The Most Important Question You Can Ask

What are you grateful for

A growing body of research shows that when people practice gratitude, they feel happier, sleep better and are less depressed; they have more goodwill for others and fewer health problems. They notice these differences in themselves and the changes are visible to their spouses as well.  Studies have shown that people who practice both forgiveness and gratitude have the highest rates of happiness of all.

In an article entitled The Neuroscience of Graitude, Ocean Robbins (Common Ground, November 2014) writes:

[G]ratitude, it turns out, makes you  happier and healther.  If you invest in a way of seeing the world that is mean and frustrated, you’re going to get a world that is, well, more mean and frustrating. But if you can find any authentic reason to give thanks, anything that is going right with the world or your life, and put your attention thre, then research says you’re going to be better off.

Gratitude does not mean denying problems in your life or in the world around you. It means putting less focus on the problems and more on areas of authentic appreciation.

So here it is — the most important question you can ask:

What am I genuinely grateful for? 

It takes time to cultivate gratitude at first, but its well worth the investment. Here are three simple practices Robbins suggests:

  • Keep a daily journal of three things you are thankful for. This works well frst thing in the morning or just before you go to bed.
  • Tell a spouse, partner, friend something you appreciate about them every day.  
  • Look in the mirror when you brush your teeth and think of something you like about yourself.
What are you genuinely grateful for?  This question can profoundly impact your life. The more you ask (and answer) it the happier you will be!


Just for Today

Just for Today

I’ve been reading a little book that I found in India called Be Your Own Doctor Using Reiki by Dr. Dhiren Gala, and want to share this gem with you.

Reiki is an ancient form of spiritual healing that  recognizes that the body cannot be healed without also healing mind and spirit. Thus, five Buddhist principles are included in Reiki practice, explained here by Dr. Mikao Usui, the father of modern Reiki:


Each day is a lifetime in miniature!

To awaken each morning is to be born again,
To fall asleep at night is to die to the day.

In between waking and sleeping are the golden hours of the day.

What we think we cannot do for a lifetime,we can do for a day.

Anyone can strive to be happy for a day
and to spread happiness around.

Anyone can rise above fear for a day
and meet each situation with courage.

Anyone can hold his temper for a day
and guard the words he speaks.

Anyone can remain honest for a day
and carry his burden heroically.

Anyone can count his blessings for a day
deciding not to look at half-empty but at half-filled glass.

Anyone can eschew hate and cruelty for a day
deciding to live and let live.

Live a day at a time and remember
that tomorrow is another today!



The Five Principles

Just for today I will not worry.

Just for today I will not get angry.

Just for today I will be honest.

Just for today I will count my blessings.

Just for today I will give love and show respect to every living being.



So simple. So powerful. What we think we cannot do for a lifetime, we can do for a day.  

I can do these things, just for today. How ’bout you?


Have You Heard of Dawood Ibrahim?

Dawood Ibrahim

Dawood Ibrahim

Have you ever heard of Dawood Ibrahim?

Dawwod Ibrahim is a 15 year old Pakistani boy.  You have probably never heard of him, but after you read his story, I hope you never forget him.

Last January, I was making a vision board, and came across this quote: “Trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.” This has been an important meme for me. To help me remember it, I immediately cut it out and pasted it on my board. 

So much of our angst in life flows from struggling to be somewhere we are not and somehow feeling that we aren’t quite where we should be.Trusting that you are exactly where you are meant to be curbs all of the second guessing and self-doubt. When you decide to stay home instead of going somewhere, you are exactly where you are meant to be. When you continue to feel angry or sad over something from the past, even though you think you should already be over it, you are exactly where you are meant to be. This is liberating! It lifts a heavy burden from your shoulders and opens the door for acceptance and forgiveness.

So what does this have to do with Dawood Ibrahim?

On 16 December 2014, Taliban gunmen conducted the worst terrorist attack that had ever occurred in Pakistan. They entered a school in Peshawar and opened fire, killing 145 people, including 132 schoolchildren.  The children ranged between eight and eighteen years of age.

Dawood Ibrahim would have been one of the children killed in the classroom, but for the fact that his alarm did not work that morning. Dawood missed school because he overslept that day. He is now the sole survivor of the entire 9th grade class.  

Dawood was exactly where he needed to be that day. This isn’t to say that he will have an easy time ahead. In fact, I cannot begin to imagine how hard it will be for him to come to terms with all of this.

Yet, Dawood reminds me to trust. Trust when the alarm doesn’t work, or the car breaks down or I’m running late. Trust when I think I’m behind where I should be in some aspect of my life. This year, I am putting a picture of Dawood Ibrahim on my board.


Welcome Michael Gelbart

I am excited to announce the forgiveness training schedule for winter/spring 2015, and delighted to introduce you to my new teaching partner.

Please join me in welcoming Michael Gelbart to The Path of Forgiveness.

Michael Gelbart

Michael Gelbart

Michael Gelbart LCSW is a psychotherapist who brings over 30 years of experience in counseling and social work. His therapeutic specialties include somatic healing, trauma resolution, intimacy and relationships, addiction release, healing shame, soul work and spirituality. In addition to his private practice in San Leandro and Berkeley, he has led many workshops and trainings.

Michael shares my passion for supporting those who are ready to forgive and who understand that forgiveness is an essential step in spiritual growth and transformation. He brings a wealth of experience which will help deepen our forgiveness work, including expertise in somatic healing and trauma recovery. I am really looking forward to working with Michael and learning from him. We’re hoping that together we can expand this work and serve more people!

We are planning a bunch of workshops and teleseminars in the next few months, so come meet Michael and see what we’re up to!

Save the dates! Registration will open soon – we’ll send a separate email announcing when it does, but for now here is the schedule:

Saturday Morning Workshops
10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Feb 7 Forgiving Others – Moving Beyond Blame Berkeley
Mar 7 Forgiving Yourself – Letting Go of Shame
and Self-Judgment
San Rafael
Apr 4 Nothing to Forgive – Opening to Grace San Leandro

Monday Evening Teleseminars
6 – 7 p.m. Pacific, 9 – 10 p.m. Eastern 

Feb 9 Forgiving Others – Moving Beyond Blame  
Mar 9 Forgiving Yourself – Letting Go of Shame and Self-Judgment  
Apr 6 Nothing to Forgive – Opening to Grace  

Spring Forgiveness Retreat
 May 15 – 17, 2015

We hope to see you at one or more of these events!


Forgiving the Unforgivable

As the world expresses outrage at the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, I notice people around me feeling shell shocked. Within myself, I feel how deeply these events hurt my heart. In the midst of all of this, what can we do?  Is there a place for love and forgiveness?  I believe there is.    

Am I suggesting that we forgive those who participate in terrorist attacks? Yes I am. 

Remember, forgiveness does not mean condoning, excusing or minimizing the hurt. Remember too, that forgiveness is not done for the other person; I do it for my own well-being.  I do it because I refuse to live as a victim and I refuse to see myself as powerless. Am I saying forgiveness is easy? No. I’m saying it’s possible, that we are capable of forgiving and that it’s in our best interest to do so. Without forgiveness, one thing is certain:  we will continue to perpetuate the cycle of anger, blame and retaliation and have more of the same.


Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for standing up for education and winner of the Nobel Peace Price, says forgiveness is the only way forward for peace and healing. I encourage you to read this excellent article about Malala that appeared in the Edmonton Journal shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attack.  Click here.  

At times like this, it is more important than ever that we forgive the unforgivable, including both offenses out in the world and those in our individual lives. We must remember that love is the most powerful force in the universe. When faced with darkness, we have the opportunity to shine light in the face of fear and hatred and affirm:

You and I are not separate. We are one. I cannot hurt you without hurting myself and you cannot hurt me without hurting yourself. I will turn hatred around by loving you even when your behavior is despicable. I will not condone what you have done and I will fully protect and defend myself, but I refuse to hate and I will not initiate violence. I will have compassion for whatever it was led you to act in this way. I will understand that you too have seen yourself as a victim. I will pray that you find your way back to the light of love and truth.

Trust in the power of love and stay on the path of forgiveness! This is what will ultimately bring about healing and peace for humanity.



Postcards from India

Last month, I had had the opportunity to travel to India, something I have wanted to do for over 30 years. India is even more amazing than I imagined. The richness and complexity of the culture are astounding, and I found the Indian people to be very welcoming and endearing.  Here are just a few of the highlights.   

On my first day in Delhi, I made a bee line to the Gandhi Smriti (meaning “Gandhi Remembrance”). There I visited the Birla House, where Gandhi lived the last months of his life. The mansion has been turned into a wonderful museum displaying Gandhi’s teachings and countless artworks inspired by his life and message. The grounds are very beautiful and show the path Gandhi walked his last evening, January 30, 1948, and the place of his assassination. It was heartening to see that his work for world peace is well-remembered.  

From Delhi, I traveled to several places in Northern India, including Jaipur and Varanasi, and then spent a week in Cochin in Southern India. While in Cochin, I met a doctor who runs a dozen or so hospitals. I was asked to give a forgiveness talk to a group of his patients, focusing on the immense health benefits of forgiveness. This topic is covered in my workbook, but I don’t usually spend a lot of time talking about it, so I enjoyed this very much.

I gave a second forgiveness talk at a law school near Delhi. At first it was going to be for the law school faculty only, but the dean of the law school was so enthusiastic about forgiveness, he invited faculty from the schools of business, economics and medicine as well. I was asked to speak on “The Importance of Forgiveness to Enhance Productivity and Create a Conducive Work Environment.” This too was a high point, and a perfect way to spend my last day in India.

Photo Dec 06, 3 58 43 AMYet my number one experience was visiting the Taj Mahal. It had been a dream of mine to be at the Taj Mahal during the full moon. Yet, because of various complications, along the way I had completely let go of the idea. Then, against all odds, on the night of the full moon, there I was, standing before this architectural jewel. The beauty of the Taj Mahal is beyond description. It was built as a monument to love, and that is exactly what I felt as I stood there, love plus enormous gratitude. It really is possible to make our dreams come true.

I hope 2015 will be the year that you make your dreams come true!


Forgiveness Video Clips

Recipe for Forgiveness – From Tutu’s Forgiveness Challenge

Choosing Forgiveness – From The Interpreter with Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman

Kid’s Talk Forgiveness – Inspirational Videos from




Written by David Whyte, this is one of the most beautiful – and accurate – descriptions of forgiveness I’ve ever come across.


is a heartache and difficult to achieve because strangely, the act of forgiveness not only refuses to eliminate the original wond, but actually draws us closer to its source. To approach forgiveness is to close in on the nature of the hurt itself, the only remedy being, as we approach its raw center, to re-imagine our relation to it.

It may be that the part of us that was struck and hurt can never forgive, and that forgiveness itself never arises from the part of us that was actually wounded. The wounded self may be the part of us incapable of forgetting, and perhaps, not meant to forget…stranger still, it is that wounded, branded, un-forgetting part of us that eventually makes forgiveness an act of compassion rather than one of simple forgetting.

Forgiveness is a skill, a way of preserving clarity, sanity and generosity in an individual life, a beautiful question and a way of shaping the mind to a future we want for ourselves; an admittance that if forgiveness comes through understanding, and if understanding is just a matter of time and application then we might as well begin forgiving right at the beginning of any drama, rather than put ourselves through the full cycle of festering, incapacitation, reluctant healing and eventual blessing.

…at the end of life, the wish to be forgiven is ultimately the chief desire of almost every human being. In refusing to wait; in extending forgiveness to others now, we begin the long journey of becoming the person who will be large enough, able enough and generous enough to receive, at our very end, that necessary absolution ourselves.

From the upcoming book of essays CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. ©2014 David Whyte


Are You Still Triggered By Your Family?

whimsical tree2

Family issues sometimes take us by surprise. We think we have dealt with “our issues” and moved on in life. Then suddenly there it is – we have a family interaction and once again we are annoyed, offended, frustrated, resentful or worse.

Almost everyone has at least one relative who is perennially challenging: a parent, sibling, adult child, or maybe an in-law or step-relative. Who is it for you? And why is the problem with this person so enduring?

I recently worked with a client who realized that her struggles with her ex-husband were actually a re-enactment of her struggles with her mother. She had been through therapy and several 12-step programs, but she was still very triggered by her mother. My initial advice to her is the same advice I would give to anyone who is struggling – don’t give up!

Recognize that the prior work you have done has brought you to this point. Good! None of it is lost. Now, the question is whether you are ready to move forward. The fact that you are still triggered does not mean the relationship cannot be healed. It means you are dealing with an issue that is complex and multi-layered. It means there is more work to do – when you are ready.

My client’s mother had been very harsh and critical towards her throughout her life, and this woman (my client) suffered greatly as a result. Doing forgiveness work, she realized she had internalized all of her mother’s negative messages. She was now able to separate from those messages and see that none of them were true. This was a huge turning point for her.

Forgiveness works because it addresses the root of the problem. It invites you to take a clear look at the core beliefs you have internalized about the other person and yourself. After doing forgiveness work, most people feel as thought a heavy weight has been lifted from their shoulders. They experience a great sense of freedom and lightness.

If you want to start exploring your own family triggers, here are some questions for inquiry and reflection: When you feel triggered . . .

1. What is your story about the other person?

2. What are your beliefs about the other person?

3. What are your beliefs about yourself?

Next time I hope to write more about how to survive the holidays and family gatherings.


Shortcut to Forgiveness


Most of my forgiveness work over the past ten years has focused on the act of forgiving – what forgiveness means, why it’s important, and how to do it.  Lately, I’ve become fascinated by an entirely different aspect of forgiveness — that of asking for forgiveness. My curiosity was piqued when I noticed that three very disparate traditions all emphasize the importance of asking to be forgiven. 

The first is Ho’oponopono, an ancient Hawaiian practice of healing and forgiveness.  The practice consists of repeating this mantra:  “I love you.  I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.  Thank you.”  This simple but powerful prayer has been used to heal physical and mental diseases, as well as relationships and conflict. 

The second tradition is Judaism.  Under ancient Jewish law, each person has a duty to ask for forgiveness from the person they have wronged.  If they are refused, they must ask again a second and, if necessary, a third time.  After the third time, even if the other person refuses, they are absolved of wrongdoing.

The third tradition was shared with me by my colleague Olivier Clerc, author of a wonderful book entitled The Gift of Forgiveness:  A Magical Encounter with don Miguel Ruiz. Don Miguel Ruiz is a Toltec Master well known for his best-selling book, The Four Agreements.  Drawn from a powerful encounter with Ruiz, Clerc teaches that when we focus on forgiving another person, whether or not we realize it, we put ourselves above them, feeling righteous because they have wronged us.  We are one-up and they are one-down.  However when we sincerely ask to be forgiven, we must humble ourselves.  We must let down our defenses and open our heart to the other person. This opening allows healing and reconnecting.

A few weeks ago I was leading a forgiveness workshop and decided to do an experiment.  I invited the participants to ask each other for forgiveness.  One by one each person went around the room asking each other person to forgive them. This simple process took about 20 minutes, and by the end, there were no dry eyes. Asking for forgiveness – even from strangers — quickly cut through the stories and explanations and defenses — to the core each person’s heart. It was truly remarkable.  

I feel as though I have discovered an important secret. There is a shortcut to forgiveness and this is it –ask for forgiveness — whether or not you feel you have done anything wrong, and even if you feel you are the one who has been wronged!  I don’t know if this is the rationale behind Ho’oponopono or ancient Jewish Law, but I can tell you it works!


The Magic of Forgiveness

The magic of forgiveness is a big part of what fuels my passion for forgiveness work. Once a person has experienced the magic, everything gets easier for them: life, letting go, acceptance, forgiveness, everything. But magic and miracles are elusive, not easy to put into words. I was delighted when I recently I came across this eloquent passage on how forgiveness magic works, written by Eckhart Tolle:

Through forgiveness … the miracle of transformation happens not only within but also without. A silent space of intense presence arises both in you and around you. Whoever or whatever enters that field of consciousness will be affected by it, sometimes visibly and immediately, sometimes at deeper levels with visible changes appearing at a later time. You dissolve discord, heal pain, dispel unconsciousness – without doing anything – simply by being and holding that frequency of intense presence…
It seems that most people need to experience a great deal of suffering before they will relinquish resistance and accept – before they will forgive.  As soon as they do, one of the greatest miracles happens: the awakening of being-consciousness through what appears as evil…what we perceive as evil from our limited perspective  is actually part of the higher good  that has no opposite. This, however, does not become true for you except through forgiveness. Until that happens, evil has not been redeemed and therefore remains evil.
The Power of Now


This description, shared with me by Mary Hayes Grieco, resonates completely with my experience. As soon as I release my death grip on “being right,” as soon as I open up, even a little, to seeing the situation differently, everything begins to shift. Unexpected things occur and the result is often much better than that anticipated. 

It really is up to us. How much suffering do we need to feel?  How long do we need to struggle before we are willing to let go?