We hear so much about forgiveness, in our churches, on Oprah, in new age magazines, but do we truly understand the big picture when it comes to embracing this concept? We read that if we forgive others and ourselves we are doing our spiritual work and becoming better people, but what does that mean to us?
Maybe one of these examples resonates with you. You can forgive that guy you used to date until you run into him someplace, and then you want to inflict revenge on him. You can forgive your parents for your horrible childhood, but as soon as you get on the phone with your Dad you are arguing just like you always have in the past. So, what good is forgiveness anyway?
The key to forgiveness is to forgive from the heart, not from the mind.
Knowing in your rational mind that your parents did the best they could to raise you is not enough to constitute true forgiveness. That is why every time you are with your Dad you still argue. If you truly let go of the pain of your childhood, your self-importance, and your need to be right about your point of view, you would not be taking him personally any more. If you were not taking him personally, you would not be angry, and it would not be necessary to punish him by behaving like an angry child.
If you have an emotional reaction in the presence of someone, your heart is telling you that you have not resolved your issues with him or her. In other words, you have not truly forgiven that person. All of this begs the question: How do you forgive?
First, cease lying to yourself.
Stop telling yourself stories about why you behave the way you do. Stop blaming your behavior on other people and take responsibility for your emotional reactions. If you could forgive all the people in your life who have hurt or wounded you it would be possible to be in control of your behavior instead of being in reaction to other people all of the time. Imagine living life without experiencing a constant emotional rollercoaster of pain, anger, and jealousy. That would be bliss!
Look at your life with clarity.
Try to see what happened in your past, not only from your point of view, but also from the other person’s point of view. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with what he or she did or how it was done. All this means is that you can see the whole truth of what happened and that encompasses all points of view, not just your own.
Take some time to listen to how you tell the story of your life.
Perhaps it would be helpful to journal the story of a particular time in your life that has been challenging. Does it sound like you were victimized by your circumstances? Ask yourself, if someone heard your story would he or she say someone did you wrong or that you are being vengeful and angry?
If I say that my husband ruined our marriage, and hurt me, I am only telling part of the story. What about my responsibility for my half of the relationship? When I can see both sides clearly, and have compassion for my husband, I can forgive him. But if I am attached to my victim point of view and blame everything on him, forgiveness will never come. Chances are I will bring my anger and resentment into my next relationship as well.
When you can truly see the other person’s point of view then you can forgive from the heart. True compassion of the human experience is the place from which forgiveness stems. Compassion is an act of love that is free of attachment. Of course, the kind of love I am talking about is unconditional love.
Decide to let go of the pain.
Once you have seen the truth, you must make the decision to let go of the pain, anger, and resentment you have been holding in your mind. This requires you to take action. If you are attached to your pain, resentment, and self-righteousness, and addicted to your emotional reactions, this will be a difficult step to make. Taking action requires letting go of the very thing you have been holding on to for so many years.
There is comfort in what we find familiar, even if we are experiencing pain and suffering. It takes absolute faith in yourself plus the courage, will, and discipline to let go. But once you let go, it will feel as if the weight of the world has been taken off your shoulders. In this process it is important to forgive not just the others in our lives, but also to forgive ourselves.
- Forgive yourself for using people in your life to hurt yourself.
- Forgive yourself for not having clarity, for blaming others, and for not taking responsibility for your actions.
- Forgive yourself for wounding others and for the anger, jealousy, and hate you directed toward others.
- Forgive yourself for participating in situations that went against your integrity.
- Forgive yourself for not respecting yourself.
- Forgive yourself for not trusting yourself and having faith in your abilities.
- Forgive yourself for trying to control the people you love.
- And, of course, forgive yourself for not loving yourself 100 percent just the way you are!
More than once my teacher, don Miguel Ruiz, said: “In order to merge with spirit your heart must be as light as a feather.”
Well, when you have finally detached from the anger, resentment, and pain of your story your heart will feel as light as a feather. Not only that, but for the first time in your adult life you will be happy, truly happy, and your life will reflect the change back to you in every way.
You forgive not because the other person necessarily deserves it, but because you do not want to carry that load around. The bottom line is that you forgive because you love yourself so much that you want to give yourself the gift of personal freedom.
Blessings, Sheri Rosenthal