In a world full of vengence and spite, how can we forgive?
This is a nation big on vengeance. We lock people up for life, we execute criminals, we bomb whole countries to get even for the sins of a few. We seem to have forgotten how to forgive. I often see the need to forgive in the personal lives of friends and clients. In truth, we all have an occasional need to forgive someone. Sometimes that someone is our self, other times it's someone who has done something that hurt us deeply. The forgiveness need comes in many sizes'as small as a ring box and as big as a house. The process is the same no matter the size of the transgression.
Forgiveness is the key to peace. Forgiveness is letting go. I often think of it as letting go of the stranglehold we have on a person whose actions we could not control. Whatever it is we are not forgiving, it's something we can't change because it's already happened. We could be waiting for an apology. We could be so certain this was unforgivable that we spend a lifetime not forgiving. What we're really wanting is for this thing, whatever it was, to have never happened. We want it to go away. We can't change what happened, but we can change our reaction; we can allow it to go away. We can let go. We can forgive.
The stranglehold has us locked into a tension that is energetic, emotionally and physically. Whatever it is, you have wrestled it to the ground and you're holding on for dear life. Dear life, indeed. It's your life that you are choking.
It is your life held hostage. You simply cannot move on to real peace and freedom while you down on the floor holding on. Forgiveness isn't about releasing him or her, it's about releasing you! Let's take a look at how you can let go and retrieve your own life.
You have to name it and claim it to let it go. Who do you want to forgive? What was done?
Isn't this the hardest part of it? The thought of having empathy for someone who has done you wrong can be a bitter pill. Forgiving yourself might be the easiest place to start on your path to forgiving everyone.
Here's a story of my own self forgiveness:
A very long time ago, I almost killed a patient with a mistake I made in a hospital lab. A miracle happened that saved the patient (and me), but it could have been disastrous. You have to be a perfectionist in medical work, and I was awfully hard on myself about this mistake. I would have fired me, I would have locked me up, capital punishment was a thought. My supervisor was compassionate while I raked myself over the coals.
Eventually, I looked at the situation that set me up for the mistake and realized that I had too much to do that night. I was the sole medical technologist on night duty for a large hospital and several emergencies escalated the work beyond my capacity. The fact that my efforts had probably saved several lives was overshadowed by the mistake. When I had empathy for myself in that situation, I was able to forgive me.
Empathy is 'to walk a mile in the other's shoes.' It is to feel the emotions they are feeling and to understand the events, possibly a lifetime of events that led to your encounter with them. This allows you to feel compassion. Compassion is what loosens your grip and allows you to make a different choice.
Here is the letting go, after the compassion comes the forgiveness. It is to look the perpetrator in the (figurative) eye and say, 'I release you.' It is to relax your hold, to cut the energetic ties that hold you locked into the original act. Not only do you release the other, you release yourself. This doesn't mean that what was done is OK or even acceptable. It means you are releasing the other into being responsible for his or her own life. It means you will no longer get your juice from hating what was. Once you let it go, you are free to use that energy in another way. The very best possible choice is to use that energy to love, to create something wonderful and beautiful. I'll end this by paraphrasing Stephen Levine's Loving Kindness Meditation:
May I be happy.
May I be free from grief, fear, and anger.
May I be healed.
May I be at peace.
May you be happy. May you be free from grief, fear, and anger.
May you be healed.
May you be at peace.
May all people be happy.
May all people be free of grief, fear, and anger.
May all people be healed.
May all people be at peace.
If someone stole your parking space, you may only need to forgive once. If someone stole your childhood, you may need to forgive everyday for a very long time. Whatever it takes, do it! Free yourself.
'Jacqueline Hale, 2003
About the Author
Jacquie Hale is a Life Coach who helps people create a life worth living. Do you know how some people seem chronically unhappy or drift aimlessly? Jacquie's insightful coaching helps individuals and couples discover their passion in life and guides them to create a life that is fulfilling and joyful. She is certified by the International Coach Federation and has been personally trained by Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks.