The topic of forgiveness has been making its way into many conversations I’ve been having among friends and family lately. It’s also shown up in my books and things I’ve been watching, and I don’t take signs lightly. I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness and also about resentment. These are incredibly strong feelings to hold on to. Whether you know it or not, your willingness to forgive has more to do with you than anyone who has wronged you. The concept is simple; forgive those who have wronged you and free yourself, or stay angry and chain yourself to the past. I can tell you from personal experience that the latter makes life incredibly heavy and mostly uphill. The premise of this idea of forgiveness is one you don’t hear often but as I’ve been confronting this new definition, makes an incredible amount of sense to me albeit at odds with our typical definition in the realm of apologies. Ready? It is this: It is not our job to judge other human beings. Maybe you feel one or both of your parents did a less than adequate job raising you. Maybe you were wronged by a romantic partner or betrayed by a friend. Don’t you think it’s interesting that the wrongdoing could have happened something like 10 years ago, and yet you still feel the pain, hurt or anger as though the wound were made yesterday? This is the ego hanging on for dear life. The ego wants to see the person who wronged you suffer. They want to see them ‘pay’ for their crime. But as many people will tell you, or what you may have experienced yourself, is vengeance is often so exhausting that when you see your perpetrator pay for his crime, you often don’t feel any better. That is because your higher self doesn’t like to see fellow human beings suffer. Your ego does.
What I’ve gathered from recent material, is that forgiveness granted to others is a gift you give yourself. It does not exonerate what the other person did. It does not excuse them from their wrongdoing and it is not a symbol of weakness on your part. It is quite the opposite. If someone has wronged you, they will have to face those demons, the consequences of their actions, on their own. And you have to trust that they will eventually have to confront their behavior. It’s how energy and karma work. But whether you forgive them or not does not determine whether they will have to come face to face with their wrongdoing. It is impossible that they won’t. This is good news for us. This means we don’t have to hold on to what was done to us, we don’t have to take on the task of seeing perpetrators pay, and we don’t even have to wait for them to apologize in order to forgive them. The universe and karma will take care of these things for us. It is only our job to work towards consciousness and becoming a whole human being. And you can become neither of these things if your clawing away at a crime done unto you whether it be yesterday or 10 years ago. The resentment will infect all parts of your life, because it is such a negatively charged emotion, besides draining your positive energy and keeping you halfway in the past. It is impossible to become conscious and live fully in the present if you have one foot in your childhood wagging your finger at your dad. Here is the most relieving and powerful definition of resentment that I heard recently; “Having resentment for someone is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.” Nelson Mandela said that. And I think it’s safe to say that guy has good reason to hang onto resentment, and yet he let it all go. So can we.
So, of course, this is all easier said than done. How do we let go of the past? For one thing, look at the anger or hurt that you are hanging onto. Where is it coming from? First you need to ‘bring it to light’ as they say. Chances are you’re holding onto pain and haven’t even fully acknowledged it. But it’s there. Maybe you are drinking it away, smoking it away, sexing it away, manipulating it away, or betting it away. But once you stop, (try stillness, that is when many answers arise) you will feel those inner parts that are hurting. The next thing to remember is that by letting go of the pain, forgiving what was done to you, you are not excusing wrongdoing. You are freeing yourself. You are feeling the hurt of what was done, maybe even one last time, and then releasing it. You’re saying that you aren’t going to live with the pain, anger, hurt, sadness, exhaustion or judgement anymore. (Keep in mind, the person who needs forgiving may even be yourself.) I know that the word surrender seems to have a weak stigma attached to it, but it is the opposite. Surrender is the brave acceptance of what is and also of what was. Whether you accept the things that have happened in your life or not, the truth remains the same. Your anger at the past won’t change it, so it is time to let it go.
I’ve thought heavily the last few days of what sort of pain I’ve been carrying around with me. After a year and four months, I feel like I have forgiven whoever or whatever I was mad at that I am sick. In fact, I turned that emotion around into gratitude. Of course, I wouldn’t have chosen this. But since when do I know what’s best for me in the context of eternity? I don’t. But intelligent divinity does, and I’ve finally begun to trust that. Last night I tapped into a moment that my deceased step-dad and I shared on New Years Eve one night. He had been in a terrible mood for three days. He would stomp around the house angrily, slam cabinet doors, sigh heavily at small things. Finally he blew up. It was over this: a dryer sheet. There was a dryer sheet on the floor of our laundry room, and it put him over the edge. He reacted, threw his hands in the air, yelled something about respect and consideration and grew red and heated in the face. It was an obvious overreaction and clear to my mom and I that he was dealing with the hurt of something else. How could a dryer sheet make someone so mad? Those things smell awesome! My mom stayed very calm and told him his behavior wasn’t acceptable, and the two of us left for a few hours and allowed him to get his head straight. When we returned, the two of them spoke in our office for a few hours, and I got ready to celebrate the New Year. When I walked into the kitchen, Roger called me into the office where he and my mom were sitting. He was weeping. He told me “I can’t be who your dad was. And I’m sorry.” I remember holding his hand and saying “I don’t need you to be my dad. I just need you to be you.” We looked at each other and for the first time in a long while, I felt that we really saw each other. Each for exactly who the other one was, not who we wished them to be. It was a freeing moment. I learned then the power of forgiveness, and have since (over 8 years ago) tried to constantly look past the external reactions of people, and into what is real. People don’t act in poor ways for no reason. They just don’t.
I’ll leave you with one last quote about forgiveness. It was said by Iyanla Vanzant, a spiritual teacher and author. (Life Class anyone?) Here it is:
Until you heal the wounds of your past, you will continue to bleed. You can bandage the bleeding with food, with alcohol, with drugs, with work, with cigarettes, with sex, but eventually, it will all ooze through and stain your life. You must find the strength to open the wounds, stick your hands inside, pull out the core of the pain that is holding you in your past, the memories, and make peace with them.”
Pretty powerful no? Since I am trying to break the pattern of holding onto pain, or holding onto judgement for others behavior, I find that having a replacement reaction makes it easier. (Sort of like supplementing a cigarette with a cup of tea.) Whenever I feel that judgment stir in me, I take out my gratitude journal, and find something about the person or situation which I find…crappy…to be grateful for. Maybe someone wronging you taught you how to have self worth, how to tell the truth, how to listen, how to set boundaries. There are any number of things. I just know that the people in your life that have caused you pain were not just sent here to mess with you. The universe is not a random kid playing games. Like Nepo says, It is our job to make sense out of pain; there is a lesson in everything. It’s not easy. It’s hard as shit. But the reward of compassion is far greater than the result of resentment. The time has come to free myself this way. I hope you’ll do the same.
Health, Happiness, Freedom.