Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What I Know of Forgiveness

Within with my loving-kindness work, I have and continue to endeavor to understand the notion of forgiveness. As a child I learned “forgive and forget” and it was easy enough to say the words of forgiveness, but I could never let go of the hurt in my heart. I felt that I failed in being a good person. I was also taught to “turn the other cheek.” I tried to live by those principles, but found myself taken advantage of, over and over. My heart was bruised and untrusting.
Years ago, I went to a workshop where I brought up how I felt foolish for letting people hurt me over and over again, citing the forgive and forget motto. My teacher looked at me, confused, and said, “Why would you forget? You don’t forget. You’d be foolish to forget.” It was a life altering moment for me. No one had ever said that to me before.

This post is not the answer to forgiveness as if there is only one answer, only one way, only one path. There are many paths and many ways and not all of them will work for you. This is the one that is working for me. This is my path to forgiveness. I share it in case any of my words can be of help to anyone else, in the way that it was to me.
I had it all wrong, thinking we were meant to “forgive and forget.” We are made to forgive, because people make mistakes, because we make mistakes. We are not meant to forget, or else how will we hold the person accountable when they repeat their hurtful behaviors?
I repeat, if we forget, how will we hold the person accountable if they repeat their hurtful behaviors? That makes sense. Then why forgive?
We don’t forgive someone because we’ve been taught it’s the right thing to do. We don’t forgive someone because other people are pressuring us to. An empty gesture is an empty gesture.
When we forgive someone, it is not about them. It is about us. We forgive them because we are ready to let go of the hurt in us. We forgive when our hearts need us to, when the hurt we hold onto hurts us. It doesn’t excuse the other person for their behavior. We don’t even have to tell them we’ve forgiven them. Because it’s about us.
If we wait for an apology before we release that pain, we anchor ourselves in it. What if the other party is never ready to apologize?

For me, apologies are not about solidifying who is right or who is wrong. At least, they shouldn’t be. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I am a huge fan of agreeing to disagree.
So if it’s not about someone being right, what is it about? Needing an apology is about needing the other person to acknowledge that they hurt you. Delivering an apology is about acknowledging that, whether intended or not, something you said or did hurt someone you care about.
If I offer an apology, I mean that I genuinely feel bad that I hurt someone and I acknowledge that the behavior was not appropriate for my relationship with that person, and I make a promise not to repeat it. At the same time I ask the other person to hold me responsible in case I do by pointing it out to me when I do it. Re-patterning doesn’t happen overnight.
When someone apologizes to me, I make sure I explain to them what it means to me. I offer them time to think about it and come back to me. I have learned my own worth and no longer say “It’s all right,” in an effort to make the person who hurt me feel better. The apology isn’t enough. Their actions afterwards matter more than their words.

Moving Forward
The last time I had to confront someone about how they hurt me (again), he offhandedly apologized so that we could “move on”… I told him that if he apologized to me, it was an agreement that he would never treat me that way again, that by apologizing he was acknowledging that his behavior was bad for our relationship.
I threw him off by not just saying “It’s all right,” like I had every other time. But it offered us a real moment of connection. I don’t know if he’ll follow through on his end and I have no control over that. But I feel like, for the first time, I have laid the groundwork for not accepting that behavior from him again.
Forgiveness will happen when I am ready to give it. I have forgiven the dead for hurts done to me, without regretting that they were not still alive to hear it. I have also made apologies to the dead, without condemning myself for not being able to put it into words sooner.
I have forgiven people I hope to never see again, because the trust they broke can never be repaired. And yet, for the actions they took, I have found a way to forgive them for the pain they caused, in order to free myself from the feeling of being victim, to take any power they held over me back for myself. No amount of hate can undo the past, but I do not have to live in it.

If you forgive someone, it doesn’t mean you have to trust them again. And just because someone apologizes, it doesn’t mean you have to forgive them. If you are still sitting in your hurt and your heart has not softened towards them, it’s not time yet. Forgiveness will happen when you are ready to give it. Just remember that our hearts are not meant to stay hard forever. 

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