Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Forgiveness

forgiveness haiku

To err is human, to forgive, divine. Alexander Pope

People who hold bitterness towards those who have wronged them are hurting no-one but themselves. Someone clinging to self-righteous anger, for example, isn’t harming the person towards whom that anger is directed. The rage is contained within the person who won’t forgive (it isn’t can’t – forgiveness can be incredibly difficult but it’s always an option); those toxic emotions are circulating in the body and psyche of the injured party.

It’s the wounded/fragile ego that won’t forgive; it distorts your perceptions, making you think that holding on to a grudge is somehow beneficial for you. It isn’t – it victimises you. Forgiveness frees you from victimisation and reconnects you with your essence. It’s as simple as changing your mind – which isn’t to say that it’s easy.

Some people’s behaviour is inexcusable – but you are in charge of your response to that person’s actions, no matter how appalling they are. I’d hazard a guess that anyone who sets out to deliberately harm someone else has to be suffering inside, either through unhappiness or even mental illness. If you’re at peace within yourself then you feel no need to lash out at another person.

Can you forgive someone for being despairing, or ill? Or does holding a grudge make you feel better?

Forgiveness fosters resilience. It’s easier to bounce back if you haven’t been punctured by wounds that you received from what amount to scared, sad, unhappy or poorly people.

Are you empowered enough to rise above another’s failings? Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest role models for forgiveness I can think of; through forgiveness, he was able to develop compassion towards his oppressors. This made it possible for him to rid his country of the evil of apartheid and bring democracy to all South Africans.

In the words of the distinguished gentleman himself:

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison… Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

It is vital, too, to forgive yourself for the mistakes you make. Are we hard on others, because we deem ourselves unforgivable? Condemning others is more often than not a projection of the judgement we feel we deserve. It stands to reason, then, that if we can forgive a wrongdoer it will be easier to forgive ourselves; tolerating shortcomings in others makes it easier to tolerate them in ourselves.

It comes back to David Richo’s five ‘givens’ of existence – this is how life is so it’s in your interest to let go of resentment and anger when things don’t go your way, or when people don’t behave how you would like them to. The choice is yours.

One way to practice forgiveness is to write a list of the names of people who you feel have wronged you. (If it’s a long list then it might be an idea to select a few people at a time, starting with the least destructive transgressors) Beside each name, write in as much detail as you can what they did, describing how it made you feel. Don’t let your ego stand in the way of your expression – if someone really hurt you, fully sense that vulnerability.

Once you have vented all of your feelings, take your list outside and set light to it, saying as you do so, ‘I release all of the pain you have ever caused me; I am no longer willing to be held captive by your heartless behaviour’ (or feel free to devise your own statement, using whatever language helps you to let that s*&% go!).

Then it’s time to absolve yourself, this time listing the names of those you feel you have mistreated, apologising and asking for their forgiveness. When you burn this list, say words to the effect of, ‘I forgive myself for any sorrow/trouble I caused’.

You can repeat the exercise as many times as it takes for you to be able to wholeheartedly forgive.

Is it possible that embodying forgiveness can transform our world? Gordon B. Hinckley seems to think so:

The willingness to forgive is a sign of spiritual and emotional maturity. It is one of the great virtues to which we all should aspire. Imagine a world filled with individuals willing both to apologise and to accept an apology. Is there any problem that could not be solved among people who possessed the humility and largeness of spirit and soul to do either – or both – when needed?

Gandhi said that the weak struggle to forgive, that forgiveness is a trait of the strong. What’s your preference?

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