice is to be able to look at yourself with total acceptance, love and forgiveness, with genuine kindness. For that to happen, your ego, the little me, has to be out of the way. You have to have completed the fourth step of the practice of freedom.
As you gaze at yourself in the mirror, one positive saying, or mantra, that can help is this: I am pure, loving consciousness… or, My true nature is pure, loving awareness…
2. Eye-Gazing With Another
I use the following practice in my workshops. It can bring up our fears, anxieties, discomforts, judgments, and other negative feelings, particularly when we are meeting someone for the first time. This allows us to see how much “stuff” gets in the way of our connecting genuinely with others. It can trigger the stories we are still internally identifying with.
However, the ultimate purpose of this practice is to give us the practical experience of being with others in a relaxed, open, nonjudgmental, and loving way—in a way that is entirely free of self” consciousness.
Step 1: Sit facing your partner (or a friend). You should be close enough that your knees are touching. Both of you close your eyes and establish a sense of calmness and spaciousness by simply welcoming everything— your body and the sensations, feelings, breath, arising thoughts, beliefs, stories…
When you feel sufficiently relaxed and clear, open your eyes and look at your partner. Let your eyes be soft, open, and receptive, as if you are inviting the whole world to come to you. Gently hold each other’s gaze for a period of two to five minutes the first couple of times. As you get more used to it, hold your gaze for longer.
Step 2: Pay attention to any judgmental thoughts that may arise about yourself or your partner. Don’t judge yourself for being judgmental; don’t criticize yourself for being critical. If you notice this happening, just breathe and tell yourself, “Uh-oh, I’m doing it again—getting caught up in a story,” and come back to being present with your partner.
Step 3: See the beauty and light in your partner’s eyes. Recognize that what you see in them is a perfect mirror of your own beauty and light. After all, there is just one beautiful, radiant consciousness here, embodied in two separate people.
This can be an intense process, especially early on. If you need to periodically close your eyes and re-center, give yourself total permission to do so. Then, when you are ready, come back to gazing into your partner’s eyes. When you and your partner feel like you’ve spent enough time connecting in this way, give each other a smile and a warm hug, and share your personal experience of the practice.
This article on love and forgiveness is excerpted from End Your Story, Begin Your Life by Jim Dreaver.
About The Author
Jim Dreaver is the author of End Your Story, Begin Your Life, his acclaimed book that is all about awakening to freedom. He began his search for freedom in the mid-seventies with the teachings of yoga, Zen and J. Krishnamurti. In 1984 he met European nondual master Jean Klein, who led him to seeing the truth in 1995. His mission now is to guide others to the same realization—that awakening is ever and only here, now! He has taught his work at Esalen Institute near Big Sur, California for many years, online, in Los Angeles and San Francisco and in New Zealand and Australia. He lives in Santa Barbara, California and is available for private sessions via skype, phone, or in person for those who want to accelerate their journey to freedom. If this is you, email Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his website: jimdreaver.com