Live your best life …
I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that most people have some issues around forgiveness. This is hardly surprising because human beings are psychologically programmed to protect themselves against being hurt. A transgression which is interpreted as a threat to survival, be it physical or emotional, will evoke a defensive reaction. The transgression may be minor (in the scheme of things) but if it is PERCEIVED as a threat to a belief system or a way of being, then the reaction is expressed as defensiveness. The incident is then stored away in our memory. Consequently, any situation which bears even a slight resemblance to the original upset will activate the fear and the resentment stored in this memory.
For example, my eldest daughter was a difficult baby who cried a lot (especially in the middle of the night).I got very little sleep for the first few weeks. As a result, I judged myself as ‘not coping’, especially with difficult children. My competence was severely challenged. I ‘should have’ been able to cope! During my teaching career, there were a couple of incidences concerning the difficult behaviour of students which tapped into that memory and belief ‘that I do not cope well with difficult children’ and caused anxiety and illness. Even now, many years later, hearing a young baby crying still makes me cringe!
Many writers dealing with metaphysics and spiritual development will advise people to address issues of forgiveness. ” Whom do you need to forgive? Do you need to forgive yourself ?” are questions that are presented for investigation. It would appear that forgiveness is a beneficial thing to do.
What are the benefits of forgiveness? A story from, The Song of the Bird, by Anthony de Mello, gives an insight into the way judgement and self-righteous indignation are used in defence of beliefs thus creating the fertile ground for the lack of forgiveness.
The Monk and the Woman
Two Buddhist monks on the way to the monastery, found an exceedingly beautiful woman at the river bank. Like them, she wanted to cross the river, but the water was too high. So one of them took her across on his shoulders.
The other was thoroughly scandalised. For two hours he scolded the offender for his breach of the Rule: Had he forgotten he was a monk? How had he dared to touch the woman? And worse, carry her over the river? And what would people say? had he not disgraced their holy religion? And so on.
The victim took it gamely. At the end of the lecture he said, ” Brother, I dropped that woman at the river. Are you carrying her still? “
Forgiveness then, is the cessation of the feelings of resentment or outrage based on judgement.
Easier said than done, you might say, and I would agree with you whole heartedly. But why is this so difficult?
Alexander Lloyd and Ben Johnson have developed a healing regime described in their book, The Healing Code. One of the first issues addressed is forgiveness. They explain why most of us ‘hang on’ to our grievances. Lloyd and Johnson say that some of these grievances are stored in the body as ‘cellular memories’ and for the most part are tucked away in the unconscious mind. The job of these memories is to act as early warning devices to help keep hurtful things from happening again. Logic would dictate that cellular memories acting as early warning systems should be really useful. No one wants to be hurt continually. But it appears not. Lloyd and Johnson claim that serious health problems are ALWAYS related to an un-forgiveness issue.
The reason some people are not prepared to forgive has to do with the idea that justice needs to be done. It feels unjust to release a perpetrator from his/her crimes. Therefore, for people seeking justice, the act of forgiveness feels more like heaping insult onto injury.
This is a misunderstanding of the nature of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is best explained as enlightened self interest, claim Lloyd and Johnson. It releases ME from the perpetrator. As long as I refuse to forgive him/her, I am tied to him/her and the longer the process continues, the closer I get to being dragged over a cliff with him/her!
Marianne Williamson talks about the ego which she describes as the ‘great fault finder’. It seeks out faults in ourselves and others and then acts as judge and jury. The sentence passed is often one of condemnation.
Marianne says that people who make us angry are difficult to forgive. Why? Because they show us the limits in our capacity for forgiveness or they show us the parts of ourselves we have judged ‘less than, and that makes us very uncomfortable. It can be hard to let go of a perception of someone’s guilt when by every standard of ethics, morality or integrity, you are right to find fault with them.
According to Marianne, forgiveness is like the martial arts of consciousness. The idea is to side step the attacker’s force rather than resisting it. The energy of the attack then boomerangs back in the direction of the attacker. The power lies in being non reactive. When we attack back, and defence is a form of attack, we continue a war no one can win.
The choice to love is not easy. The ego puts up concerted resistance to giving up fear laden reactions. It feels like the right thing to do, to protect ourselves. Marianne Williams observes that when we are hurt, ” someone else’s closed heart has tempted us to close our own”, especially if we have judged ourselves as ‘not enough’ in the process. The shift in thinking, Marianne says, is the willingness to keep our heart open regardless of what’s going on outside us. That’s what people in a state of whole-ness are able to do and it is something to aspire to.
It would seem that forgiveness ceases to be an issue when we give up judging the behaviour of others (and yet we are so good at this!) If humanity would give up judging on the grounds of race or belief then there would be no grounds for war (look at the Middle East at the moment). Working on forgiveness issues is certainly challenging. It can be done; starting with ourselves in the first instance. We need to find those places where we are critical of ourselves and find the compassion needed to heal those judgements. It is almost impossible to ‘hate’ an aspect of yourself and yet have compassion for it when seen in another. In fact, what is more likely to happen is that people with the trait/aspect you ‘hate’ will appear in your life so you can learn to have compassion for yourself. It’s known as the mirror principle.
Practising forgiveness is a call for the development of a different mind set. Imagine having a bunch of balloons tied to your wrist. Everywhere you go you must take the balloons with you. Each balloon represents a painful memory. It does not take much imagination to realise that these balloons would be a nuisance in no time flat. Yet that’s what we do with our painful memories; drag them around with us. Imagine untying the balloons one by one and watching them float off into the heavens. You have released those feelings and created more space in your life. There is no drag left from those balloons any more.
Are you willing to change your mind about how forgiveness works? It will be a challenge for me and if enough of us do it, the benefits will be felt in all our relationships.
Be kind to yourself