To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you. Unknown
It’s any wonder why someone would choose darkness when light is just a decision away. A decision to incorporate new thoughts of wellness and peace into one’s mindset, thereby overriding thoughts of disease and hate. A decision to view another person as capable of making mistakes and in need of as much mercy as you or I. In other words, decisions to move out from under the shadows and into the sun.
It’s any wonder, too, that someone would choose punishment over forgiveness. Punishment denotes a jurisdiction of authority over a particular offense, or a perceived power over another person. No amount of accolades or credentials gives anyone enough vindication to punish someone else for any action. What might be justice in your eyes might be torture in another pair. We as humans cannot even agree on forms of punishment, debating whether the death penalty or 5 years in jail is suitable for a count of child molestation. So, is it safe to say that punishment is in itself a subjective decree?
Another matter of subjectivity—subject to personal opinion—is determining what warrants forgiveness.
Every decision you make ultimately boils down to how the result will make you feel. You prefer one feeling over another, so you act to achieve the desired feeling. You don’t want to lose something, so you decide to protect it. You don’t want to go somewhere, so you decide to stay. Every decision is a decision made for your benefit.
So the decision to forgive someone is completely up to you and what feels better. But not everyone recognizes what might feel better. Before we delve into this conundrum, let’s look at what forgiveness isn’t.
What Forgiveness Is Not
We’re all guilty of it. Of making mistakes. Of alienating others. Of chastising the ‘wicked’… We’re all guilty of writing the terms of forgiveness. (Terms on which we seldom agree.)
We’ve perpetuated an image of forgiveness that is completely false. And we’ve deemed ourselves the authority to decide under what circumstances clemency will be granted. We think it a kind action toward an enemy or a person who’s wronged us. Sure, it’s a kind gesture, indeed. But toward a wrong-doer? Who says what’s right and wrong?
Forgiveness isn’t about redemption, justification, or any kind of retribution. It shouldn’t be used to garner a sense of power over a weaker person—to make anyone cower down at your feet and beg your pardon. Truth is, one need not even have to understand why the person in question did what they did. Any rationale or excuse would be an effort to convince you that they deserve forgiveness, and that’s not your call. Forgiveness also shouldn’t be viewed as an effort to change or make up for the past. And it certainly doesn’t mean rehashing the sins of the world into perpetuity in order for absolution to take hold.
Some good news? Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you have to hang out with those you forgive! Who you choose to surround yourself with is your decision as well. Once you forgive, there is no obligation to form any new attachments to the acquitted. No lunch date needs to be planned. No meeting of the parents, or weekend trip away together is necessary! What a relief.
Where does this news leave us exactly?
What Forgiveness Is
Forgiveness is the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution, as defined by Wikipedia. We may feel a need to forgive as a result of feeling betrayed, physically injured, emotionally hurt, criticized, angry or vengeful. It’s easy to feel these emotions. They spring on us as if without our permission. But these are all emotions self-inflicted. We allowed them in and gave them a place to stay. Which is why a feeling of betrayal can ultimately feel really comforting because we’ve settled in a fictitious power play by withholding our love and attention from another. (However, more accurately, the mere fact that we’ve been unable to forgive means we continue to give them our power and attention–whether they know it or not.)
This game of ‘weak vs. strong’ keeps you stuck in victimhood where you’re without any power; your strength being derived from someone’s confession and remorse. Suppose even that’s not enough to rid you of bitterness, then where are you? Hopeless.
Why do that to yourself?
Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. The releasing of pain, physical and emotional. The effects of forgiveness not only improve your health, stress-levels, countenance, physical, psychological and spiritual well-being, but it will improve relationships and attract more gracious people into your life.
This all might sound selfish to you. You might conclude it very selfish to forgive. And I’d agree with you. But consider the alternative. Grudges held for years are the causes of war. Pent-up bitterness can cause ulcers, weight-gain, energy depletion and stress. Fortunately, there are benefits for the forgiver and the forgiven, creating a win-win situation. There’s an allowing of wellness for a person previously convicted. There’s a releasing of further contempt. There’s accepting we’re human and capable of mistakes. Forgiveness is a state of mind, a freeing of blame and resentment. Once we are free of such consuming emotions, joy is free to flourish within us. We’re given a chance to start anew.
Choosing not to forgive someone is a form of darkness, in that it keeps you from clarity and peace. Once you forgive, you feel a lightness become you, you see with new eyes, you feel brand new. You’ve been washed clean, and all along you thought you were seeking to wash someone else clean of all your judgments and grievances toward them. Well, both are the result of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the single most powerful movement we could incite in our lifetimes and the most transformative. It is testament to unconditional love, and a demonstration of grace. It is a vow of peace and a treaty of hope. It strips us down to our most innocent, humble selves. It reconstructs prior judgments into compassion. It confesses a love for ourselves and others. And it doesn’t require altering another person to become someone you find agreeable again. The act of forgiving isn’t about the other person. It is always about you, and will remain an issue to be worked out inside. Forgiving another, forgiving yourself, forgiving God, forgiving destiny…all takes place in your mind. It’s a lesson in changing our perspectives, changing our minds, changing ourselves.
This should feel empowering! Knowing your emotions are within your control and no one else’s. Knowing no one is capable of doing anything to you that you didn’t allow them to—because what anyone did to ‘hurt you’ was subject to your interpretation of her/his actions in the end. Can you be sure of anyone’s intentions? By you requiring an apology or recompense to move forward is allowing the situation and the person to control you instead of you controlling your life and your move forward.
Oftentimes, just knowing what forgiveness means is enough to change someone’s life into a more loving, albeit powerful, forgiving vessel. A few of us might need more time to process this concept of forgiveness because we let someone negatively influence our lives for too long and find it hard to dislodge the acrimony.
Below is a meditation that will help us find that place of peace found in forgiveness.
Meditation on Forgiveness
Get to a place of solitude and silence. Be mindful of your breath, in and out. Sit for 5 minutes setting the intention to release animosity and pride. Envision the person (or entity) you struggle with forgiving. Now, begin the process:
- With your eyes gazing upon this individual, just as you know s/he to be, allow your feelings about this individual to fill you.
- Recognize and honor those feelings as they are your internal alarm system.
- Aloud, tell this individual how s/he hurt you and how it made you feel. Run down the list of grievances. Be brutally honest—this is for you to come clean.
- As you reveal hurt after hurt, release each one, allowing it to float away—detaching from this individual completely.
- With an exhale, let go of each emotion that entered your body and mind when thinking of this individual.
- As it exits, thank that feeling/emotion for serving you.
- Thank the individual for whatever s/he did to you to hurt you that might have brought new growth or opportunity to your life (even if it’s just that his betrayal made you come to know your worth as a person, or her abuse made you stronger physically). Place a smile on your face.
- Tell the individual you forgive her/him—with a deep breath in and out.
- Tell the individual you release her/him from all bitterness and anger, knowing what he might have done to you was only his cry for love and attention.
- Now, place upon this individual a cloud of white, brilliant, cleansing light.
- While the individual is enveloped in white light, remember the good memories you have of her/him, and get in that state of reflection.
- Like puzzle pieces, place these new memories all over this individual, so it covers her/him. Quantity is of no concern. If you have just one piece to offer up, make sure it’s a big enough piece to cover the body entirely.
- Take a look at this individual, now covered in your smiles, laughter, tears of joy and images of fond memories, still basking in white light.
- Tell the individual you love her/him.
- Breathe five (5) full, slow, delicate, enjoyable breaths in and out, expanding this feeling of love and completion.
- Visualize this individual being absorbed into the white light, until the light is all you see.
- Take a deep breathe in, inhaling this white, cleansing light, letting it fill you with a bountiful glow.
- Seal this process with a closing phrase such as, “And it is done.”
- Smile, and slowly open your eyes.
- Repeat this process until being around this person is a peaceful experience, one in which you tie no label of ‘evil-doer’ around their neck.
After this process, you should see them with clearer, compassionate eyes, no longer keeping them stuck in old, irrelevant judgments. What comes next is up to you. Forgiving them in-person isn’t integral to the process, but optional, because you’ve already done the necessary work to move forward. If the person is still alive, what we can trust is that if it’s a relationship in your best interest, your love and forgiveness will attract them back to you in a more wholesome, enlightening way. However, you must stay in this place of love or you’ll fall back into playing victim. And, like attracts like.
Once you live a life of forgiveness, you’ll start to notice you forgive before someone even has a chance to do you ‘harm’. In hindsight, you’ll realize their apologies were never factors in your deciding whether to forgive—it was always your compassion. Needing an apology was only your attempt at feeling better, when feeling better was within your control all along.
Who do you still desire to forgive? Leave us a comment and let us know your plan to forgive! And for more support and encouragement on forgiveness and peace, sign up for the newsletter below and follow us on Twitter.