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!


About Eileen Barker

EILEEN BARKER has been writing and speaking on forgiveness, and guiding people who need to either forgive themselves or someone else, for many years. A practicing litigation lawyer who rejected the traditional adversarial role, Eileen has focused her practice on mediation, helping thousands of people resolve disputes outside of court. This work led her into a deep exploration of forgiveness as it relates to resolving conflict and making peace, both with others and oneself.

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