The unconscious mind observes anniversaries even if our waking mind does not.

Recently I woke up to the fact that I have now lived abroad for longer than I lived in my country of birth (The Netherlands). I was 23 when I left and I turned 47 recently. I gave this no conscious thought but I started having dreams about Holland, where I was trying to cycle to the city where I grew up (Den Helder) but there is always a canal I cannot cross. I never arrive at destination.

After I had this same dream several times over a period of months it dawned on me that I had crossed a fault line somewhere, a fault line in the tectonic plates of the human heart. I have left The Netherlands, in more ways than one and I cannot (and will not) go back. (And the Holland I knew does not exist any more, Holland too has moved on, just as I have!)

Then that got me thinking about something else that I had done, more consciously but not in a very organised way. I realised that over a period of two years I had contacted people in The Netherlands with whom I felt there was some unfinished business. In particular people I was friends with as teenager and in my early 20s but then lost touch with.

I reached out to one person after I heard about the sudden death of her father. I reached out to another when I stumbled across her website with recent paintings. I just said that I liked her work and that it was good to see she is still painting. There was a third person I wrote some letters to, spaced out over a period of years.

I had hoped for a very mild form of reconciliation. Not friendship or commitment, but maybe a ‘I wish you well, I too have moved on and I am enjoying life’. In reality I did not hear back from any of these people.

That then brought on a bout of introspection. I turned the tables: is there anyone I do not want to hear from? In truth yes, I had a stalker once and hope to never hear from this person again.

But there were people I used to be close to.  If they had chosen to contact me, they would have received a warm reply from me and some appreciation for their courage in reaching out.

Of course I cannot speak for others, in particular for people I have not met for decades, but I had a sensation of being ‘frozen in time’, of not being allowed to grow and evolve (at least in the mental image some people have of me). I think most young people make mistakes or speak words they later regret. I know I did. I still do at times. I am very far from perfect but I now know I will be ‘a work in progress’ until the day I die.

Yet, by now, compared to twenty-something years ago, a whole lifetime has passed under the ‘metaphorical bridge’ I could not locate in the dream. More time again than the age we were then.

Clearly I had not been ‘forgiven’. I first started seriously wrestling with the concept ‘forgiveness’ around age 25. By then I was living in London and following a Twelve Step Program – Co-dependents Anonymous, to be precise- . Anyone who grew up in a family where addictions existed can benefit from this, I recommend it highly and in stark contrast to psychotherapy  it is free, run by volunteers asking only for a small donation toward the hire of a room and for some commitment for you in turn to help others as you start to recover and change the script of your life and relationships).

I had an almighty struggle with steps 8 and 9 (you will find all twelve steps listed below my text). I lost sleep over it. I cried over it. Unpeeling the matter slowly I came to realise over time that on some level I thought ‘forgiving’ also meant  ‘forgetting’ and that I’d have to give up a large chunk of my past and identity.  The other block I encountered was thinking that  ‘forgiving’ equaled  ‘allowing more of the same to happen’. And one night I went to bed and screamed at God/A Higher Power (as I understood Divinity at that point in time): “I cannot forgive, all I can do is BECOME WILLING TO FORGIVE…”

The next morning I woke up with an incredible sense of serenity and well being. As if a rock had been lifted off my chest. I had learned that “if I do my very best, God/Goddess/Sacred Mystery does the rest.

For me this was nothing less than one of the great revelations of my life. I have often talked to clients about this in shamanic healing sessions, observing their struggle with the same “monsters'”.

What I observed in their response was how ‘not forgiving’ is akin to ‘keeping someone hostage’, continuing to exert some power over them. But who are we really keeping hostage when we do not forgive? Today my response is unequivocal: OURSELVES most of all!!

Forgiving someone cuts an energetic cord that ties us. We are not coming back for more abuse or harm, we erect healthy boundaries around ourselves – but we have learned a lesson, we are more aware.

Today (over 20 years later) I have also developed the awareness that we all have a ‘shadow’ (a personal ‘black hole’ where we hide from ourselves those things we cannot stand in ourselves). An important part of any spiritual journey is acknowledging in ourselves what we cannot stand in others. So today I know that it is all within me: selfishness, rudeness, arrogance, meanness, ugliness…. you name it, it’s in me somewhere!!

And I suspect that for some people “not forgiving” is about not looking too closely at themselves – preferring to see others as ‘the bad one’ so they can be ‘the good one’. (And here I am not talking about rape and murder, I am talking about everyday human tussles and struggles). Once you open Pandora’s Box – what might be unleashed?!

My own personal experience is that the word forGIVEness contains the word ‘GIVE’, because we always set ourselves free, we unburden both our soul and our mind, if we manage to forgive. Of course, along this spiritual path we set others free too! That is the beauty and blessing of this process.

And you never know: forgiveness might be contagious… If more people learn and actively practice the art of forgiveness (and the art of dancing with our own shadow, not running from darkness and self reflection), more of us will feel lighter and then we will quite literally radiate more light, Divine Light, the the love and light animates us. And far more compassion and joy too, I’d guess.

And I may remain ‘unforgiven’  by some, for various reasons and transgressions, but I can choose to forgive myself, to make amends, to create a big bubble of loving thoughts for these people to receive, on a spiritual level, the day they are ready. Suspended somewhere in the ether until then.

Below I will post the Twelve Steps as used by AA. The phrasing is slightly different for different anonymous groups (overeaters, codependency, al anon, shopaholics etc.) but the underlying principles are of course the same. And they work!!

 Imelda Almqvist


Twelve Steps

These are the original twelve steps as published by Alcoholics Anonymous:[10]

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.