Forgiveness is something we all like to think we can easily practice, yet many times struggle with in the course of our lives. No matter how trivial or astronomical of a problem, we tend to hold onto our judgements, anger and even hatred.
Why is that, when most of us think of ourselves as loving and easy going individuals?
We have a hard time with forgiveness because our mind gets in the way. The hypothalamus, an ancient part of our brain that’s programmed for survival kicks in when it feels it’s being attacked. It doesn’t know the difference between a physical attack or mental attack. All it knows is “this is wrong” and it will do everything to stop it. They hypothalamus is not programmed for us to be happy, at peace or thrive. It’s meant to help us survive. That’s it!
Forgiveness comes from below the brain, the heart. When we turn off the part of our mind that over analyzes why we are right, or plans an attack, or finds more reasons to feel sorry for ourselves we have a chance to experience
Forgiveness takes an understanding that we forgive, not by condoning one’s actions, but by letting go of the pain, the past, the story attached to it. We forgive so we can move on. Without forgiveness there is no way we truly let go of the event, and in essence we relive the pain over and over again, through our anger, justification and hurt. Through forgiveness we can finally move on from the pain that brought us there. We are freed. In essence we forgive for us, not for the person that committed the “wrong doing.” We can only be freed from forgiveness if we truly forgive, rather than simply saying “ I forgive you.” and hope the pain will go away. Many of us go through the motions but don’t have any heart in
what we’re doing. The magic only happens when we truly let go.
Letting go comes from an understanding that no matter how painful of a situation, no matter how wrong it seems the person who acted “unjustly” was acting from a place where he or she was trying to meet a critical need of his or hers and had no knowledge of how to accomplish this in any other way. Perhaps that was the only way they knew how to get the job done.
You see, everything we do, every action we take is to meet one of our basic human needs. The higher the need is to us the stronger our actions will be to fulfill them. Another way to let go and come to forgiveness is to see yourself in this person, and similar actions you might’ve done. Everything and everyone in our life is a mirror. We can’t see something in someone if it’s not true in ourselves. This is true with constructive and destructive behavior as well. Perhaps we haven’t committed the behavior in the extremity you experienced, but if it’s in our lives, if we see it in others than we have it to.
For example, take a child who’s being abused by her parent. Chances are she doesn’t go around beating her parent back, but she might go to school and bully a classmate or act out in class. She has similar behavior to her parent.
Eva Mozes Kor, an Auschwitz survivor, one who was subject to Dr. Mengela’s inhumane experiments was one of the first known woman to openly forgive her persecutors. She explained there’s no other way to live than to forgive. Holding onto anger and judgement poisons the body and weakens the soul. She never condoned they’re actions and even went onto building a holocaust museum. She taught, in the most eloquent, harmonious way what the power of forgiveness can do.
Immaculée Ilibagiza, a Ruwandan holocaust survivor wrote a book entitled Left To Tell where she talks about the horrors of the holocaust and how she came to forgive the killers of her family and village. She explained that by not forgiving she was no different than the killers of her family. A devout catholic, she turned to her prayers for answers and in it she realized the only way toward God and peace was through forgiveness.
I too had a chance to practice forgiveness in my life. Although not as dramatic, I had a hard time forgiving my father, who almost killed me several times in my life and later my abusive husband. I was able to forgive them by coming to an understanding that everyone that comes into our lives, no matter how briefly, as an angel and is there to help us with something; whether it’s to understand a difficult concept or to experience something our soul perhaps wanted to experience. The more I realized this, the easier the process was for me to forgive.
With the New Year just behind us, there is still a lot of built up anger, fear and grief over family conflicts, the stress of debt accumulation and the anxiety of finding a way to make this year better than the last. It’s an end but also a new beginning and with that an opportunity to let go of some long built up anger and pain.
I have a saying.
“To Every End Despite How Tragic Is The Light To A Beautiful Beginning”
I think of 9/11 as a great example of how the country, even the world seemed to come together. The tragedy was monumental, but seeing the kindness of strangers from around the world come to together with support made me focus on that, rather than the horror of that day. It was in this way I was able to let go of my anger and fear from terrorist acts by changing my focus. If we can forgive and let go of anger from the most vicious killers than perhaps we can begin to forgive our family, friends, clients and partners.
A great exercise in bringing forgiveness closer to you is to write a letter to the person. You don’t ever have to send it, but write down all your thoughts, all your hurt and then begin to write why you’re forgiving this person, how he or she is your angel and why you are thankful for the situation.
In closing forgiveness is a process. For most of us it doesn’t happen overnight and that’s ok. But if you really want to forgive by finding the blessings, the angel behind the demon and theunderstanding you are ready to be freed of the story, the easier and quicker forgiveness will happen.