Choosing to Take Responsibility for Experience

The view from  El Cielo Centro Espiritual  (Spiritual Center of the Sky), Lake Arenal, northern Costa Rica, March 2016.

The view from El Cielo Centro Espiritual (Spiritual Center of the Sky), Lake Arenal, northern Costa Rica, March 2016.


Some healing and therapeutic modalities believe childhood experiences can shape adult psychology. Some modify thought patterns and behaviors to improve a person’s life. And some use felt somatic sense in attempting to release and heal trauma.

Vancouver-based group Choose Again has developed a six-part forgiveness process combining aspects of the above with some notable modifications. In early March I visited the group’s Costa Rican retreat center, where clients can dedicate themselves to cultivating more peace and joy in their lives.

Here’s how the process goes (in first-person, to emphasize the importance of “I” statements): If I felt upset or just wanted to work on something, I first acknowledged it. Then I focused totally on myself, setting aside any attribution or blame on another person or group. What was I feeling—even the felt sense in my body? I named it, but then recalled the earliest time I felt that raw sensation. Maybe a memory arose that didn’t logically connect to the present topic. That embodied memory was probably a moment when my interpretation of a situation led me to adopt a false negative belief about myself, even if it seemed to be about others. From that point forward, the belief lurked subconsciously under my day-to-day life, contributing to mental and even physical disturbances—what is often called the “ego” perspective.

The trick is to take full responsibility for our experiences and the beliefs we adopted, but then immediately and gently forgive ourselves for it. So often we blame or project onto other people what is really about us.

For example, once around age five I briefly got “trapped” in a sleeping bag when another kid blocked the opening. I remember panicking, and for a while I associated the experience with claustrophobic tendencies. At Choose Again I discovered how I took on the beliefs that I am dumb (I didn’t speak up for myself), unworthy (where were the adults to care for me?) and that there is something wrong with me (why did I panic anyway?).

At this point I dialogued with another person in a kind of role play, so I could forgive myself for holding those false beliefs. We made eye contact and I said, “Forgive me for believing that I am unworthy.” The other person mirrored back something like, “Thank goodness that’s not true. Your worthiness is intrinsic and unchangeable.” Then we switched and repeated. Finally I changed to an affirmation: “Forgive me for forgetting that I am inherently worthy and valuable.” They said, “Thank goodness that is true.”

I checked in to see if the feeling had lifted, and then processed another belief if necessary. In the best cases I felt light and relieved, or I even laughed at how silly the present situation and/or the past memory now seemed.

The trick is to take full responsibility for our experiences (past and present, despite the outer circumstances) and the beliefs we adopted (even in distant childhood), but then immediately and gently forgive ourselves for it. So often we blame or project onto other people what is really about us, or subconsciously put ourselves in circumstances that would re-confirm these negative beliefs as self-fulfilling prophecies.

The center arranges the daily schedule to provide repeated opportunities to evaluate and modify these patterns. We started with early morning practice—usually a mix of yoga, meditation, and Qi Gong. Then we had a process circle, the main forgiveness practice, for nearly three hours. We took a silent nature walk in early afternoon, and usually watched a documentary in late afternoon (except on Fridays, when we did Holotropic Breathwork). Tasty home-cooked meals filled in the gaps.

In the center’s library I spotted the book “Mindful Loving” by Dr. Henry Grayson, which helped me understand the cycle that connects unconscious beliefs to thoughts, emotions, behaviors, responses from others and reinforced beliefs. We can make some progress by changing how we consciously view ourselves and reality. But knowing the hidden beliefs coloring our perceptions allows further interruption of the cycle by intentionally shaping thoughts and behaviors to re-write those core beliefs, leading to more peaceful, joyful living.

With the “trapped” process, I benefitted from editing the childhood memory by acknowledging that it was just a minor accident interpreted in an unhelpful way. It wasn’t my fault or anyone else’s. These things just happen. Memory constellations began to rise into awareness, and I saw how one or more false beliefs connected many “negative” experiences from throughout my life. Now if I feel trapped as an adult, I can notice that part of me believes I deserve to be detained and take responsibility for how I contributed to the situation.

Upon leaving the center, I felt in touch with a strong sense that I actually deserve what I want deep in my core—that there’s nothing wrong with me for wanting it. Just the same, I can no longer blame other people if I hesitate to step into my power and fulfillment.

As with all methods, a few shortcomings do exist. Some counselors adapt the process to the client’s unique situation. But it can also take on a rigid form in which much is related to philosophy from the New Age treatise A Course in Miracles. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the ideas that “all is love” and “separation is an illusion.” But keeping things too abstract can prevent a client from finding their own meaningful re-interpretation and, therefore, substantial healing.

If someone doesn’t feel a sense of relief after repeating “I am love”—especially after having experienced physical abuse, sexual assault, the murder of a loved one, etc.—then it could actually reinforce a negative subconscious belief that something is wrong with them (“Why am I not getting this?”).

In the business of changing identities (how people would describe themselves and reality), changing it too fast or towards a worldview drastically different from one’s own family or community can have detrimental effects. And it even proved controversial at the center to suggest that this system does indeed alter someone’s identity. Changing identity means we can have separate identities, and some there elevate the belief that “separation is an illusion” above all else.

The world surely needs more counseling in which people connect to their felt body sense and re-interpret experiences from a perspective of responsibility. It’s really just a question of how it’s done—and whether attempts to prove a system or worldview take precedence over the healing and empowerment of clients. Every transformational process is as unique as the person undergoing it. In short, I am love... and a whole lot more.