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Boundaries and Empathy Lead to Forgiveness

Last week, I was burning up in the desert! The temperature went up to 108 degrees. While camping in the Eastern Sierras, my body developed a heat rash on the outside and burned up old resentment on the inside.
My Curiosity about forgiveness has been working on me for a long time. In the desert, I found a new way in. In the midst of this heat wave,  I participated in a ceremony that explored forgiveness, apology, and reconciliation. Step 1 was telling my stories to a group of nine trusted friends and declaring that what happened to me in my past was not okay. I claimed the boundaries that I had not been able to do with various men who had hurt me in my life. I declared that it was not okay to be raged at or hit with a belt as a child, it was not okay to be molested, and it was not okay to have my ideas and my intellectual property stolen.

Step 2 was harder. I went into deep contemplation of the reality of these men. What must have been true for them in order for their behavior to have been possible? Therein lies my growth in understanding. I spent time in deep reflection on their circumstances and what it must be like to be them. They each had harsh, difficult realities in their lives that, but for the grace of God, could have been in my life.

Step 3 was harder still. I made the Choice to go inside to find my truth. In the beautiful desert of nature, I meditated on my emotional truth for six days. One night, I sat up all night with the stars, fasting and feeling my feelings. I had to feel both my tears and the difficulties of their lives, in my body, to gain empathy. Feeling what it must have been like to be them. Really feeling it. Difficult—yes. Liberating—absolutely!

Step 4 brought relief. After I spent time deeply in the Connecting Skill of Empathizing, I was able to move to the Connecting Skill of Choosing Kindness. When I came to see that I am like them, I felt a shift in my heart. Our humanity mingled and I found a place in me from which care and compassion flowed. Yes, I continued to hold the boundaries I declared in Step 1. What they did was not okay. But as fellow human beings, who have faced tremendous difficulties, they also deserved my kindness. We teach that Courage is following one’s heart. I followed my heart into a world of forgiveness.  I finally felt free of the resentment that I have carried for many years toward these men. 

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Do you have an emotional burden you are ready to put down? Where might declaring your boundaries and Empathizing lead you?

With Resilience, 
Chuck and the Dovetail Learning team