I found a framed quotation in a Baltimore antique shop, two months before Steve and I got married, that I put in our wedding invitation. We had a multi-faith, multicultural wedding.
“From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven, and when two souls that are destined to be together find each other, their streams of light flow together, and a
single brighter light goes forth from their united being.”
--The Baal Shem Tov
In a sense, forgiveness makes space in your heart to accommodate love. When you completely fill that space with love, there is no space for fear; there is no space for anger; there is no space for jealousy; there is no place for hatred; there is no space for revenge.
Rancor and revenge can only hurt you. Just as the Buddha commented about holding a burning piece of coal; and hoping to throw it at a person you want to hurt; you have already, by holding that piece of coal, burned your own hand. The notion of ‘You hurt me so I must hurt you’ is destructive. All it takes is just one person to step out of the dance to create a new dance. That person has to be you because nobody else can do it. You have to do it by your own volition, by your own choice.
Forgiveness is a verb; it requires energy. It cannot happen sitting on your behind. You have to get up and do something; open your heart; expect nothing in return. Perhaps normal people struggle so much with forgiveness because it is that simple, yet very profound.
Ajahn Brahm recommends a Teflon mind. What does that mean!? It means to be nonstick. Something happens, let it go. Do not let it stick to your brain, pollute it, contaminate your mind and make your heart ugly. Do not allow it to create a callus on your heart.
You must first know what it is that you need to forgive. If you don't know what it is it doesn't matter. So you have to first dwell on it to identify it. Specify what the wrong is. If you are angry, anger is fear. You have to let go of fear in order to feel love. It is very easy to love people you like. It takes a lot of energy to love people you don't like. Part of dwelling is engaging extra effort and energy to determine the things you really value, that are meaningful to you; and go after them.
Beware defaulting to ego. Believe me, ego is not worth it. My mom used to comment, “How many bags of rice can you buy with ego!” Having eight children to feed, she explained, “I have very thick skin. If I have to beg food to feed my children, I will beg to feed my children; because pride and ego does not bring me the bags of rice required to feed them.”
“Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, and lets go of negative emotions such as a vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary
I lived in Huntsville, Texas while on the faculty at Sam Houston State University. Huntsville is where about a dozen Texas prison units are located, and the death chamber was only half a mile from my office. I was teaching a graduate class the night of the first female execution in Texas history. There was a lot of hoopla and press. It is amazing the number of people who camped out to witness an execution. How can anyone take pleasure in that!
I do know from watching many crime series on television that the family of a murder victim often wants to be present at the execution of the murderer. Somehow in their heart they think they will feel better if they see the man fry. But it doesn't. I have not seen any evidence that they feel any better. In fact, it creates an additional ugly memory to contend with.
To forgive requires that you know what it is you are going to let go of. Then you have to do whatever it takes to let it go.
When I work with a client in trance, I have her imagine what the energy of her suffering feels like. I then help her create a story as to how to remove it. Let’s say it takes the form of a big mass in her heart. I ask, “How do you remove a big mass in your heart?” Then I work with her creative intelligence to come up with a way to release that energy. Until that energy is released she will continue to carry it. It will come up and bite her at the most unexpected times.
Forgiveness is a healthy thing to do because it lets go of hatred; it lets go of the past; lets go of pain. If you hold such stuff long enough and do not resolve it, eventually it turns into some type of somatic (physical) illness.
Most clients I have seen with breast cancer hold a lot of hurt in their heart. They feel unloved. A good cancer prevention is the ability to forgive. But for someone already in that state, it is a hard skill to learn.
I have volunteered at a battered women’s shelter. It is very humbling to meet a group of women of different colors, age and circumstances; knowing they have one thing in common; every single one of them have been raped or physically assaulted by a father, spouse or boyfriend. It reminds me how very fortunate I am. Yet these women open their hearts to care for each other.
One night I asked them to talk about one thing they would like to take home with them that night. One woman said, “I'd like to know where I'm going to sleep tonight.” She and her son had been kicked out of their present dwelling and she had no place to go. It was a stark reminder of what we take for granted.
Another lady took three buses to get to the shelter for meetings. She couldn't stay for the end of an evening class because there was no bus to take her home.
When you start to feel sorry for yourself, think about how much worse things could be, and forgive, forgive, forgive. Then, let go of the past and be content with the now.
Right now, write down a few things you are grateful for; then a few things you need to let go.
It is very difficult to forgive things that people have somehow wronged you until you have a peaceful heart. Not forgiving will, rest assured, disrupt any peace in your heart. The only person who can give you a peaceful heart is you, because peace is a choice, Happiness is a choice, Forgiveness is a choice.
Just like my client; if she does not want to forgive her father, I cannot make her. She has to come to terms with it someday and let it go. At the end of my session with her she was ready to let it go, but not before. Friends had been telling her she should do it, but she did not feel it in her heart.
Remember when you were a little child, a fight with a sibling resulted in Mother demanding that you say Sorry. So you said it, but you did not mean it, because you did not understand. When you got old enough to understand, you said Sorry; with fingers crossed behind your back because you did not mean it or want to do it.
It is the same as an adult. You submit to counseling, where you are told to forgive, but you just do not feel forgiveness in your heart. You exercise adult autonomy even as you are forced to forgive, knowing it will not work because you do not choose for it to work.
Forgiveness relates to heart energy. If you say it as a lie, it doesn't come across with the energy of an open heart, of a peaceful heart; there is nothing to it.
So, look at the list of things you need to let go. Are you ready to make a choice, to let go with no expectation of benefit? Are you ready to live in the present? Are you ready to forgive yourself? Start with random acts of forgiveness. As your heart softens, you will be better prepared to forgive others on a day-to-day basis. Dwell on that.