From a young age, I was taught to forgive others. What I heard was: I should forgive those who have hurt me. I should forgive for my own benefit. Forgiveness would set me free. If I have not forgiven, then I am holding on and keeping myself stuck. 

So I strived to forgive. I wanted to “do the right thing”, and I also did not want to contribute to my own suffering. Sometimes I felt like I had forgiven, only to feel the hurt resurface later. Eventually, I began to feel guilty that I could not forgive. I started to mistakenly believe I was a bad person, and I felt not only the original pain, but also the pain of shame and feeling frustrated with myself for not letting go. 

Then I had a medicine ceremony that changed everything. 

During the ceremony, I revisited a painful memory and felt grief. Grief for what I lost. Grief for what I never had. Grief for who I may have been had events unfolded differently. And after grieving for some time, I felt an energy in my chest shift and release from my body. It was not a result of a thought, insight, effort, or an action on my part. I suddenly saw black smoke leave my body and I realized what I was feeling was forgiveness. True forgiveness, for the first time. 

The message felt clear: Forgiveness is spontaneous, and you cannot force it to happen.

I believe forgiveness is a natural extension of the grieving process. By this time I had undergone years of therapy, spiritual practices, self-help books, and psychedelic medicine ceremonies. I believe that in this ceremony I reached a point where I had finished grieving a piece of my past, and subsequently I forgave. I forgave myself and forgave others.

I still carry anger and pain, and yet I no longer try and force myself to forgive, let go, and move on. My healing process has its own timing, and there’s no way to speed it up (as much as I wish I could sometimes). I trust that it will happen. And if it doesn’t, that’s okay too. 

I’m only human, after all. 

Reflection

Forgiveness is a frequent theme that arises in psychedelic medicine work.

What thoughts, physical sensations, and emotions arrive for you as you read about my experience with forgiveness? I encourage you to remember that your experience may be different than mine, and it is equally valid. 

What does forgiveness mean to you? What is your relationship with forgiveness?

Do you find it easier to forgive others, or forgive yourself? 

I look forward to hearing your reflections in circle.