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Some of the people to whom you owe amends may not be reachable. Perhaps they have died or have moved away and you cannot find them. In such cases, you will still need to make amends to them, because amends are made primarily for your benefit, not for the injured party’s. It may satisfy those you have harmed to hear your apology, but that is not the reason you’re making it. You can still apologize, make reparations, change your behavior, and get right with yourself and the world without getting in touch with the injured party.
When you cannot reach those you have harmed, you will have to be creative in developing analogous or metaphorical ways of making amends. One way to apologize to someone who is dead or missing is through a letter you write and actually mail, a letter that is never received. This type of letter is a psychological device for communicating with someone who is no longer living or is otherwise unreachable. Human beings are highly symbolic creatures. A letter that is written and mailed is a powerful psychological substitute for the real thing—even if it isn’t received. When combined with prayer and visualizations, the healing letter is more effective still.
A healing letter can achieve many different objectives. It can, for example, express the love you felt but never articulated during a deceased person’s lifetime. Consuela was raised in a family that expressed little verbal or physical affection. When her father died, she found herself desperately regretting that she had never told him how much she loved him. She also hadn’t thanked him for the things he had made possible in her life, including a college education, which he had taken a second job to provide. The healing letter was Consuela’s opportunity to say what she longed to say, to express the love she felt, and to convey her gratitude for the sacrifices her father had made and the gifts he had given her. Consuela sent the letter, without a return address, to the house she had grown up in, but with
STEP FIVE: MAKING AMENDS
two of the numerals changed to a create a nonexistent street address. In Consuela’s mind, the letter would find its way to her father but not to the house.
Consuela also visualized herself telling her father how much she loved him and how grateful she was for all he had given her over the years. In that visualization, Consuela watched her father smile in response to her words. She heard him express his own gratitude for her life and his own regret that he had not been more expressive of his love for her, which had never wavered.
Kurt also wrote a healing letter to his father, but it was to apologize for the pain he had caused and to seek forgiveness. In the letter, Kurt described his regrets, apologized for his actions, and listed the changes in his behavior and in his life that had resulted from those regrets. The healing letter was Kurt’s opportunity to express his “if only’s,” the things he wished he had said and done that he did not say or do and all the things he did that he wished he hadn’t done. The letter was also Kurt’s chance to request forgiveness. He sent his letter to the address of the last house his father had lived in but to a city that had no such street. He included no return address. Kurt also used creative visualizations with his amends, finding peace and forgiveness in the imagined words of his dying father, whom he embraced.
Since no one but you will read the healing letter, write with honesty and deep emotion. Hold nothing back. The healing letter is like a creative visualization but on paper. It has the power to seem real and so to heal. Be specific and thorough. Write from the heart, knowing that the recipient, in some mysterious way, will receive and read your letter.
When your regrets are complicated or long-standing, more than one letter may be necessary. Perhaps many letters will be required for you to feel that your amends have been made. It doesn’t matter how many letters it takes. You will know when you have written the last letter.
Amends to the Self
In the traditional view of the world, human beings have three relationships they must manage effectively in order to find real satisfaction and true
happiness: the relationship they have with themselves, the relationship they have with other people, and the relationship they have with their higher power. The three relationships are interrelated, so that one bad relationship affects the other two relationships. If you do not like yourself, for example, it is difficult to like other people. If you are angry at your higher power, you are more likely to be angry with yourself or others.
All three relationships need to be nurtured for a life of fulfillment and meaning. In this step, you have taken action to improve one of those relationships: your relationships with others, at least with those you have harmed. You have made amends to them. Through that process, however, you are also making amends to your higher power and to yourself. The changed behavior that you pledge as part of your amend to others is also appropriate as the changed behavior you promise yourself.