The Blog

Forgiveness for Sandy Hook and Other Unthinkable Acts

We must learn to forgive, not just for ourselves, but because we influence the rest of the world, including our loved ones and families. Forgiveness is deeply healing. It allows us to live free in the present moment.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
Candles line a sidewalk memorial in honor of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Candles line a sidewalk memorial in honor of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Outrage erupted in light of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting. Outrage against gun control. Outrage against the NRA. Outrage that anything like this could possibly happen. How could the parents of the victims of Sandy Hook ever find forgiveness in their heart for the man who took their children's lives?

It made me think of Ram Dass, and what he wrote to two parents whose little girl, Rachel, had been brutally raped and murdered. He begins his letter:

Dear Steve & Anita, Rachel finished her work on earth, and left the stage in a manner that leaves those of us left behind with a cry of agony in our hearts, as the fragile thread of our faith is dealt with so violently. Is anyone strong enough to stay conscious through such teaching as you are receiving? Probably very few. And even they would only have a whisper of equanimity and peace amidst the screaming trumpets of their rage, grief, horror and desolation...

He speaks to their deep pain and grief that they must surrender fully to, how their rational minds cannot conceive of what has happened, yet how important it is for them to keep their hearts open. Ram Dass did not pretend to understand the gravity of their pain, but shared something important to remember in the midst of their overwhelming darkness: to grow in compassion and wisdom.

How could anyone grow in compassion and wisdom in the light of such violent acts?

It may seem like an impossible feat to forgive such unthinkable acts. But what would be the alternative? To not grow in compassion would be to harden in darkness. And to harden from such a violent act, would allow it to live on and reverberate within your being, giving it greater life force beyond what it deserved.

I was moved by Robert Parker's public talk, where he spoke of his daughter, Emilie, who had been killed in the Sandy Hook shootings.

Robert begins by sharing his condolences to the families affected by the Sandy Hook shooting, and even offers his love, condolences and support to the shooter's family: "I can't imagine how hard this experience must be for you." He acknowledges the pain and suffering of Adam Lanza's family, saying, "I'm not mad." Robert Parker has chosen what seems like an insurmountable act of grace: to forgive the unthinkable.

Marianne Williamson says, "The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world."

We must learn to forgive, not just for ourselves, but because we influence the rest of the world,
including our loved ones and families. Forgiveness is deeply healing. It allows us to live free in the present moment.

But let me be clear about what forgiveness is not:

1. Forgiveness does not mean condoning. It does not condone past hurtful behavior. Forgiveness is consciously choosing to release past grievances that have happened, so that you can be free and move on with your life. It gives you the power to release resentment.

2. Forgiveness does not mean inaction. It does not mean that we blindly accept the destructive behaviors of others who threaten our safety. In no way does forgiveness mean that we allow violent acts to continue. Forgiveness takes great strength. True forgiveness frees us from acting out of separation and hate, and empowers us to speak the truth from our hearts.

Forgiveness may seem like a far stretch in the beginning. At first what we often feel is rage, anger, and thoughts of revenge. Violent acts of injustice often spur people toward major action. Anger lets us know something must change. We must not ignore it. But we must take time to acknowledge and experience the pain we feel, so that we do not inadvertently channel more of our pain unto others. Forgiveness is an act of self-empowerment that allows clarity and wisdom to transform our pain into loving action. It makes us clear vessels for positive change.

Forgiveness is healing. It leads you towards greater health and wholeness. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to learning how to forgive. Finding a way to plant the seed of intention for forgiveness allows it to germinate in its own time, in its own way. When you are gentle, loving and patient toward yourself through the process, the intention of forgiveness will find a way to flower on its own.

Through forgiveness you choose to act from love and strength. But how can you even begin to forgive? Here are 10 ways to start the practice of forgiveness:

1. Honor your true feelings. What are your true feelings? Do you allow yourself to fully express them, or do you push painful emotions away? In the healing arts, they say "feeling is healing." By allowing what you really feel, without guilt or shame, you give yourself permission to fully purge your emotions and move forward.

2. Practice self-observation. Notice the thoughts you have when you choose not to forgive, and the way it affects your health and energy. What happens when you don't forgive? Where do your attention and energy tend to go? What is the story you keep telling yourself over and over again? Where do you feel contraction in your body?

3. Imagine being the other. For a moment, take yourself out of your own shoes, and imagine being the other person. Imagine them as a child. What was it like for them to grow up? What was their experience like for them to have behaved the way they did? What was their pain like? Meditate on being the other person and seeing the situation from his/her point of view.

4. Reflect. Take time to reflect on what happened and how the situation transpired. What was your initial intuition? What unspoken agreements were broken? What is your life lesson in the matter? What good, if any, unfolded as a result?

5. Open your perspective. Look at the situation from a bird's eye perspective that can see 360 degrees, across all time and space. What would you tell yourself in 200 years about what happened? What would you say to your perpetrator in 200 years? What do you see happening in other parts of the world?

6. Take responsibility. When bad things happen, you can feel helpless. In what way can you take responsibility for your own healing and feelings? How do you choose to respond? Robert Parker acknowledges that we all have free will: "I'm not mad. I have my own agency to use this event to do whatever I can to make sure my wife and daughters are taken care of."

7. Forgive the other. What would it be like to forgive the other? To simply have an intention to forgive? How does it feel in your body?

8. Forgive yourself. Can you forgive yourself for what happened? For the judgments, resentments or actions you took? What would it be like to wholly forgive yourself?

9. Choose to learn. What do you feel that you learned from the situation? What do you want to see change? How would you choose to act differently in the future?

10. Take positive action. Transform your hurt into positive action. What you experienced as a "lack" or "wrong" in your previous situation, create an abundance of it in your community. If you experienced violence or apathy from those around you, offer service and healing to your community. Notice the effect it has on you and your well-being.

Forgiveness is an act of liberation. It no longer binds you to your perpetrator. It frees you from the past, and any negative energy that you hold within yourself against the other. Keep in mind that you are not giving anything up when you choose to forgive, you are choosing to claim your life back. To learn how to forgive unthinkable acts is possibly one of the most challenging, yet greatest gifts you can bestow upon yourself.

Ultimately, forgiveness is an act of self-love. It is by far one of the most loving things you could do for yourself. It takes great courage and humility to choose to forgive. When you're feeling challenged, take time to be with your pain. Being present to your own pain is one of the hardest things you can do. But that too, is an act of self-love. It purifies you and asks you to grow. Be gentle with yourself, and let yourself be nurtured in times of unbearable grief. Surround yourself with those who love you. And remember the power of forgiveness.

For more by Sura, click here.

For more on forgiveness, click here.