Spiritual principles behind Step Nine: Forgiveness

What are the spiritual principles behind Step Nine?

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

The primary spiritual principle for Step Nine is forgiveness.

Other spiritual principles that easily apply to Step Eight are justice, good judgment, courage, humility, sincerity, forthrightness, generosity, open-mindedness, and willingness.

Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry β€” all forms of fear β€” are caused by too much future and not enough presence [mindfulness of the present moment]. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past and not enough presence.
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, p.50

Humility is one of the most powerful spiritual principles behind the steps with its robust power to release us from the prison of our minds – from the domination and oppression of our selfishness, self-centeredness, and overall self-serving behavior. Forgiveness is a similarly potent spiritual principle with the power of freeing us from attachment to the myriad harmful actions occurring throughout our drinking and using histories.

The beauty of the Step Nine exercise of owning up to harm done to others is to help us understand people a little better – which in turn enables us to actually practice the Golden Rule, to finally begin to treat others the way we want to be treated.

Be vigilant, so that you don’t allow a burden of negative past to accumulate in your mind, in the form of guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, anger, and so on. Forgiveness happens naturally as soon as you realize that the past cannot prevail against the power of Presence [mindfulness of the present moment].
Eckhart Tolle

By now we fully realize that vengeance against persons who hurt us can never ease our pain or end the resentment. Thinking about vengeance requires us to repeatedly relive the pain, over and over, each time deepening the wound, and causing our bag of rocks to get heavier and heavier. If the grave mistake of taking vengeance occurs, the emotional trauma will not fade and you’ll be continuing the cycle of revenge, of “getting her back.”

Some of us may have been taught to believe that the purpose and primary benefit of forgiving others is to confirm to our damaged egos is to “be a better man” than the ones who wronged us. We may see ourselves as having been noble to let them off the hook, that the right thing to do is forgive them to make them feel better, that we cannot expect to receive forgiveness for our wrongs if we don’t forgive others for theirs. We felt that we should forgive because “God says so” or because it’s the “right” action to take.

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The REAL reason we must practice genuinely forgiving others is this: Forgiveness is absolutely is essential for our own spiritual well-being and inner peace! Forgiving others for our own sake may sound selfish, but in reality it is SELF-CARE. After all, we can’t give away what we don’t have. We can’t really help others until we are in fit spiritual shape to do so, and to do it from the heart. Without real forgiveness, the festering boils of resentment will continue to weaken us spiritually and emotionally, paralyzing our ability to love and be loved. At this juncture, and going forward, the only way to freedom is to forgive.

Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed. This is an ancient and eternal law.

The Buddha, from Dhammapada

Forgiving others for wrongs (real or imagined) certainly does not require the tacit approval of their actions (real or imagined). Real forgiveness means that we no longer hold ourselves hostage to anything that might have happened in the past. At this point in working the steps, we have acknowledged it, accepted it, and experienced all of our negative feelings about it. Now we are releasing any attachment we may have to our resentment. We are finally letting go of it. We no longer identify with it, for identification with it (“That happened to ME!”) essentially made the grudge a part of us, forcing us to lug it around everywhere. The feeling of releasing these things for real can be a spiritual experience in itself.

He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Resources: The spiritual principles behind Step 9

Step Nine resources

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