forgiveness-badge-blueThis is “Part 3” of a series on Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s Forgiveness Challenge:


which aligns with the ideas of a Secular Buddhism more than many expect (just keep reading and see for yourself).


If you haven’t read the first article, I encourage you to here: Part 1

I suspect that this article may not make as much sense without the background provided in “Part 1.”

If you haven’t read the second article, I likewise encourage you to here: Part 2


I think the best way to structure this article is to jump right into the “meat” of what is in the Challenge and how I personally responded. The Challenge website is divided into “days,” so I am going to “copy-paste” selections from the days along with my responses where appropriate. It is my hope that by reading what was so eloquently written by the Tutu’s (A.E. Demond and his daughter, Reverend Mpho Tutu) and by following along with a person who took the Challenge (me), that readers here will see for themselves how forgiveness fits into a Secular Buddhist approach to the struggles we face in life and how it can positively impact those lives.






What is it you need to forgive? What happened to cause your pain? How have you been hurt?

Telling the story is how we get our dignity back. It is how we begin to take back what was taken from us, and how we begin to understand and make meaning out of our hurting.

Begin In Truth

How we begin to tell our story is by first letting the truth be heard in all its rawness, in all its ugliness, and in all its messiness. The truth prevents us from pretending that the things that happened did not happen.

We begin by telling the facts of our story. When you tell your story, it is as if you are putting the puzzle pieces back together again, one hesitant memory at a time. Yes, there is more than just facts to any story, but we must get the facts out first. Even the small details are important. They are the threads by which we make sense of what has happened.



Now it is time to write your story. Write what happened to you below or in your journal. Write the facts as you remember them. What happened to you? Write in as much detail as you wish. Fill as many pages or lines as you need. Writing is a powerful way to tell your story. Later you may choose to read or send what you have written to the person who hurt you, but we encourage you to first continue along the Fourfold Path. The story is only the beginning.



I wrote the rough drafts of letters I intended (at the time) to send out. I posted those to my Facebook to get support and feedback from others (who obliged). I reposted my list of people to forgive (or ask for forgiveness) again, an image of the “A Buddhist Prayer of Forgiveness” ( and some things from Day 10 that I wanted to add to the letters (below). Then I started writing whichever letter I felt up to at the time from the list (usually the easier ones). The vast majority, I did not send. After writing the letters (especially the important, difficult ones), I was able to put these earlier letters and lesser harms in perspective. I saw that I did not need to send the letters, to say anything to those people, to invite them back into my life – so I just didn’t send them. The act of writing it all down and committing myself to forgiveness was enough for my own well being and there wasn’t an advantage to bringing up the past in these cases or trying to have these people back in my life.

Anyways, I will omit these drafts here because I intend to post the final, important letters later on in this article. Don’t worry.



Find a Surrogate

Even if you are planning to speak directly to the one you want to forgive, it is best to share your story with others first, whether that is a close family member or a friend or a trusted counselor.

Make sure that they know how to listen well. Their job is not to question the facts or to cross-examine you. They are not there to take away your pain just to empathize with it. They are there to acknowledge what happened. Here’s a quick guide that you may wish to share with the person you have chosen.





Today we would like you to tell your story to a friend, loved one, or other trusted person (you can read to them what you wrote on Day 8 which we have included below). If that is not possible or you are not yet ready to share your story to another person, read your story out loud to yourself, to the Universe, or to the God of your understanding.

Write in your journal how it felt to speak your story out loud. What feelings came up? What was hard? What surprised you? What was easier than you expected? How do you feel now having shared the story with a trusted listener or out loud to yourself?



I had already shared on Facebook. I found it tiring, but a positive first step for me.


DAY 10

As we said yesterday, we do not recommend you tell your story directly to the person who has harmed you until you have learned more about the Fourfold Path. Most people have very little understanding of forgiveness and there are few rituals for forgiving in modern society. It is easy for people to feel attacked or to become defensive when confronted.

The power of the human mind to justify its actions is truly endless. No villain has ever thought he was a villain. Every person has a reason why his or her actions were justified. The purse-snatcher who clobbers the old lady over the head could not move his arm if he did not think—at least in that moment—that what he was doing was the right thing.

Begin By Affirming

There is no guarantee that the person who harmed you will acknowledge that what they did was wrong, yet there are ways to increase the likelihood that telling the story will lead to resolution rather than more conflict.

If possible, begin by affirming your relationship with this person and its importance to you. What has this person meant to you? How have they helped you, not just harmed you? Our relationships are rarely one-dimensional, especially with intimates.

If you can show the person that you see their goodness, then they don’t have to work so hard to defend it.


If you can, have empathy for why the perpetrator may have done what they did. Empathy is a social contagion. If you have empathy for the one who victimized you, it is much more likely that they will have empathy for you as you tell your story.

The truth is, we are interdependent and embedded in social webs that affect our choices and our behavior. No person is an island, and if we see the ways we are connected, we can understand another’s actions with much more compassion.

Tell Your Story

Whether it’s to a friend, or to your pillow—what’s most important to healing is that you simply tell your story. Your story will change as you move through the forgiving process, and it will change as you come to a deeper understanding of the hurt you experience and of those who hurt you. Tell it quietly. Tell it publicly. Tell the story and take the first step in your own ritual of forgiving.




Write a letter in your journal to the person who hurt you. It is often helpful to practice how you will talk to them, how you will describe your relationship, how you will honor their humanity, and how you will show your empathy for them. If it is hard to see their humanity or their goodness, we understand, and we will explore this further in the Challenge. Do not worry about reading or sending your letter to the person who hurt you. That will be your choice to do or not to do at a later date.



I needed to add in the positive details of our relationships and affirmations of their humanity (worthiness of empathy) and went back to edit my letters. I can’t remember exactly when I started to practice Metta (Loving Kindness) Meditation along with all of my Forgiveness Challenge activities, but I definitely did by this point.


For those less familiar with Metta, (in the form I was using) you chant this:

with an additional stanza of

“May (X) rise above them with morality, integrity, forgiveness, compassion, mindfulness, and wisdom.”


making sure that you mean each word you say. At first, it can be easy to wish yourself, loved ones, even neutral people well – but then you get to your enemies. It is difficult (at first at least), but if you can visualize them being happy and be ok with it and then having “morality,” “integrity,” (etc.) someday, you can start to let go some of the negative feelings that are holding you back in the Forgiveness Challenge. You can start to see them as people – not wholly evil, good to some people (they have families that would suffer when they suffer), good in some contexts – who can change and be moral, etc. In fact, when people cause you harm, it is often because they are suffering themselves. If they find themselves in a situation where they are happy and at peace, it can be easier for them to change and to be more open to forgiveness. And, more importantly, no matter what happens to them and what they do or don’t do, if you can let go of those negative emotions, you can reach a place of happiness, peace, and overall well being. Those negative feelings won’t impact you physically or come out and sour other relationships you have – they won’t “poison” you anymore – so let go for your own good.


DAY 11

Once we are done telling our stories—the details of who, when, where, and what—we must go beyond the facts and name the hurt. Naming the emotions we experienced is the way we come to understand how what happened affected us.

We are each hurt in our own unique ways, and when we give voice to this pain, we begin to heal it.

This is the second step of the Fourfold Path—Naming the Hurt.

Facing the Truth of Our Feelings

Healing memory requires the careful assembly of the puzzle pieces of experience, but once we know what has happened, we must move beyond the bare facts to the raw feelings. While we may be reluctant to face the truth of our feelings or the depth of our pain, it is the only way to heal and move forward.

Remember that no feeling is wrong, bad, or invalid. Our feelings are human. They are the natural response to hurt and loss and grief. By acknowledging your feelings, you acknowledge your humanity.




In your journal, reread the story you wrote on Day 8 Challenge 1 and begin to identify the feelings within the facts. (If you are using the text boxes and saving your work your story will appear in the first box below.) In the second box below (Day 11 Challenge 1) write down the feelings that came up as you read through your letter. What emotions did you feel at the time? What emotions have you felt since? In your journal name the hurts you feel. Write them down. You may choose to write single words or retell the facts of your story again and this time include the feelings within these facts. I felt ashamed. I felt angry. I felt sad. I felt lost. I felt afraid. I felt diminished. I felt betrayed. I felt angry. I felt alone. Remember that no feeling is wrong.



I think my final draft (below) will show this better than I can summarize it here.





From what I remember, you rarely checked your mail or email, so I have my doubts as to whether or not this will ever reach you at all. Still, I started this journey and feel that I should finish it.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but I’ve been doing Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s Forgiveness Challenge: in an effort to free myself by forgiving you.

I didn’t work with you long, but I felt welcomed, appreciated, useful during my time there. I was loyal to you and trusted you. I genuinely looked up to you. In retrospect, I know how foolish all of that was – in that context, I was always going to be an expendable part, a means to an end. Still, I valued the chance to work at Wilson. It was better than where I was before and could have led to a future I thought I wanted.

Anyways, I’m sure you can guess who this is without me saying anything significant. I know that I brought in a lot of money, volunteers, and connections for you and your institutions that I’m pretty sure you are still utilizing to this day. I don’t think I’m doing a very good job at this, but it’s recommended that I start this letter by affirming the positives, so I’ve tried to point to some.

Now that I’ve done that, I know that you must remember that I’ve had to try to “reach out” to you before – to talk to a member of the Church to speak to you. As I told him, I don’t know how much of the harassment I suffered after 7 November 2012 was directly radiating from you, but it seems to have stopped since then. Thank you for whatever role you had in stopping the harassment. I needed to be able to take care of my service dog without such great anxiety and fear. Also, in case you are in any way worried, this will be the last time you will hear from me (unless there is some further matter of harassment from your end, but I doubt that). I know that Rikki and Blair had such a concern. My goal is not to harm any of you and I deeply understand the need to avoid something emotional. I’m sending this just to finish the Forgiveness Challenge for myself and because I feel a moral imperative to.

I think that by now you surely must realize how much unnecessary harm was done to me – not by getting rid of me, but by how it was done. In fact, it seems to me that some of that harm was done with intentional malice although I do not understand what caused such a level of malice. Logically, if at any point you felt like expressing some kind of remorse or desire for reconciliation (etc), you would have done so by now. I don’t want to sound unjustly judgmental, but my point is that I don’t have much hope for such things just based on all that has happened (especially ::OMITTED::’s inability to attempt them when I had higher hopes for them). And that’s ok. I don’t exactly understand your side (although I wish I did). However, I don’t want to deny you empathy – to say something like “you are intrinsically hurtful” and to dismiss you and close the door on you forever. That would be wrong. I think everyone has a heart that can be reached when conditions are right. So, even now, the conditions might not be right, but I wanted to send you this letter in the hopes that one day, its messages will reach you.

Whatever your reasons – genuine malice or perhaps feeling forced by a difficult situation and unsure of what should be done or maybe something I’ve never even considered – an inappropriate and permanently disabling amount of harm was done to me when I did not do any such level of harm to you or your compatriots. Nor have I ever intended to (as the rumors I have heard have suggested). The main reasons that any of this harm happened was a lack of empathy from those involved, as well as an inability to address an institutional problem with how Americorps members are treated in general.

I forgive you ::OMITTED::.

If you ever actually, honestly thought I would attempt to hurt you (as I’ve heard), I want to further affirm that that isn’t true.

How things were done was not ethical. As the Archbishop says, “forgiveness does not mean not seeking justice or forgetting what happened or letting it happen again.” Much of what happened was not even legal. If I had been well enough and able to take all the steps necessary for a lawyer in a timely fashion, there probably would have been legal action. But I’m past that point now. I’m not going to actively seek legal action. All I want is for you and your compatriots to recognize how unethical the actions of that day were (and yes, that they were illegal) and with that knowledge to dedicate yourselves to not allowing that kind of harm to happen again.

I remember there was some other incident at Wilson during that time and even you said that perhaps you needed a better way to deal with stress and conflict within the school. You were right. Even if there are problems with a person at the school, it is important to empathize with them. They are a human being, not truly different from yourself. Try to find out their side of the story. If there is genuine misunderstanding, take a moment to try to help them see more clearly. If they need help because of depression (or related illness) as I did, do not label them “violent” and use subterfuge, harmful language, and/or coercion to get rid of them. Tell them they must go, but urge them to get help. In other words, respect their humanity and be constructive in your response. In this way, you can do what you have to do, but not cause unnecessary and permanent harm to another human being.

Furthermore, I’ve seen how Americorps is not honest in its description of positions and often does not redress the harassment that its members suffer. This too is unethical (and generally illegal). I’ve heard from several people that your site (Wilson) is one where multiple Americorps members have suffered (in fact, my doctor has told me that she has treated more than one of them). I don’t know exactly what it is, but alongside Americorps, you also have a duty here to respect the rights of those who work with you. I urge you to find out why so many are suffering and to make an honest effort to ease and prevent that suffering. I fear that there may be a temptation to blame the victims or just Americorps, but if it has happened so many times at your site in particular, logically, mustn’t there be an issue specific to your site as well? I wish I could hand you a neat answer, but I don’t know the full extent of what has happened. All I can say is – please, look at those you work with and commit yourself to not allowing them to suffer unduly. Find the reasons for these issues and work to end the issues because it is the right thing to do.

I find myself not feeling all that hopeful that you will be willing to take an honest look at what has happened or is happening. It can be hard to take a look and maybe see mistakes that you have made. I know that personally. However, it’s worthwhile to learn the truth and to change. So even if this isn’t the moment or if you don’t feel inclined to read all of this, I still send it in the hope that one day you can take that look and commit yourself to preventing suffering in the future. I will not give up on the idea of your basic humanity. I will not close the door on you forever.


I keep you in my meditations daily:

“May you be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to you. May no difficulties come to you. May no problems come to you. May you always meet with success. May you also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life. May you rise above them with morality, integrity, forgiveness, mindfulness, and wisdom.” ( ~Metta Recitation)

And I will continue to whether or not you are able to show remorse or change at this moment. I forgive you and let go of part of my suffering. I hope that one day, things will change for the better, and when you are ready for that, I will rejoice for you.

Attached is my letter to ::OMITTED::. It is included so that you can know the whole truth about what happened that day (I’m not sure if you actually do or not). I would appreciate knowing the truth about your side. If you’d like to share it in a compassionate manner, you can email me back here. Otherwise, that’s also all right.




I wish you well. I wish those who lives you touch well.



DAY 12

We give voice to our hurts not to be victims or martyrs. We do so to find freedom from the resentment, anger, shame, or self-loathing that can fester and build inside us when we do not touch our pain and learn to forgive. Often it can seem easier or safer to simply dismiss a hurt, stuff it down, push it away, pretend it didn’t happen, or rationalize it, telling ourselves we really shouldn’t feel the way we do. But a hurt is a hurt. A loss is a loss.




Find someone you trust and who will simply listen, to share your feelings with. Read to them what you wrote yesterday on Day 11 Challenge 1. Write down what it was like for you to share your feelings.


DAY 13

When we experience any type of loss that causes us pain or suffering, there is always grief. While much has been written about grief, it is mostly directed at those who have lost a loved one. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. Grief happens whenever we lose something that is precious to us, even our trust, our faith, or our innocence. Grief plays a large role in the forgiveness process, and especially within this step of Naming the Hurt.

Grief is how we cope with and release the pain we feel. Grief has many well-documented stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and ultimately acceptance.

There is no fixed time and no fixed order for experiencing the grief associated with any loss. And while there is no right way to grieve, grieving itself is essential. Grief is how we come to terms not only with the hardship we have endured, but also with what could have been if life had taken a different course.

We grieve as much for what might have been as for what was.

Shared Grief

Naming our hurts helps us move out of the stage of denial. We cannot honestly name our feelings and be in denial at the same time. Prolonged denial of pain leads us to all sorts of trouble, and even self-destruction. Many have said that at the root of almost every addict’s or alcoholic’s tragic struggle is the denial of pain.

In the final stage of the grieving process we find acceptance. Acceptance does not mean it was okay to be hurt. Acceptance is simply the recognition that things have changed and will never be what they were before. This is how we find the strength to journey on. We accept the truth of what happened. We accept our hurt, our anguish, our sadness, our anger, our shame, and in doing so we accept our own vulnerability.

The truth is, we are harmed together and we heal together. It is in this fragile web of relationship that we rediscover our purpose, meaning, and joy after pain and loss. This is why we share our grief and name our hurts. Only in restoring the web of connection can we find peace.

Within your journal, please write about your grief. Write down all the things you have lost as a result of what happened. Did you lose your trust? Did you lose your safety? Did you lose your dignity? Did you lose someone whom you loved? Did you lose something that you cherished? Did you lose a relationship that mattered to you?




Within your journal, please write about your grief. Write down all the things you have lost as a result of what happened


DAY 14

We are moving on to the next step of the Fourfold Path—Granting Forgiveness.

When we have the capacity to recognize our shared humanity we are able to grant forgiveness. It is as simple and complex as that. In our ways, each of us is fragile, vulnerable, and flawed. We are all capable of thoughtlessness and cruelty. A human life is a great mixture of goodness, beauty, cruelty, heartbreak, indifference, love, and so much more. We recognize our shared humanity when we realize that no one is born evil, and we are all more than the worst thing we have done in our lives.

Seeing Our Connection

If we look at any hurt, it helps lead us toward forgiveness if we can see a larger context in which the hurt happened. If we look at any perpetrator, we can discover a story that tells us something about what led up to that person causing harm. It doesn’t justify the actions, but it does provide some context. We discover our shared humanity by seeing our connection rather than our separation.

Growing Through Forgiveness

When we are hurt, when we are in pain, when we are angry—the only way to end these feelings is to accept them. The only way out of these feelings is to go through them. We get into all sorts of trouble when we try to find a way to circumvent this natural process.

Growth happens through obstacles and only with resistance. A tree must push up against the dirt, the solid resistance of the ground, in order to grow. Muscles grow when we apply a counterforce of resistance against them, but first they tear apart and break down, only to become stronger in the rebuilding. A butterfly struggles against the cocoon that surrounds it, and it is this very struggling that makes it resilient enough to survive when it breaks free.

You also must struggle through your anger, grief, and sadness. You must push against the pain and suffering on your way to forgive, because when we don’t forgive, there is a part of us that doesn’t grow as it should.



Poem to Meditate on:

Now think about the person who you want to forgive. What are three qualities of the person you want to forgive that you value or appreciate? If you do not know them well, what can you imagine? Write those down in your journal.

Begin by writing down a story of the person who harmed you. What do you know about this person? Again, if you do not know this person well, what can you find out? What do you have in common? In what ways are you similar?



After focusing on this for a long while, I was able to find some positive things to say, which made it into the beginning of my letter (above). It was struggle though.




No Comments

  1. Michael Finley on May 27, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Thank you for this, Jennifer

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