A Forgiveness Ritual

Kuan Yin statue

I recently posted this proposed Forgiveness Ritual on a site for a group I am involved in at interspiritualwisdom.org, as it was requested of us to contribute something utilizing Ed Bastian’s conceptualizations around interspiritual meditation, ritual,  and/or other practices. I thought I would post it here as well. Enjoy!

A Proposed Interspiritual Ritual for Working with the Forgiveness Process       

In order to find our way through forgiveness, we must look to our inner world and engage with its multifaceted and colourful landscape and we must connect deeply with our spiritual core. Buddhist scholar and interspiritual educator, Ed Bastian, has developed a way to explore our particular styles of approaching our relationship to spirituality along with a seven-stage meditative process that serves to deepen “the wise and compassionate practices of all traditions and the profound unity within our diversity” within ourselves and in relationship with others. The Interspiritual Meditation and Mandala of spiritual styles/approaches that he has been working with for many years has assisted a great number of people with coming to terms with how they have experienced similarities and differences with their family-of-origin traditions in comparison with their own unique way of engaging with the sacred.

Bastian’s 12 styles include, but are certainly not limited to, the following: the way of the artist, the kinesthete, the devotee, the dreamer, the lover, the meditator, the mystic, the naturalist, the prayer, the thinker, the mensch (relationships), and the sage. The 7 stages of interspiritual meditation are: Motivation, gratitude, transformation, intention, mindfulness, meditation, and dedication (Bastian, 2014: 2010). For further detail on Bastian’s styles and stages, please see his book entitled Interspiritual Meditation: A Seven-Step Process from the World’s Spiritual Traditions and/or visit http://spiritualpaths.net/mandala/overview/harnessing-balancing-our-styles/

As a participant in Bastian’s training for spiritual mentoring, I am exploring ways that I have found meaning in my spiritual healing work with myself and others. In the context of forgiveness, I have often appreciated the inclusion of some kind of ritual to mark the beginning, middle, and end of a particular phase of life-story.  Sacred ritual can be explored as an organized process that beckons and brackets transpersonal experience in a temporal container that often includes meditation, silence, contemplation, music, image, movement, objects, scents, words, and all of the natural elements. The power of ritual is often amplified by joining with others in groups with a common purpose/intention.

Our use of either material objects or mind objects in ritual can be likened to an orchestra, where the conductor’s movements guide the different instruments into a beautiful integration of sound, the final symphony of music being the sum of all of the orchestra’s working parts. That is how spiritual development moves into an integrated and wise maturity. The parts of ourselves intermingle in an engaging mosaic of recognition, acceptance, and grace, and awaken to the newly emerging moment. By actively engaging with these different parts of ourselves and doing so within the context of open spiritual inquiry, we begin to trust that we are not confined to only one way of knowing. We gain confidence in walking in the world purposefully and sharing the gifts of our own unique music.

Working with this proposed interspiritual ritual is a way to invite the parts of the self to converse in open and courageous dialogue. Shadow parts, less developed parts, and wise, enlightened parts converse together and address either a pressing momentary conflict around forgiveness of another or self-forgiveness or an ongoing life issue or question of meaning.

This ritual has three elements, 1) a Lamentation or letting go of something, 2) Descent for discovery though meditation and imagination, and 3) an Emergence involving some kind of statement or mantra that marks what is being renewed, integrated.

You may envision your own colors or sounds with each phase, if you are so inspired. Alternately, you may wish to imagine black for lamentation (or letting go of what is not working in life anymore and grieving for the sacrifice), red to illuminate the active imagination/creative descent process, and golden yellow mixed with white light for the emergence mantra.

You may choose to meet with a small group of friends once a week to support each other through your process. You could create a circle of care and safety as one person at a time goes through their lamentation, active imagination descent, and emergence mantra, and you may choose to help each other create, recite, and explore associations to the objects. There are many ways of adapting this ritual to different contexts.

I will mention that I have borrowed some passages and elements in this piece directly from my book, Imagine Forgiveness: A Guide for Creating a Joyful Future. However, I will address elements of the interspiritual work by adding in explicit references to Bastian’s proposed 7 stages along the spiral of the ritual by putting the words for stages in bold print next to particular aspects of the ritual. The 12 styles are important to consider as well. However, for the purposes of this piece, my emphasis is on the 7 stages and to propose how the processes/phases of the ritual may correspond to these stages.


Setting the Path

Before you begin any ritual, it is important to set an intention and ground yourself in what is motivating you to engage in this process. In addition, begin each spiritual practice with gratitude. Thus, you are beginning your ritual with Bastian’s first two proposed stages of interspiritual practice, which are Motivation: “May I Become Healthy and Happy” and Gratitude: “May I Be Grateful to Life’s Many Gifts”. These may be stated out loud or quietly contemplated as you pause to open to the sanctuary of your heart.

Phase One: Lamentation: Letting Go

Lamentation allows you to acknowledge your grief and suffering before you even begin to consider forgiveness. A lament creates a metaphor for the destruction of desire to hold onto blame. We watch the old, hard, broken ways crumble, in preparation for opening the door to forgiveness. In this way, the lamentation or letting go of something is inviting Transformation: “May I be Awake and Transformed”.

Many traditions have had references to lamentations, often “songs of wailing” in which a god, goddess, prophet or prophetess mourns over the destruction of a city, of a place that cannot be lived in any longer in its desolated state. It must be left behind.   One lamentation that particularly struck me when I read it years ago was Ningal’s lamentation of the destruction of Ur in Sumeria. I found it in a book about Mesopotamian religion by Thorkild Jacobson and it haunted me. The full lamentation is long and mournful. This is a brief excerpt:

Though I was trembling for that day of storm,

that day of storm, destined for me,

laid upon me heavy with tears,

that cruel day of storm destined for me—

I could not flee before that night’s fatality.

And of a sudden I espied no happy days within my reign,

no happy day within my reign.


Though I would tremble for that night,

that night of cruel weeping destined for me,

I could not flee before that night’s fatality…


Rather than turning away from the pain (hoping for oblivion), trying to gloss over it, trivializing it, intellectualizing it away, attaching and grasping at it, or denying it, you can allow the pain to lead you to your heart. If you do, you will find that which holds you, when everything else feels like it may be falling apart. Thus, it is crucial that entering into any process of transformation be done with a clear intention of love. Here, we call upon the fourth stage of interspiritual practice, which is Intention: “May I Be Loving and Compassionate.”

The Spanish Saint and poet, St. John of the Cross, was well known for speaking about the suffering during the dark night of the soul, the period of time when it feels like the path is blocked. That blocked passageway is the dark night, the time of depression, despair, remorse, uncertainty, non- forgiveness. You may wish to read some of his work as your lamentation. Some of the words of one of his pieces is the following:

This eternal spring is hidden

In this living bread for our life’s sake,

Although it is night.


It is here calling out to creatures;

And they satisfy their thirst, although in darkness,

Because it is night.


This living spring that I long for,

I see in this bread of life,

Although it is night.


Facing uncertainty and pain requires “breathing through it” in a mindful way without getting lost in it and without running away from it. Thus, the fifth stage of interspiritual work supports us in “leaning into” our suffering piece and builds upon why we entered into the ritual in the first place (motivation, gratitude, transformation, intention) and how we may stay with it with Mindfulness: “May I Be Centered and Mindful through Breathing.” This intention toward attunement with our breath also assists us with staying present to our bodily sensations along with the feelings that emerge around releasing from an old story.

Be sure to keep a journal. Some people find that their experience is much richer if they actually write their own lamentation, for each person knows the depth of their pain, anger, and the particular persons or circumstances that one is attempting to forgive.  It just depends on the unique state and condition of each individual. For some people, it may not involve words. It may be more like a sound, like a wail, for instance. For others, it may be movement of the body in a certain way. Whatever it is, bring attention to framing your experience in some way so as to personally witness it and/or have it witnessed by at least one other person.

Descent: Discovery through Meditation and Imagination

Begin the work, the ‘descent’ phase, by meditating in silence for stage six of interspiritual practice, which is Meditation: “May I Become Wise through Meditation.” For the ritual, you will invite imagery or the imaginal into your personal spiritual work/practice.

You may wish to gather some objects ahead of time and place them in a box or basket or that you find by walking around your home and/or in nature. A ritual of forgiveness that includes interspiritual processes taps into the same resources as our dreams, to that which has been referred to as non-local consciousness. I would say that the practice of ritual around dreams and symbols, along with Metta meditation and supportive individuals, have been life savers for many, including myself.

Jung said “Imaginatio is the active evocation of (inner) images secondum naturam, an authentic feat of thought or ideation, which does not spin aimless and groundless fantasies ‘into the blue’—does not, that is to say, just play with its objects, but tries to grasp the inner facts and portray them in images true to their nature. This activity is an opus, a work.”

In shamanic practices, there is a divination ritual where one turns a rock over in one’s hands, then places it in front of oneself, asking a question and looking to the crevices, shadows, and edges of the stone for metaphorical answers to these questions and concerns. It is very similar to Jungian sand tray work or discovering associations to your dreams. The images and symbols and their placement are not seen as objects dissociated from you, but as indicators of exactly what is occurring in your innermost psyche at any given time.  At a certain point in this ‘descent’ phase of the ritual, you will close your eyes and holding an object, ask this question: “What do I need to know about this forgiveness process right now?” You may be more specific with your questions as well.

For instance, if one were to close their eyes and reach into their box or basket of objects that they had gathered, or their “forgiveness box,” and then feel the object in their hand for a moment before opening their eyes, they would notice the sensations in their body as they touch the object.

Let’s say that the individual has pulled out a small candle. She might then hold the candle in her hand and roll it around, feeling the smoothness and the cylindrical shape. She might make associations that, in the present moment, she can hold all that was the past, it is part of her life and there’s no need or reason for her to deny it. Yet in the rolling of her fingers and feeling its smoothness, she can associate movement and cycles of life. She can cherish the idea that the only certainty in life is change. As she looks at the unlit candle, her associations might be about how the light in her own life may have been dulled when not in a forgiving stance, a bit like Persephone, deep in the dark earth before she integrated this experience, or Sisyphus struggling with each step,
feeling the drudgery, thinking, “What’s the use? I’ll never get out of this feeling no matter what I do.” She might remember all the blaming and criticism, particularly toward herself. She might then reflect on the metaphor of lighting the candle.

Later, if she decided to continue with her associations to the candle — or discover that she had chosen the candle another day — she might light the candle and explore her associations to the flame, to the sound of the flame being lit, to the color or scent of the candle, to the heat of the candle, to the way the wax is melting or to the way the flame dances before her eyes. She may put her hand to her heart and cherish the flame that is present at its core, the energy and soft drumming of the pulse of a life that has withstood much and that chooses to love because she can.

Cultural, religious, or mythological images may enter the imagination, such Kwan Yin, or a dragon, or the Aztec Quetzacoatl, the phoenix rising from the ashes, or Mercerius, the great messenger. These connections could indicate that she is both including and transcending the past. She knows that this is a process that moves in a spiral, not a linear progression, so it is okay if she has dips along the way. The association gives her insight, makes her grant herself more space and patience, knowing that each time she comes up again into the clear air, she grows a little bit more aware of what her relationship to forgiveness is by having her interaction with these objects amplify and shift her story. She has made some gentle or even cathartic discoveries during the ‘descent’ phase of the ritual, aided by an interactive process with matter and imagination. She acknowledges her motivation to do this work with gratitude that she may focus on transforming her pain with an intention on mindfulness through meditation and how by moving through this process of forgiveness she benefits all beings in the service of love and wisdom. She opens to the next phase of the ritual with all of this in mind and heart.


Emergence: Statement or Mantra for Renewal

When one begins to open to the process of forgiveness, something intriguing often occurs. One may notice that they have begun to embrace a forgiveness worldview. This is a true gift to the service of all life, for it is wise and generative. Our motivation and intention for a compassionate way of being impacts all of our relationships and has ripple effects across the globe.  An explicit statement made to mark an intention for transformation through forgiveness sets the path in motion for the next evolutionary phase in one’s development, a more developmentally complex and integrated self which translates to other interrelated systems. A recent neuroscientific study from the University of Pisa concluded that the capacity to imagine amplifies the ability to forgive in that it demonstrates an expansion of empathy and perception. The ritual process proposed here serves to invite the imaginal into spiritual practice and to expand perception and consciousness into the larger Self, large enough to include all others in its loving-kindness.

The seventh stage of Bastian’s interspiritual practice/meditation that is honoured in this ‘emergent’ phase of the ritual is Dedication: “May I Serve Others with Love, Compassion, and Wisdom.”  There are so many beautiful mantras from spiritual traditions around the world that compliment this emergent phase of the interspiritual ritual. It doesn’t matter what spiritual tradition we emerge from. We all initially come from the indigenous practices of the earth and we all want to love and be loved. We can find examples in the traditions of the Sufi, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish or Kabbalah, Christian/Catholic/Gnostic, Hindu, Eskimo Kalaalit, Navaho, Chumash and countless others. The language of the mantra is less important than its meaning and appeal to you, personally. In fact, chanting in an unfamiliar language can add a lyrical quality to the experience that may be lost in a language you use colloquially every day. Writing your own poem/mantra may be what you choose to do.

Loving-kindness meditation often includes phrases such as: May all beings be peaceful, have ease, be safe, healthy in body, mind, and spirit, free from suffering and the cause of suffering, and be happy. I have witnessed profound shifts in a room when people meditate with this intention together.


Forgiveness is typically not an immediate process. It generally takes quite some time. One of my favorite poems by Juan Ramon Jimenez, called Oceans, speaks to how subtle this process can be:

“ I have a feeling that my boat

has struck, down there in the depths,

against a great thing.

                                      And nothing

Happens! Nothing …Silence …Waves …

Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,

and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

In terms of how you invite and anchor your statement/mantra, your own particular spiritual “style” will come into play here. It may be the way of the artist, the kinesthete, the devotee, the dreamer, the lover, the meditator, the mystic, the naturalist, the prayer, the thinker, the mensch (relationships), and the sage. You will feel your way into furthering this ritual by reading profound philosophical passages (thinker), going into nature (naturalist), praying (prayer), intimately relating with others (mensch) or any number of styles/ways or combination of ways that are uniquely your own.

This ritual ceremony is about having a direct personal experience with symbolic value to you, which then serves as a portal to the formless ground of all being. By entering into this process with compassion and non-judgment, your heart begins to release it shackles and expand into the limitless heart, mind, and breath that breathes us all. You’re the one who sees and knows, who sees into your heart. The feeling of forgiveness abides within you.

The depth that you drop down to is the deep well of feeling in all of us, the part that feels “down there in the depths.”  I invite you to reflect on a piece from that wonderful poet and storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It is from her book Women Who Run with the Wolves. Although she uses the word “woman,” I experience the word as that deep feminine feeling part of every being, regardless of what your identified gender is.

“Each woman has potential access to Rio Abajo Rio, this river beneath the river. She arrives there through deep meditation, dance, writing, painting, prayermaking, singing drumming, active imagination, or any activity which requires an intense altered consciousness. A woman arrives in this world-between worlds through yearning and by seeking something she can see just out of the corner of her eye. She arrives there by deeply creative acts, through intentional solitude, and by practice of any of the arts. And even with these well-crafted practices, much of what occurs in this ineffable world remains forever mysterious to us, for it breaks physical laws as we know them.” (p.30)


I liken the three elements of the ritual to the three “bardo” phases in The Tibetan Book of the Dead in which a dying person passes as they move through death and back into rebirth, because this metaphor serves the process of discovery and emergence so well.

The first bardo, the “Chikai” bardo, is the consciousness that is present at the time of death. The second bardo, the “Chonyi” bardo is one that involves the type of consciousness that we could equate with the dream-state, and the third bardo, the “sipai” bardo is said to be the consciousness at the time of rebirth.

I believe this is a rich metaphor for the process of forgiveness, in that there is a time of lamentation, letting go or even destruction of the part that held on to the pain, a dropping down into the inner world of feelings and associations as one builds a foundation for a re-entry, and a new chapter that includes the consciousness of forgiveness.

Each part is necessary to the whole experience of forgiveness. Even as we discard the old body, as it were, (the old way of experiencing the wound and the world—non-forgiveness), we include the wound as part of the gestalt, as part of our rich experience of the background to a new life, a new way of seeing ourselves and those around us. The wound is then just a part of our story and not the entire picture of who we are.

The night after I wrote the chapter on ritual in my book, Imagine Forgiveness, I dreamt that I was walking somewhere along the banks of a river with stone platforms for spectators and activities along the river, somewhat like parts of the Ganges river in
India. Fishing poles were left hanging over the river, not being used. As I stood, I saw a platform coming out over the river, covered with beautiful pink blush rose petals, in a carpet so thick it was more like a mattress.

Birds had been gathering these rose petals and placing them on the platform. Some people were involved in this process as well, I believe. The platform of rose petals was being prepared in readiness for the descending of the Buddha.

There was a little eager boy on the banks of the Ganges. I shared his eagerness and joy at witnessing this unexpected and beautiful event.  A bit later in the dream, my husband, James, and I were standing on either side of a small fountain. There was a dove walking around in circles in the water. I reached out and stroked the dove gently as it circled around.

It did not escape me, as I recorded this dream in my journal, that doves with olive branches are classic symbols of forgiveness, as is the rose. I have had some forgiving to do over the years. This dream seemed to validate my process in both self-forgiveness and forgiveness of another. The rose, Buddha image (awareness, awakeness), and dove speak to this process. It felt that the dream also validated my writing the chapter on ritual as yet another part of my own process of descent and emergence.

When I woke up, the morning after that dream, I opened a book that my husband’s daughter, Sarah, gave me. On the page was a saying by Arnaud de Jardins,

You cannot live sheltered forever without ever being exposed and at the same time be as virtual adventurers. Be audacious. Be crazy in your own way. With that madness in the eyes of man that is wisdom in the eyes of god, take risks. Search and search again. Search everywhere and everyway.


I hope that you will feel moved and changed by your ritual of forgiveness and by how your own unique relationship to the symbolic world is shaped and illuminated by our shared psyche as a species. I never cease to be amazed at how palpable that message from Carl Jung was for me when I read his words which suggested that when you turn your face toward the collective unconscious, its vast resources turn and reflect gifts and metaphorical messages back towards you.
I feel much gratitude to Ed Bastian for providing this framework for the exploration of interspiritual guidance and practice. Thank you, Ed! Gratitude for our gathering group as well.









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