I found an excellent article about the personal aspects of apology-making by the Buddhist teacher Madeline Koi-I Bastis, who works as a hospital chaplin and ministers to dying people. The article is excerpted from Bastis' book, "Heart of Forgiveness" at the Inner Self website.
"Even though I was sorry for hurting people, there was still the underlying desire to free myself of the burden of guilt and shame. Some self-help programs suggest that we share our sins before God and another human being. I remember an older woman who had a slogan ready for every situation. One was, "It's better to cry and share it, than grin and bear it." It does feel better to share grief and anger and guilt. When I was doing research about forgiveness on the Internet, I found several confession sites. People could e-mail their sins to the site where the entire narrative would be posted for anyone to read. There is a need to unburden guilt, even to unknown strangers.
At first, I wondered why people would read the confessions. Some people probably enjoyed the vicarious thrill of sharing secrets, but others, I thought, wanted to feel a connection with others. We're all in the same boat and share the same faults and foibles.
True remorse comes from a sense
of oneness with all beings.
We wish to seek forgiveness not to make ourselves feel better, but to acknowledge that we have caused suffering for another.
We're not always able to make amends to everyone. We lose touch, we forget names, or people have died. But it is possible to acknowledge our remorse.
Practice: Expressing Remorse
Decide to walk in a natural setting that you enjoy—the woods, countryside, or shore. Guilt has been locked inside for so long that it is helpful to release it to the four directions. Find a place to sit and begin to watch your breath. Open to the sounds around you—leaves murmuring in the wind, waves spanking the shore, insects humming by. Begin to picture each person you have hurt, and say silently:
For all the harm I have done to you, knowingly or unknowingly, forgive me.
As I wish myself to be happy, so I wish you to be happy.
May your life be filled with joy and well being.
Keep repeating the words until you feel a loosening in your heart. Then move on to another person.
It can take many outings to ask forgiveness of the people we have caused to suffer. It may be easier to start with small transgressions. When you feel as if you have released some guilt, then make a symbolic gesture: releasing a balloon, tossing a stone into the ocean, blowing out a candle.
Words alone may not suffice."
The process of making amends and seeking forgiveness is not a simple matter of saying, I'm sorry. The author goes on to talk about restitution and atonement.