Forgive, even if you can’t forget.
Language is really an amazing thing, isn’t it?
‘Forgiveness’ is just one word, but it can stir up a plethora of thoughts and feelings when we consider putting it to constructive use. We’re oft reminded to ‘turn the other cheek,’ but can even the most righteous amongst us honestly say we’re prepared to do so when we feel really hurt or betrayed?
With over 14 years working as a professional helper/healer (chiropractor and life coach) and another 30+ years amassing personal experience in the school of hard knocks, I look upon forgiveness as one of the most important tools in my belt. So, when I sat down to write my chapter for The Thought That Changed My Life Forever with a sincere intention to provide inspiration that could actually change somebody’s life (even forever), I knew the theme had to be centered around my favourite ‘F’ word.
For some, the concept of forgiveness conjures up a scary notion of surrendering to something or someone else—which can further ignite feelings of insecurity, hopelessness or vulnerability. For others, the word forgiveness is analogous to compassion, love and acceptance—which in turn can lead to some of the most profound experiences we will ever know as human beings. For me, forgiveness epitomizes the concept of ‘letting go.’ How can the same word lead to such a diversity of emotions? As with most things, it’s all a matter of perspective. But, if you want to experience one and not the other, what do you do?
For convenience, I will focus on my own interpretation: in simplest terms, when we let go of something, we open ourselves to the possibility of experiencing something different. So, it makes sense to me when I feel emotions like anger or resentment—but I’d prefer to feel something more positive—I need to turn my attention to something different. Sounds simple, right? I know! But if you need more than just simplicity to motivate you, listen to the Buddha’s wise words:
Holding onto anger is like holding onto a hot coal with the intention of throwing at someone else; it is only you who gets burned.
Holding onto anger…holding on…not letting go.
When we blame somebody else for having ‘wronged’ us, we are essentially placing the responsibility for our feelings outside the locus of our own control. We are giving away our personal power to someone else. And, when we hold onto hurt feelings, it doesn’t satisfy any of our wishes for retribution; the only person who suffers is you–only you. If instead, we embraced the power of choice, we could choose to release those feelings of anger, and focus on feelings associated with something completely different.
My favourite technique in turning the anger into personal freedom is telling myself a different story about the event. What if instead of feeling angry, bringing into my present moment the same thoughts and feelings I had during the offensive experience (feeling hurt, betrayed, angry, etc.), I chose to feel compassion for the lost soul, telling myself that the offensive person had no idea how much damage he/she was doing in the first place? What if I told myself he/she didn’t know how to act differently? Could I commit to living in my present moment without replaying the painful memories of my past? If I can, then I can also experience the freedom associated with leaving the pain where it belongs: in my past.
If I never deserved to suffer in the first place (thus the anger), why do I deserve to suffer now? Unfortunately, I must accept my own wrongdoing (ie. deciding to replay the hurtful event in my mind over and over) and set myself free. Insert here: forgiving me for holding onto the painful feelings long after the event was over. But what about the other person? Aren’t I letting him/her get away with atrocious acts of violence, betrayal, etc.? This is where faith in something greater than the human experience comes in: if you believe in karma (ie. there will always be consequences for your actions—good or bad), then you know the other person will, at some point, suffer the consequences of his/her actions. It’s not up to you to serve as judge or jury. It’s up to you to commit to the act of forgiveness, even if you cannot forget.
If you can, I guarantee you will experience a sense of freedom—a freedom that can never be embraced without having truly forgiven.
If you’d like to read more about my personal experience with forgiveness and the art of letting go, read Chapter 9 in The Thought That Changed My Life Forever. May it inspire you to do the same.
Dr. Christian Guenette