by Leatrice Evanne Asher
Many religions and spiritual paths strongly advocate forgiveness. And it is often recommended by self-help practitioners. The merits of being able to forgive are considerable, especially when we see how self-destructive the inability to forgive can be. But, as with promoting positive thinking, the attempt to forgive may arise from the belief that it is the “right thing to do.” Then one forgives not out of a core understanding, but merely out of a sense of obligation. If we are just being obedient to an idea of morally correct behavior we may be missing an opportunity to deepen into “self” knowledge. If, however, we place the principles that are being espoused alongside the experiences that have shaped us to our own thinking and knowing, we then have the opportunity to determine if those beliefs are actually in accord with that which we have come to regard as Truth. Simply accepting what someone else has determined is “correct” or preferable behavior can keep us as children to a “higher” authority, whether that “authority” is a religion or an individual. Certainly, we can take inspiration and learning from other opinions or beliefs; hopefully, we will do so without surrendering our own reasoning faculty.
The desire to untangle our “ancient twisted karma,” as Buddhists would say, is understandable, but can we transcend our unforgiving nature simply through uttering words of forgiveness? Perhaps we are hoping such a gesture will “let us off the hook”—if not with God or our karmic destiny, at least with our fellow humans. Or perhaps we want to ally ourselves with what we consider to be a “spiritual” response. Even a half-hearted gesture of forgiveness can be a good thing if that intention can act as a catalyst to bring about an actual state of forgiveness. However, if we speak the words and have not in some measure become them we have not by that gesture initiated any movement beyond our usual state of mind.
Oftentimes, it’s pain that drives us to want to forgive—pain of feeling fractured from our fellow humans . . . or from ourselves, or pain that accompanies feelings of guilt, confusion or anger when we reject others for real or imagined wrongs against us. But forgiveness doesn’t mean that we don’t have feelings of anger, sadness and such when encountering behavior that we perceive to be thoughtless or judgmental. Those emotional responses may be perfectly justified; further, they can inform us about the deeper regions of our being so we shouldn’t deny or judge them. But no one wants to feel out of sorts by losing themselves in an emotional state. We can bring ourselves back to equanimity by viewing emotional arisings from a larger perspective. This is where whatever precipitated those feelings of discontent can be examined. This willingness to look at the totality of the event and what is being asked of us, what we might ask of ourselves, can reconcile our perturbations. Our readiness to be present for full disclosure, even when difficult to do so, can also lead to forgiveness—forgiving another or one’s self—because when the right connections are made forgiveness will be there as well. When we are able to bring ourselves back from events that disturb us we will often also experience a feeling of well-being. This is the direct result of our ability to “stay the course” and should be acknowledged as such.
When we choose to perceive an event in its totality our viewing field expands so that we have an opportunity to perceive information beyond our particular conditioning. We can’t disregard that conditioning that so deeply shapes us; we can only transform it through knowledge, knowledge of the self and the higher order of things. We are so entrenched in misconceptions about the entity we refer to as “I” that it often takes lifetimes to start to slough off all those accumulated untruths that keep us moored in these bodies; this world. But as we gather information that resonates with what we have come to perceive as truth, that body of data is stored in our Noetic atmosphere and becomes our touchstone, our authority. This larger, deeper knowledge base is cultivated from our reasoning mind, from our direct experiences and from partaking of the wisdom that has been passed down from others. This, then, becomes a harbor, a place where we can go whenever uncertainties arise and be nourished at the most fundamental level of our being. This inexhaustible wellspring is where all those conditioned responses that dislodge us from equanimity can be transformed. This is momentous — to have information that our own sound reasoning affirms is reliable and which can bring Light to our confusion and despair! When we act from this expansive view of the whole, rather than from the usual prevailing influences that determine our behavior, we become forgiveness, as we become truth.
Forgiveness, however, doesn’t mean that we need to have further contact with the person we are forgiving. When we “let go” from a place of understanding, rather than duty, our decisions then come from a self-governing place, not from the influence of external affairs. Respecting our boundaries—what we want and expect from others—is healthy. It might be useful to consider that if you are consistently vibrating at a different frequency from someone you thought was traveling the same road, it might be the best you can do, for both of you, to let go. Don’t let go of your love and caring. Let go of attachment.
Much of our discontent is due to wanting life to be a certain way. The difficulty that often occurs in relationships is that we want something from someone that isn’t forthcoming. There is a difference between there still being an opening to communicate and grow as you work through your differences; and no longer being able to do this. If you have tried to communicate these differences and there hasn’t been an opening for change, for the kind of relationship you envision, then you have a decision to make — to continue or to move on. Relationships will fall away when no longer viable for growth but we often don’t recognize this natural falling away of things because of our tendency to tenaciously hang on to other people. We usually do this out of fear— fear of aloneness, loneliness; fear of not wanting to face ourselves.
Sometimes we are encouraged to forgive ourselves for some transgression. If this is the case, you might ask yourself whether or not you have arrived at a true resolution of that transgression—and whether your desire to forgive yourself is an authentic expression of the desire for resolution, or a way to avoid feeling pain. If you are feeling extreme shame or guilt about something that occurred in your past, remember that you were probably of a different mind at the time of that occurrence. Ask yourself if your values have changed since then. Also ask yourself if, knowing what you know now, you would repeat that action? If your answer is “No,” in all likelihood you have learned from that event to the extent that you probably could never even contemplate repeating that action. This recognition should bring you some relief, and self-forgiveness as well. Thus, we don’t deny any aspect of our past. We acknowledge and take responsibility for our thoughts and actions while recognizing that we are an ever-changing entity. The river is ever flowing, as we should also be.
We are so conditioned to act from morality when we haven’t yet become those values. Forgiveness isn’t something we can practice, work on. It is the outgrowth from understanding, not just saying the words because that is what one is supposed to do or utter them in hopes that it will lead to a forgiving outcome. Learning, and the growth that is that learning, comes from welcoming our rough edges, not from the safety of controlled conduct. Thus, forgiving is not something we have to try to do, try to be. When we resonate with the truth of our self, forgiveness, finally, is what we will be.