It has been a tricky challenge writing this post as I go through the process myself. I am finding it difficult to keep focus on letting go and what it is I need to release exactly. It’s somehow easier to hold onto the ‘perception’ of someone being evil to me and wanting to cause me harm in the fall out of a relationship, when in actual fact by me holding onto these feelings I am only doing harm to myself.
Quite the contradiction, as the person I am focusing on likely has no idea of the experience I am putting myself through. I’m really focusing on the lessons given and on placing gratitude towards the experience I had, what enabled me to expand in awareness, and set me back on the path towards what I want my life to be, and the type of people (and energy) I want surrounding me.
In the tremendous book, ‘Forgiveness and other acts of love’ from Stephanie Dowrick, she has blended research from eastern and western myths and psychology. I really appreciate and align to the way it’s been written. If I could regurgitate it all without being pulled up for plagiarism I would. Plus it offers useful ways to apply to your own life using relevant examples and stories from traditional and modern folklore – making it easy to digest and understand, both in theory and practice.
I want to float some of the contents of the chapter by you, and see what you think in regards to your own journey of forgiveness. Can you connect back with the issue, person or situation you want to release this month? See if what I explain below feels relevant to you, each paragraph will introduce another concept. So it’s not necessarily written to flow but more capture the points made.
Forgiveness and other acts of love
It opens with the concept that forgiveness is ‘felt’ rather than being a thing we can hold or account for. It’s a bodily feeling and hard to rationalise or define as a ‘thing’. Often when the presence of forgiveness is felt there is a weight in or on us, however once released you’ll experience feeling lighter (and for me, liberated). Does this make sense to you? Can you connect with that feeling within you? Both before and after you’ve held onto or released forgiveness? When we’re holding onto the tension there is muscular discomfort, sleeplessness, you’re vulnerable to illness, your face clenches onto frowns and I find that I lose touch with my senses. All this lifts when released and you begin to taste, see, hear and feel again, movement comes more freely, and suddenly the world can be renewed or brighter for you, perhaps there is opportunity all around. You’ll become accessible and available to friends, family and others, you’ll also be available to yourself and willing to think more broadly, feel more experiences and be less anxious. Are you resonating with this feeling rather than forgiveness being a ‘thing’?
I also like that forgiveness is also something that can be given, but not always received. Forgiveness doesn’t have a home outside of you. You may not even experience it when you have been forgiven, but will feel it when you’ve been able to give it.
One of the key contributions to her chapter on Forgiveness is the work of Roberto Assagioli, who is known as the founder of a practice called ‘psychosynthesis’. I connected strongly with his belief, ‘what we pay attention to reverberates in our lives’. That holding onto anger, resentment, judgment, fear of another person or situation and being unwilling to let go or forgive self and others is only doing ourselves harm. If we continue to hold onto this we will attract more of it in our lives. And so the problem perpetuates itself. Consider this when you look at all the areas of your life you need to release, consider what you can attract in terms of more positivity rather than holding onto bad feelings and carrying it forward in other areas of your life.
Dowrick makes it very clear that the act of forgiveness is also in no way attributed to condoning behaviour. She quotes Dawna Markova, ‘forgiveness in no way justifies the actions that you caused your wounding, nor does it mean you have to seek out those that harmed you. It is simply a movement to release and ease your heart of the pain and hatred that binds it. It is the harvested fruit of a season of darkness, followed by a season of growth, and very hard work.’ This means that the person doing the forgiving is no weak, making excuses or lax, rather that they are acknowledging two important things:
– They are capable of learning from their suffering.
– They are willing to acknowledge that all people involved are no less or no more deserving of love than the other.
The rational mind will want to defend the last statement especially, but trust me sit with the process and you’ll find that forgiveness is the path to freedom from suffering. This links to the quoted image above from Ghandi, ‘the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong’. I whole-heartedly believe it does take strength to forgive, to let the resentment pass, yet not approve of the behaviour, rather learn from it and prevent it happening again. This is powerful in situations of immense pain and extreme circumstances like murder of a loved one, child abuse and breaking of trust in relationships right through to other wounding that affects us.
Forgiveness is a process each of us must endure in our lives, it is part of what makes us whole and human. To both give forgiveness and accept forgiveness. None of us are perfect and we don’t come into this life with an entitlement over others, we’re equal and some are just more blessed than others given circumstances and events that happen to us. Dowrick captures the human aspect of forgiveness beautifully, ‘at the heart of so many of our dilemmas is an inability to forgive life itself for not giving us what we believe we deserve.’ Accepting our own suffering – from illness, disability or depression – whatever form it takes is an act of forgiveness, from life, from ourselves and of others. If you consider someone you know who has gone through this process or even of yourself, there is a ripple of relief that passes over their bodies when they accept and forgive the situation. It’s those that can’t or won’t that seem tense, stuck and often full of rage. Clarissa Pinkola Estes wraps it up with her statement, ‘it’s important to remember that ‘final’ forgiveness is not surrender. It’s a conscious decision to cease to harbour resentment.’ It can be difficult, involves stepping back, and trusting that the breadth of your vision will shift and expand and your feelings can be left in the past.
These are some of the points of the chapter, and there are many more, but I wanted to capture five of the ones that resonated with me, and hopefully with you as well. Before I leave this book, I want to also acknowledge that forgiveness is the final chapter. Prior are five others, in what Stephanie describes as the ‘six greatest qualities of humankind’. The other five are courage, fidelity, restraint, generosity and tolerance. See if you can connect with these if you’re interested in the writings above I highly recommend getting a copy of the book.
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Some other great readings on the connection of forgiveness that I have experiences (and are mostly connected with gratitude) are ‘Man’s search for meaning’ by Viktor Frankl, ‘Radical Gratitude’ by Andrew Bienkowski & Mary Akers, and ‘Letting go of the person you used to be’ by Lama Surya Das. Let me know any other references you’ve found useful on the topic.
Experiment a little…
I always find it’s easier to release when you focus on the positive and have gratitude towards the contribution a person made towards your life. If they broke your heart, they were able to build it up at one point. If they did wrong by you, they also bought you a lesson in trust for self and others.
See if you can have a go at focusing on having gratitude towards the person or situation that you’re working on to forgive this month. See if that can shift you away from the harm you’re currently focusing on.