Why is it beneficial?
Science is now proving the "health" benefits of forgiveness as this article explores. The most recent research is showing the physiological damage as well as the emotional effects that long-term resentment and grudge-bearing causes to the whole body, and shows the multiple benefits of forgiveness. Click on the picture on the left/above to go to the article.
Doesn't it take years of therapy?
Not necessarily. Some people have had traumatic experiences and may prefer to work through and resolve these in a long-term relationship with a particular kind of psychotherapist. Other people find that the "process" work we do together can be as effective as "years" of therapy, sometimes even more cathartic and healing and long-standing resentment and even hatred can be cleared and resolved in just one session.
Can't I just forget about my past instead?
Possibly, but the likelihood is (unless your middle name is Buddha) that the unconscious patterns of behaviour that you adopted to deal with the difficulties in your early life will still be operating in you as an adult unless you have re-examined them and re-chosen new, healthier, more evolved versions.
I didn't have a particularly difficult childhood, so I don't need to do anything to resolve my past.
In some ways, because of the way we interpret certain events, "little things" can affect the way we are "programmed" just as much as "big trauma". In my experience, everyone has had challenges to deal with in their childhood, from "not feeling loved enough" (however loving your parents may or may not have actually been), to being the "middle child", "eldest child", "youngest child", "only child", having been bullied at school, having had less than ideal early sexual experiences (this is so heartbreakingly common), and sometimes having suffered verbal or physical abuse, neglect or accident.
It's also possible that a difficult event at any time, even in one's more recent past, can be resolved and integrated.
I already have a spiritual practice - I meditate on a regular basis - isn't this enough?
I totally recommend meditation as a profound spiritual practice and powerful transformational process, however it is a different practice altogether from "emotional process" and shadow evolution and integration work. (If you are looking for excellent teaching on meditation, check out Meditation for Evolutionaries with Craig Hamilton.)
What does it really mean to resolve the past?
What I mean by "resolve the past" is to come to a place of absolute acceptance of everything that has ever happened to you, so that your current behaviour is not unconsciously influenced by your past.
It means being able to see your past with clarity, free of any "extraneous" meanings attached - you know the truth of the circumstances, you have completely forgiven everyone from your past (including yourself) and you are truly "free" to be fully present in each moment because nothing from your past is bothering you any more. Then you can make powerful, conscious pro-active choices about your current and future circumstances.
It means, having taken into account all useful learning and insights, you can be in a place of profound, deep appreciation of everything that ever happened to you - even the most challenging circumstances. The reason for finding a way of saying "yes" to everything that happened is because it's already past and therefore cannot be "changed" other than by your different perception.
Of course, this is not necessarily easy to do, especially if there was serious violation or trauma, nevertheless, it is possible, and many people have come to a place of peace even though they many have been through the most excruciating experiences.
What if I don't want to let it go or I'm afraid what might happen if I do?
Only you can decide when you're ready to resolve your past. There is never any demand to do this, but often there is an "inner" prompt that never really goes away, until this work is done. My experience is, from my own work and facilitating hundreds of processes over the years, that there is only benefit to be gained from the willingness to face and resolve the past.
What do you recommend?
In my approach - if you HAVEN'T forgiven both your parents, any step-parents or guardians or grandparents or whoever was responsible for your early childhood, then you are probably carrying some resentment and unresolved issues that will be negatively affecting your present levels of happiness and freedom.
If you have children, you are probably resenting them on some level, even though you may still feel as though you love them.
If you are in a relationship - especially a romantic relationship with a "primary other", you probably have some built-up "plaque" of resentment stored away somewhere. This can REALLY affect the flow of passion between partners and it is amazing how just one process can radically transform the depth of love you can feel - so love can flow freely again - almost like returning to the "honeymoon" period.
If you have work colleagues or clients, then it is likely that some of these relationships will be triggering some unconscious reactions in you. An inexplicable "dislike" of someone can indicate there is some kind of denial about an egoic behaviour pattern in ourselves that might still be "live" (unresolved).
Isn't this a bit never-ending? Are you saying we resent pretty much everyone?
Pretty much, if we're really honest!! We all judge each other and need to feel "superior" and "different" (even if sometime this is by being the "worst case"!) None of it is "real" as such, it's just the way the "ego" works (by ego in this context I mean the unconscious patterning - the personal and cultural conditioning of the past).
There are always opportunities to forgive. One of the greatest spiritual teachers recommended forgiving 70 x 7 which is 490 times!! (And that was just one "brother"!) That's why having a "process" you can learn to do whenever you need it can be hugely helpful. The advantage with the processes I teach is that once you've learned them, you can practice them alone, and forgiveness does not necessarily mean you need to contact the person you've forgiven (especially if they are from your distant past) - in fact it need not involve them at all (other than in an imaginary way during the process itself.)
One of the spiritual practices I have personally taken on is to live a life of "constant resolution" which means that I take full responsibility for the quality of my interactions with people and if there are any misunderstandings, or I realize I have allowed some kind of resentment to build up, I process it privately and practice forgiveness and "constant resolution" (especially if there is something I need to apologise for).
Start with one and see how light and free you feel afterwards!!
Resolve the past. Be fully present. Create an inspiring future...