Journey to Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a state of consciousness. We cultivate forgiveness when we forgive ourselves and others. We all know that we are supposed to forgive, and we may even be willing, but we cannot forgive until we are ready. Forgiveness is a process that takes time and often happens over months and years, not over days or weeks. Learning to forgive requires that we see and dissolve the blocks to forgiveness in our hearts and minds. There is always a payback for not forgiving others or ourselves. We need to see what they payback is and to realize that it is holding us back from healing and taking back our power.
Opposite States of Consciousness: Blaming, Shaming, Retaliating, or Holding a Grudge/Grievance against others. Not forgiving others means living as a victim and giving our power away. It prevents us from healing. Feeling guilt for our words/actions and blaming/shaming ourselves is also a major block to our healing. Punishing ourselves does not help us learn from our mistakes and bring correction. It just keeps our wounds alive.
Forgiveness is one of the most important teachings and practices on our spiritual path. Without forgiveness things that are broken stay broken. Trust is destroyed. Revenge, retaliation and guilt carry the day.
Without forgiveness there can be no correction or redemption. Wounds fester and healing is not possible.
Human beings can live without forgiveness only in a mistake free world, in world without attack or punishment, in a world where one brother or sister cannot or does not trespass against another.
Such a world exists only in Heaven or Paradise, in the Garden before the Fall. As soon as a single mistake or trespass occurs in Paradise the fall from Grace is automatic. It just happens, usually unconsciously.
On the other hand, when there is a fall, there is also an atonement, a rebirth, a resurrection. But that is not automatic. It is a conscious process that requires learning from our mistakes, correcting them, and forgiving our trespasses.
In the Lord’s prayer given to us by Jesus, we ask God to forgive our trespasses and we affirm our willingness to forgive the trespasses of others. By forgiving ourselves and others, our lifeline to the divine is restored. Redemption is possible for ourselves and others. Guilt is dissolved and grace restored.
Jesus gave us the Lord’s prayer for a reason. He knew that we, like our ancestors Adam and Eve, were going to make mistakes. Fear would rise up and we would strike out against our brother. Cain would slay Able. Wounds and the fear and shame attached to them would proliferate. We would attack each other, sometimes mercilessly.
To forgive each other, we do not have to forget what happened. As Elie Wiesel and others have pointed out, remembering what happened helps us avoid repeating it. But remembering does not have to mean keeping the wound alive or seeking to avenge it, because that bitterness destroys all the joy in our lives. We must forgive, not just to release others from hell, but also to release ourselves.
Bishop Tutu understood the importance of both remembering and forgiving in helping to create the Truth Commission in South Africa. Those who had been brutalized and oppressed were given the opportunity to confront their oppressors, to bear witness to their pain, to speak their truth and have their voices be heard. The guilt of the victimizers was exposed without equivocation or apology. But the guilty were not executed or beaten. They were forced to come to terms with the pain and suffering they had caused so that they could ask for and receive forgiveness, so that seeds of racism could be plucked out of their hearts and minds, one person at a time.
Turning the other cheek does not mean that you forget. It does not mean that you back down and remain a victim. On the contrary. It requires that you find your voice, that you learn to stand up for yourself and be seen and heard. All this is necessary. As I have said many times, there is no forgiveness without correction.
Correction prepares the ground so that the seeds of forgiveness can be sown. When our errors are seen, when we learn from our mistakes, then forgiveness can take root. Otherwise, forgiveness is shallow or insincere.
Being sorry is not enough. It is only a first step. It must lead to a change in consciousness and behavior. You must find the root of racism and hatred within your heart and mind. False beliefs must be exposed and uprooted. Lies must be confronted and truth must proclaimed, from the gutter and from the rooftop.
Change will not happen in the world until it happens within our hearts and minds. Until peace comes to your heart and mine, swords will not be turned into plowshares.
The Truth about Forgiveness
The truth is that you cannot make yourself forgive. Forgiveness cannot happen by force. You can forgive only when you are willing and when you are ready.
So we all must be honest with ourselves. Sometimes we are simply not willing to forgive and any attempt to forgive will be a sham. It will be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. So let us refrain from that charade. Let us be with the awareness that we are not willing and investigate why that is. What fear or shame in us is feeding our desire for revenge or our nursing of a grievance?
If we are willing to look at our own shadow material, we may see how there is a pay-off for remaining a victim. If I am convinced that you are the cause of my pain or unhappiness, then I can hold you hostage and I don’t have to take responsibility for my own healing. It may take a while of spinning my wheels and going around and round the rosy before I realize that I cannot heal or regain my joy until I am willing to take you off the hook.
And even once I am willing, forgiveness may not happen quickly or easily. It may take time and continued awareness. When I realize that I am not ready to climb the mountain of forgiveness, I have to start by taking baby steps. Then I can step forward and make my peace with the journey. Forgiveness happens at its own pace, as I am ready, as false beliefs fall away and my heart opens. I cannot rush the process.
When I become impatient with the process, I fall back. I lose the trail and it takes even longer to find it again.
Forgiveness may be my goal, and it is a worthy goal, but it is a process as well. And the process is as important as the goal. Indeed, without the process, the goal cannot be reached.
I may want to forgive. I may be willing. But there may be blocks to forgiveness that I have to see and overcome before genuine forgiveness can happen.
In that sense, we are all on the path to forgiveness. We are not there yet. There is always another step beyond the one we have taken. We need to be at peace with the process to reach the goal.
Forgiving Others and Forgiving Ourselves
Forgiving others and forgiving ourselves are two sides of the same coin. If I am unable to forgive you, then it is not possible for me to forgive myself. The more I blame you, the more I condemn myself and bring shame on my inner child. So I must understand that forgiving you is the doorway to forgiving myself.
On the other hand, it may be easier for me to forgive you than it is for me to forgive myself. I may continue to feel shame and guilt for my words and actions even when you have forgiven me. Holding onto my shame and punishing myself may be easier for me than learning my lessons and changing my behavior. I must ask, “if I have not forgiven myself, have I really forgiven you, or have I just suppressed my anger at you so I don’t have to confront you?”
If I am not honest with you about my anger, if I don’t stand up for myself or my feelings, then my fear and timidity encourage you to encroach again. This can be a vicious cycle.
in order for me to heal and step into my power forgiveness must flow both ways. Forgiveness is not genuine or deep unless and until I take both of us off the hook.
Today be honest with yourself. See where you are willing to forgive yourself and others and where you are not. Don’t hide behind the ideal of forgiveness and then beat yourself up because you cannot reach it. Don’t try to eat the whole steak. Bite off a piece you can chew.
Today understand the forgiveness is a process that usually takes weeks, months, even years. You cannot force yourself to forgive or rush the process. You have to take one step at a time.
Tell the truth to yourself and acknowledge when you are not ready to forgive. Seeing where you can’t forgive gives you a roadmap. It shows you the next step on the journey. Be patient and take that step when you are ready.
Today stand up for yourself and tell your truth when others are trespassing against you. Telling them is important and does not have to involve blame or retaliation. If you are afraid to stand up for yourself, be aware that you are complicit in the trespass because you allow yourself to be victimized. That becomes your lesson.
When you stand up, you stop being a victim. You help others take responsibility for their aggressive actions and you make it less likely that they will attack you again.
Today, be aware when you are feeling guilty and beating yourself up for something you said or did. Don’t wallow in guilt. It isn’t helpful to you or anyone else. Confess your guilt and move on. Atone. Learn your lessons. Make amends or restitution. Holding onto your guilt prevents healing from happening for you and encourages others to keep you on the hook. That retards their healing as well. It is a no-win situation.
Today, apologize, learn from your mistake and then take yourself off the hook. Practice self-forgiveness, knowing that forgiving yourself and forgiving others are two sides of the same coin.
What is the most difficult thing for me to forgive myself for? What am I having difficulty forgiving others for?
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