Years ago, forgiveness practitioner Mary Hayes Grieco spent much of her time trying to convince people that forgiving others was good medicine. No longer. Today Hayes Grieco, director and lead trainer for the Minneapolis-based Midwest Institute for Forgiveness Training, has traveled the world focused not on the whys of forgiveness, but the hows, as people throng to learn from her. Author of "The New Kitchen Mystic" and "Unconditional Forgiveness," Hayes Grieco is gearing up for a forgiveness workshop specific to these times. She shares how she found her way to this work, what we most get wrong about forgiveness and why COVID has exposed unique challenges in the forgiveness realm.
Q: You've said "we're all in the forgiveness classroom with COVID." Please say more about that.
A: Anyone who is on a spiritual journey views life as a classroom of personal growth; our life experiences are inviting us to learn and grow new character strengths. The pandemic "classroom" is teaching us to answer the important questions: "How do I live well amid loss and disappointment? How do I feel safe, even though so much is changed? Who am I now, amid so much uncertainty?"
Q: You have referred to the past year-and-a-half as a "cluster of losses and disappointments." What do you put on that list?
A: Some of us have lost people through COVID-19, some of us have lost jobs, and some our balance and free time, because we've been called into overworking on the front lines. Kids have lost a normal sense of school. On a smaller scale, I lost my two favorite restaurants. So many simple disappointments! So much shifted and it's still shifting.
Q: But how does forgiveness enter this new reality? Whom or what are we to forgive? Do we need to forgive COVID?
A: Sure! Apparently, epidemics happen from time to time. We have to find acceptance that this is happening.
Q: What do people misunderstand about forgiveness?
A: We've been told to "forgive and forget," and that's never worked. Your mind needs a process to be able to let something go completely. Also, people are afraid that if they forgive someone, they have to see them and work things out. You don't. You can forgive them privately and never see them again. When you hear the word, "forgiveness," think, "self-healing," think, "freedom."
Q: What do students of forgiveness realize when they make progress?
A: Once they feel it happen, they say, "Why did I wait 10 years to forgive my ex? I feel so much better!"
Q: Conversely, what might happen when we choose anger and resentment over forgiveness?
A: Resentments hurt us. They hurt our health, happiness and relationships. In the last 25 years, there have been upward of 6,000 studies in medicine and psychology that find that "unforgiveness" is a medical problem, causing stress illnesses like headaches, backaches and chronic pain.
Q: Aren't there some actions that are unforgivable?
A: There are some complexities to the concept of forgiveness, and some misunderstandings, which is why people resist it. Of course, there are terrible stories, violations, and even atrocities, and I am not saying that any of those things are OK. If something is wrong, it's wrong. What I'm saying is that nothing is beyond healing, and we can free ourselves of the impact of these wrong things. I've heard some really bad stories and seen people completely resolve them. People are amazing!
Q: How did you find your way to this work?
A: I was 30-something and seeking to discover my life's work, and I met an inspiring mentor. Her approach to forgiveness helped me heal from my own bad stories — the neglect, losses and trauma I experienced growing up in an alcoholic home. She passed her knowledge on to me and I've been training other teachers since.
Q: I'm guessing you get some pushback from cynics who say your process is a little … woo-woo?
A: Cynical people don't come to me, because they are attached to their anger. Facing into our healthy anger is important, yet we need to realize that anger is a doorway to our power but not a house we can live in. People who come to me are people who have a sense that they have a soul that is strong and happy and they want to be in that, day by day. They want to move beyond their anger into a better day. As for "woo-woo," the experience of forgiveness is a potent spiritual experience, and you need that spiritual component to actually heal. The method I teach is universal and you can tap into a higher power by any name you want — God, the universe, nature, physics. This has been taught in Christian, Muslim, and secular venues, and everyone did just fine with it.
Q: Tell us about your upcoming workshop.
A: It's a daylong workshop, titled "Healing the Pain of Our Times," Sept. 18, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at Minneapolis' Walker Church, 3104 16th Ave. S. It's a fundraiser for the church that is part of International Forgiveness Day. I'll be offering people a supportive environment to get help to let go of pandemic resentment and move forward. It's open to everyone with a suggested donation of $20-$60. For more information, call 612-874-6622 or go to forgivenesstraining.com.