Reflection

Forgiveness – Letter, Structure, Guide, Ritual, Practice


I’ve tried writing letters to people in the past in order to help me process and organise my thoughts.

Some I’ve sent, others I haven’t. But each time I’ve found it useful.

At the end of last year I was introduced to the exercise of writing a Forgiveness Letter by Peter Barr, a Master Certified Coach of over 20 years and recipient of a 2022 Gold Award – Executive Coach at Global Coach Awards.


(As you’ll see in the structure and instructions below, these are not letters to be published or sent.)


I wrote one the following day.


The process was intense, challenging, sad and loving. Afterwards I was left with sense of peace and calm.


Along similar lines to what I wrote in The Mirror Is The Hardest Place To Look, my experience has been that forgiving myself can be hard too.

So today I chose to write one to myself to kick off the working year.


This experience was the same, with the resulting sense of peace and calm.


I wanted to document and share the structure and process here.

Forgiveness Letter

Structure

It’s incredibly simple:

Dear XYZ,


I am angry at you for…


I am sad that you…


I forgive you for…


I love you for…


Toby


That’s it.

Guide

  1. Find a private space and set aside some time. [I allowed an hour in my office each time. It probably took me 45 mins but other people spend hours on these. It’s entirely up to you.]

  2. Grab a box of tissues in case of tears. [I didn’t have them on hand for my first letter and ended up having to grab a roll of toilet paper instead.]

  3. Write as much as you feel like. There’s no need to force more, just let it flow. When you’re done, you’re done. There’s no minimum/maximum length. It’s solely for you, no one else. [Rather than handwriting, I also found it easiest to type into a document with those three prompts and bounce back and forth as thoughts occurred.]

Ritual

I called Pete afterwards about this part: What should I do once I’ve written the letter?

After a quick chat, I decided I’d print out the document, permanently delete the digital file and then burn the print out.

I really enjoy rituals so I did the above and burned the letter in a metal cooking bowl outside my house.

For my second letter, I added some music: Ludovico Einaudi’s Nuvole Bianche (like in my cold bath ritual).

Practice

I’ve thought about if or how this might become a practice.

For now, I’ve decided I’ll use it more as a tactical tool when I feel it’s appropriate rather than a regular practice.

Thanks again Pete for introducing me to it.


If you’re willing to give it a go, I hope you find it useful too.

Acknowledging Country – Fear, Mindfulness, Journey, A Script, Connection

https://unsplash.com/@romainterpreau

Three years ago, at the Brisbane Powerhouse, 30 minutes before my event Changing The Game of Influence was due to start, my speaking coach said to me:


You have to do the Acknowledgement of Country, Toby. Google the right words, then say them.


He was right of course. It was my event.


But it had been a long time since I’d run my own event and I’d never started with an Acknowledgement of Country before. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it in my preparation.


And I was afraid of making a mess of it.


Afraid of missing an important piece of protocol or that I might offend someone.


But it was also really important to me, so I googled Acknowledgement of Country in Brisbane. Then I took myself off to hide in a bathroom stall and run through it as many times as I could before guests arrived.


I kicked off the event using the guidance from Reconciliation Australia:

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the Turrbal and Jagera people and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

As a first time, it felt a bit clunky and awkward, but I was glad I’d done it.


It wasn’t all smooth sailing though.


The day after the event I received some direct feedback that it could have been better. That I had sounded rushed and that I could have slowed down or paused to give it additional emphasis.


That feedback felt uncomfortable too.


It was time to practice.


Mindfulness

Fast forward a few years and I’ve practiced and started events, keynotes and workshops with an Acknowledgement of Country many times using that same guidance.


Then a few weeks ago, I was running my Momentum Live workshop back at the Brisbane Powerhouse. 65 people were coming. A critical part of the workshop is the science of mindfulness and how it applies in wellbeing and performance.


One of the common misconceptions of mindfulness is that it is a practice that we do separately. In reality, mindfulness is what we bring to the present moment or an activity.


Rather than doing mindfulness, it’s about being mindful.


So prior to the event I wanted to see if there might be a way to bring mindfulness to the Acknowledgement of Country and really help people connect to it.


The same fears that had shown up three years ago came back even as I considered this.


If I was going to try to bring the two practices together, I wanted to make sure it was acceptable in the first instance and if so, then done in a respectful and appropriate way.


Journey and a script

So I reached out to Dave Williams, a Wakka Wakka man and the owner and Executive Director of Indigenous creative agency Gilimbaa, that specialises in strategic and connected communication.


When I explained my thinking and experience in a phone call, Dave’s counsel was pretty clear.


He shared that everyone walks their own journey with understanding what it means to Acknowledge Country and the connection Country has for Australia’s First Peoples. And that this often starts from a place of discomfort.


So this would become another step in mine.


With his coaching, I developed the exercise and kicked off the event with the below.


I opened with the guidance from Reconciliation Australia again.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the Turrbal and Jagera people and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

Then I invited my attendees to join me in an exercise to bring mindfulness to the Acknowledgment.

We’re going to be talking about mindfulness quite a bit through this workshop, so if you’re willing, I invite you to join me in this exercise.

You can keep your eyes open or closed. I’m going to close mine. Just listen to my voice and follow my prompts.

Just for a moment, notice your breath. [Pause]

Then bring your attention to the sensations in your feet. Notice the texture of your socks or shoes. Spend a moment there. [Pause]

Then extend your awareness into the floor and then down the sides of the building and onto the land on which we gather. I’d like us to pause here for a moment to reflect on and acknowledge the fact that thousands upon thousands of people have walked this land before us, for tens of thousands of years. And that we stand on the richness of the contributions they have made in so many ways. [Pause]

Then I’d like us to reflect on the fact that many, many more will walk this land after us. And that all of those people, will stand on the decisions we make and the actions we take, today, in acknowledging, embracing and bringing forward that very same richness.

Take a moment to reflect on that. [Pause]


And then I’d like us to bring our awareness back up from the land, up the walls, into the floor and pause for a moment back on the sensations in our feet. [Pause]

And then, in your own time, come back to the room and open your eyes.

Connection

When it came time for me to actually deliver this exercise, all of the same anxiety and fears showed up once more.

I’ve run it in a few more workshops since and they still do.


But after each time, I have felt immensely grounded, present and connected.


With mindfulness accompanying the words and really trying to be present, this process has helped me to experience a deeper, more personal connection to country.


I have so much to learn in this space, so I wanted to reflect on my own journey to date and to share this in case others might find it useful.


In direct contrast to my own childhood, I’ve watched my daughters be taught Acknowledgement of Country as a near daily ritual in their kindergartens and primary school.


They do it beautifully.


I feel incredibly grateful that they will have such familiarity with acknowledging and recognising the contributions, traditions and cultural heritage of our land.


Their Acknowledgement of Country has started much sooner than mine and I can only hope their sense of connection will develop to be deep and rich.

Showing Up – My Olympic Inspiration, A Minute, A Few Words, An Old T-shirt, Pay It Forward.

“You’re not in the official squad Toby. You don’t get swimmers and uniform.”

This announcement from the head coach was in front of 30 of the best water polo players in the country – some of them my great mates. All of us were striving to be a part of the Sydney Olympics just 2 years away.

We were in the briefing room above the pool at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra for an Australian Men’s water polo training camp with Serbia.

When the coach asked if everyone had their gear, I was the only one who put my hand to say I didn’t.

I was on scholarship, living and training at the AIS at the time. The training block in the lead up had been the hardest I’d ever trained. I’d put everything into it but still hadn’t been selected in the official squad.

It was a completely fair response.

“You can join in the conditioning work and be part of the warm ups. But you won’t be getting game time. You can watch and learn.”

I wanted to crawl into a dark corner and hide.

Showing up

I sucked it up and showed up to the sessions to do what I could.

At the end of the week, everyone was back in the same briefing room. The group was heading to Sydney for official games.

“Does everyone have their travel and accom details?”

I didn’t, so I stuck up my hand again.

You’ll have to make your own arrangements if you’re going to come Toby.”

Another stinger in front of the group.

There wasn’t much point staying in Canberra by myself. So I organised a lift and one of the Sydney squad offered me a bed at his parent’s place. We’d be able to get to the sessions and the official games together.

One of the assistant coaches put me on video duty in Sydney so I recorded the training sessions and practice matches.

Then it was time for the first official game.

A minute, a few words and an old t-shirt

We were out at Homebush Aquatic Centre, built specifically for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. This was an important Olympic preparation event. The whole squad was in a room beside the pool running through game strategy. I stood up the back listening.

Dry land warm ups were done then it was time to go poolside.

As I left the room, one of the most senior players grabbed me in the hallway. I’d only known him for about 3 months since he’d returned from playing professionally in Europe. He was at the AIS too and had been in the Australian team for 4 years. He was considered one of the best players in the world.

He took me aside and handed me a shirt with the Australian Water Polo logo on it. It was an older version, but very similar, to the ones the squad had been given.

“I want you to have this. I think you deserve it. I know one day you will be a part of this squad.”

Then he walked out to the pool deck. It was all over in less than a minute.

What stands out is the impact this had on me as a person first and foremost, and by default on my water polo career.

It wasn’t something that I sought out, or could control at all. I couldn’t ask for help with it.

At a time when I just kept on showing up, seriously doubting what I was doing, and seriously doubting whether I would ever be good enough, he took a minute, a few words and an old shirt to inspire me forever.

I didn’t make the Sydney Olympic team, but revisiting that gesture kept me going in the next 6 years in the lead up to Athens.

Paying it forward

I’ve kept looking for the chance to do the same for others whether that’s through a t-shirt or some other modality. I’ve become increasingly aware of the responsibility of the privilege of my experiences and opportunities.

In fact, it’s how I see this writing.

It’s definitely not easy. Sometimes writing feels like open heart surgery. I know I can’t please everyone, every time. But if I hear it’s had an impact, then I’m stoked.

And even if no one reads these articles, then at the very least they force me to reflect and clarify my own thinking. In a way, that means I can’t lose.

So thank you.

I appreciate the fact you’ve read this far. That you might let me know if you found it useful, or share it with a friend or colleague who might, or challenge my thinking.

I plan to keep showing up because I’ve found it’s a way to take a gift, a lesson or a moment in time and pay it forward.