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Can You Forgive?

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Can You Forgive?

Learning to ‘bury the sword.’
Alberto  Villoldo Ph.D.
Alberto Villoldo Ph.D. More by this author
Aug 27, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Every religion teaches the importance of forgiveness, whether in the form of turning the other cheek in Christianity or the Buddhist practice of sending loving-kindness to all beings. Yet it is very difficult to simply decide to forgive someone who has wronged you, and make the emotions of anger or the feeling of betrayal simply go away. It is equally difficult to forgive yourself and make the sense of shame or disappointment dissolve and no longer afflict you.

Sometimes we hold on so firmly to our resentments that we carry them with us to our deathbed. When we forgive ourselves and others, we can reprogram the toxic neural networks of our limbic brain. In order to truly forgive ourselves and others, we must upgrade the programming that is the source of our limiting beliefs. But we discover that there’s a neurological catch-22: it is very difficult to create new neural networks until we practice forgiveness.

The following exercise was especially helpful to shamans after the Spanish Conquest of the Americas in the 15th-16th centuries. With it, they were able to forgive the Conquistadors who wreaked havoc on their traditions and enslaved their people. In some parts of the Andes, this practice is known as “Burying the Sword of the Conquest.” It works by re-imprinting the image of a loved one over the image of someone who has wronged you. This can help you override the programming of your prehistoric brain. It is not an easy practice, because the mind will resist holding the image of a loved one together with that of an enemy.

An Exercise in Radical Forgiveness

This practice works best when you are relaxed.

Sit down comfortably and take a few deep, relaxing breaths. Call to your mind the image of a loved one, and feel the feelings of caring and affection. Hold this image for a count of three breaths. Now call to your mind the image of someone you feel has wronged you—a former lover or business partner, or someone who abused you physically or emotionally. For one long breath, feel the anger or resentment you have toward this person swelling up inside you. Now, for five long breaths, superimpose the image of your loved one over this person, and imagine how they blend and merge until only the image of your loved one remains, and only the feelings of love and caring endure.

This exercise must be repeated frequently for it to clear the toxic emotions and erase the neural networks in the limbic brain. You will notice that the intensity of your feelings of anger or resentment will gradually diminish, until one day you discover that they are extinguished. Then you will be able to draw the lesson that you still have to learn from that relationship and not have to waste time and energy on toxic emotions. Once we learn the lessons that our enemies have to teach us, we don’t need to continue learning that way any longer.

About Author
Alberto  Villoldo Ph.D.
Alberto Villoldo, Ph.D., is a medical anthropologist who comes from a long line of Earthkeepers from the Amazon and the Andes. The author of numerous best-selling books, Dr. Villoldo currently directs The Four Winds Society in Park City, Utah, where Continue reading