Mindset Training Week 16: Forgiveness
My eyes downcast, I sat on a cold metal chair staring at the fibers of spotless brown carpet. There is an odor that all Mormon churches have. It’s a mix of body odor, disinfectant, and ancient Bibles. The smell filled my nose and brought to my mind the day of my baptism as a young child. It felt like eons of time between now and then.
Baptism was a momentous day for an 8-year-old. It was a covenant with God, taking upon myself the name of Jesus Christ himself, promising to keep His commandments, and serve Him for eternity. Barefoot and clad in a white garment, I walked the cold tile to the baptismal font where I would be absolved of my 8-year-old sins of harassing the babysitter and mouthing off to Mom. My father’s hands locked firmly with mine, and his voice boomed with pride: “Amanda Lorraine Stoker, having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” Dunk.
It was not Jesus standing before me when I opened my eyes but my mom with a towel and a big hug. Then we went for ice cream.
I was a happy, sin-free girl.
That was before.
Fast forward 15 years. Now I was struggling with addiction and a life out of control. The pure white walls of the bishop’s office inched further and further in, enclosing me. I wished I hadn’t passed up the chance to try acid awhile back—maybe now I’d know If I was hallucinating or not. My body shook. I pulled at the hem of my dress and tucked my sweaty hands under my thighs. My eyes fixated on a speck on the carpet.
Unbidden, another flashback: My 16-year-old friends and I sat facing our teacher in the same cold metal folding chairs with the same stench in the air. The lesson was on being virtuous (that’s Mormon for sex ed). The teacher passed a beautiful rose around the room, instructed us to touch it, handle it, smell it. The rose was handed to me last. It was mangled and falling apart. A metaphor for the sin of having sex before marriage, of course.
My 23-year-old self felt just as intended by this exercise: unwanted, unloved, unworthy, and full of shame. Portraits of male church authority hung on the wall with a “bless this poor girl” look. Just when I thought the Prophet Joseph Smith was going to walk through the wall, I came out of my trance. The eyes of the bishop and his two male councilors fixed on me. Their eyes darted up and down as they took turns reading from 3x5 cards.
“How many men have you had intercourse with?”
“Have you had anal sex?”
“Have you had oral sex?”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Have you had any abortions?”
“Have you had sex with women?”
“Do you regret your actions?”
I meekly answered with the boulder in my stomach growing in mass and threatening to drag me right through the chair and down through the floor. I held back the urge to spew vomit all over their perfectly pressed suits, striped ties, and starched collars. I secretly hoped that I could be dunked in that sacred water again, but that’s not how a Mormon disciplinary council goes.
The yearlong repentance process will be worth it, I told myself. Instead of judging eyes and fake smiles greeting me like a son of Cain every Sunday, it would be a parade of angels rejoicing me like the prodigal daughter. But this would never happen.
After nearly a year of these weekly interrogations, the same 3x5 cards every time, I sat in the bishop’s office once more, days away from reinstatement as a worthy member of the church.
This time was different. I was different. I had become intimate with a friend over the weekend. Why, I demanded to know, was something that felt so natural so wrong?
My timidness was gone. It was my turn to ask him a question.
“What is wrong with sex?” I boldly asked.
He paused. Looked at me dead in the eye and said: “I see the devil in you.”
“You have been taken by the devil and I think we need to have another discipline council.”
I was not certain of much in my life at this point, but I was certain of one thing. I’d been shamed for the last time by this man, to whom I’d bared my inner soul in hopes of redemption. Whom I’d told about being molested as a child and raped as a teenager. Wilted, I gathered up my body, stood up, and walked out. The vows of an eternal marriage and forever family would not be for me. I was finished with the Mormon Church and their promises of forgiveness through only self-abasement.
Looking back, I can see the desire I had to better my life. I knew the path I was on was not leading me to happiness. While the intention was there, I was not ready to give up my pleasure-filled lifestyle nor did I have the correct tools to do so. I was leaping cold turkey from one extreme to the another, with a “this will be easy” approach. I was unaware of the impact sexual trauma had on the mind. Being molested in early childhood introduced the emotion of lust before I was mature enough to correctly process the sensation. As a result, impulses had an overpowering force on the mind. An emotional malfunction occurred whenever I was hit with an attractive force. Entering back into the strict, disciplined life of Mormonism without a compassionate approach to healing set me up for failure.
Since that time, I’ve learned that forgiveness is not granted by three ordained men in a room confined by their religious beliefs, nor by a big God in the sky who magically enlightens me with a touch of his scepter. Forgiveness is something found by reconciling with God within my heart. It’s the greatest gift of love I can give myself. Forgiveness is sitting next to myself in that chair, holding my hand, and telling my younger self that she is loved. I would answer the question that she asked the bishop explaining, “Sex is a natural, sacred act between consenting adults, joining minds, bodies, and souls with Love.” I would inform her that she will heal and document her experience as an offering to others seeking support on their path. Forgiveness is embracing her in my arms and taking her out for ice cream.
HEART HEALING STEP 6: FORGIVENESS
Imagine yourself as you existed prior to this life. In a phenomenal world of iridescent colors, in a spectrum beyond imagination. Scenes of tranquility surrounding you. Everything you want and need is materialized with a thought. Happiness in a constant state of being and love is omnipresent. It is Eden.
Born shrieking, rightly so, you enter the labyrinth of existence that is Earth. A world full of untold suffering and constant challenge. You are a perfect being, sent from a perfect place, into an imperfect body and an imperfect world. Your former existence in its splendor is veiled. The one task you were given when you were sent to this earth is to remember and find your way back.
As you journey through life, you’re not quick to remember the paradise you came from. The curtain becomes thickened as you settle into life and the perception of earthly reality. Finding your way through the maze becomes confusing: enticing sounds, stimulating pleasures, and fantastic sights. You want to experience it all. You take wrong turns, distractions delay you, and when you finally stop to assess the results of your life, it feels like you’ve been walking in circles. This is when you look for the guiding light of forgiveness.
You panic in your labyrinth, looking back, attempting to assess where you’ve been in order to know where to go. Looking at the past, feeling guilty and unworthy, traps you. Forgiveness turns you around and points the way home. Instantly, before your eyes, the maze transforms, the paths reorganizing and resettling, and everything becomes pristine. The screen of reality between this world and the next thins ever so slightly. You can start to remember your formless state.
When you look back at your past and see mistakes you’ve made, a perception of “badness” starts to form around your identity. You forget the real, perfect you, and label yourself as bad, a sinner, and unworthy of love. These thoughts keep you lost in confusion. Getting out of the labyrinth takes you through a house of mirrors where you look at yourself, remember, and forgive.
Forgiveness is letting go of the past and any misguided steps you may have taken. Rooted in the word is “give,” an act of generosity. “For” means “to extend.” Forgiveness is an act of generosity you extend. When forgiving yourself, you’re giving your former self love and kindness. Letting go through forgiveness brings a massive a sigh of relief. If you want to change your life, forgiveness is a necessary step. By opening to forgiveness, you can move forward freely with wisdom instead of confined by guilt. You remember who you are and can flow with the haphazardness of life.
Navigating the difficulties becomes a little easier and even joyful as you lift the pressure on yourself to be perfect. Perfection in this life is not the goal. The goal is remembering that you’re perfect on the soul level, experiencing life in an imperfect bodymind. When your labyrinth transforms and new pathways emerge, the ever-present peace and happiness of your formless life peek through and you can perceive the truth of Unconditional Love. This love you feel is confirmation of forgiveness.
In the next three chapters, you’ll be learning how to apply the grace of forgiveness to your life and extend it to others, to free your mind of the confusion this world levies on you. You can find your way through.
HOW TO FORGIVE YOURSELF
Forgiveness is a baptism. It is not something you need to wait for or receive from someone else. It is available to you right now as a generous gift from yourself. Be deeply honest and look at all parts of yourself, not to shame, but to build strength of discernment through awareness. Introspection is your confession to your heart and frees the mind. Love and let go.
Sit with the word forgive.
Bring to your mind the word “forgive” and silently repeat it to yourself. Without needing to define what the word forgive means, simply repeat it in your mind. Notice what emotions arise. Is there resistance? Let the feelings be there without needing to do anything with them. Breathe and circulate the breath from the forgiving heart to the judging, often unkind mind. Forgive, forgive, forgive.
Visualize your former self.
From the wise perspective of your current self, visualize your past self, continuing to repeat the word forgive. Say “forgive” as if you’re showering yourself with love and gentleness. Send forgiveness to release any trapped emotions. Forgiveness is not an admission of badness or wrongdoing. Soften around the judging mind and view yourself with kindness. Honor and respect your former self for doing the best they could with the understanding they had.
Does a memory from the past surface? Is it linked to a decision from the past that led to wrong action or negative consequences? What was the desire or belief that led to a mistaken course of thought or action? Were you influenced by fear, passion, desire, or forgetfulness? Did your action bring you closer to your goals or further away? How did you feel afterwards? Did something out of your control occur that drew you down this path? Analyze to identify the factors that led to your decision.
Resolve to improve.
Once the desire that led to misguided action is identified, you can create a plan for the next time the desire creeps in. What is a higher-minded reaction to the desire? What did you really want in that moment? When the mind wants physical comfort, the soul wants liberation. What is a liberating statement you can tell yourself, and an action that you can take next time to reprogram the mind to habits that support your goals?
What emotions are arising? Use the heart healing steps to deconstruct emotions, identify and clear any fears or false narratives.
The thought of forgiveness often brings up the limiting emotions of guilt and shame. The story is commonly “I did something wrong.” or “I’m not good enough.” Deconstruct the emotions and identify the loss associated with the moment in question. What did you lose because of the choice you made? Then, rewrite any stories of “badness” by repeating a phrase that rewrites the narrative. “I know better and I will do better.” “I am a perfect soul in an imperfect body and mind.”
Employ the four mind training steps to find what you can do.
Is there more needed to do to resolve the unrest in your heart? Work through the four steps from Part One—acceptance, intention, gratitude, action—to find absolution. Forgiving yourself and letting go of the past is an action step. It is taking action on your life and moving forward influenced by the higher vibrations of Love.
In meditation you connect with who you really are, your perfect Self. The ego identified with the bodymind gets confused by the pleasure sensations of the material world and often makes mistakes. But the ego filtered through the highest consciousness holds the wisdom of discernment. Meditation strengthens the ego’s connection to the intuition and highest self, enabling clarity for future decisions.
ON-CUSHION: 16-MINUTE MEDITATION
Meditate first thing in the morning and just before bed. Incorporate forgiveness into your meditation each day. There does not need to be a specific event you’re asking forgiveness for. Use the word “forgive” as an investigative tool. Prior to meditating, repeat the word as if it has no meaning. Forgive. I forgive my body. I forgive my mind. I forgive myself. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive.
10-MINUTE EMOM + SIX MINUTES OF STILLNESS
- Set timer for 16 minutes with 10 one-minute increment bells.
- Sit with your spine in neutral, shoulders over hips, ears over shoulders.
- Close the eyes and focus gently at the third eye point between the eyebrows.
- As you breathe in, imagine a golden light entering your chest and exiting through the back of your heart.
- As you breathe out, imagine the light entering the back of your head at the point where the skull meets the spine, then exiting through the third eye point.
Minute 0:00 to 10:00 (five rounds)
- Circulate energy from the heart to the mind as you inhale and exhale.
- Inhale: Silently repeat “Heart.”
- Exhale: Silently repeat “Mind.”
- Repeat the word ‘Forgive’ at the top and bottom of each breath.
- Keep count of the ten bells by extending your thumb for minute 1, then placing your thumb to each finger pad for minutes 2-5. Repeat for minutes 6-10.
- Retain breath.
- Concentrate at the third eye point between the eyebrows.
- Silently repeat “Love.”
Minute 10:00 to 16:00
- Sit in silence for six minutes.
- Concentrate at the third eye point of intuition.
- Circulate the breath.
- Silently repeat “Om.”
Notice the feeling of self-love awakened from meditation. Affirm I am worthy of love.
OFF-CUSHION: THE PRACTICE OF FORGIVENESS
The forgiveness practice can be taken with us into your day. Practice forgiving yourself and others. If you make a mistake, say silently to yourself, “forgive.” If another person hurts you, repeat “forgive.” Forgiveness does not wait for anything back in return. When someone cuts you off in traffic, say in your mind, “forgive.” If your child draws all over the wall, say “forgive.” When your partner does not empty the dishwasher, say “forgive.” Give the gift of kindness with forgiveness. When you practice daily, it begins to erase the lifetime of shame and guilt and the reactive behaviors that result from judging yourself and others as “bad” and “sinners.” Forgive and let go.
Complete introspection questions and Chapter 16 exercise from your TMHH Workbook.