“The past is over…Forgiveness means giving all hope of a better past.” Jack Kornfield
There are so very many thoughts out in the world about the concept of Forgiveness. Many of our influences come from religion. All religions talk about forgiveness in some way, but the concepts can be in conflict-or let’s say human interpretation can be in conflict.
So when you read the following and think about forgiveness, think about what has influenced your thoughts and decisions about forgiveness. Were you brought up to think “turn the other cheek?” Or were you brought up to believe that some things were literally “unforgivable?”
In Buddhism there is a practice called Tonglen. I’ve been practicing Tonglen for about 3 _ years. It is one method to work towards forgiveness. This practice always starts with the self. You work with forgiving yourself first, and then expand forgiveness to the people in your life. Don’t start with the whole world, that’s too difficult. (If you want further resource on the practice of Tonglen, I highly recommend Pema Chodren’s Tonglen, the Path to Transformation.)
What is the reasoning behind practicing forgiveness? Well without forgiveness we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders and we suffer. Hanging on to the hurt and the pain literally puts a drain on our bodies. Our bodies have to work extra hard to maintain the wall that builds up when we can’t or won’t forgive.
In the book, “The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindenss and Peace, Jack Kornfield relates this anecdote:
Consider the dialogue between two former prisoners of war:
“Have you forgiven your captors yet?”
“Well, then, they still have you in prison, don’t they?”
Forgiveness gets confused with Forgetting. And I’m not talking about that. Forgiveness does not mean being a door mat. It does not mean that you let someone hurt you over and over again. It means that you work toward letting go of continued suffering. You work towards understanding that the person who hurt you was coming from their own place of suffering that caused him or her to make the choices they did. From their suffering they made choices that hurt you. Understanding this concept, doesn’t make hurting people okay. This is why we don’t necessarily bring certain people back into our lives. We understand that their choices will hurt us and we don’t allow ourselves to be hurt. But it does mean that I can let go of the pain one has caused and begin to work towards healing my own suffering.
This process can take absolute years. I have been working with forgiving my mother over a lengthy situation that happened when I was a girl. I’ve done many hours of body work, therapy, meditation and Tonglen. Recently I had a break through and for the first time I was really able to come from my heart and realize her suffering. It didn’t mean I thought how she handled things was wonderful, but it did mean that I no longer had to carry the suffering I felt. It did mean that I was able to integrate that she was doing the best she could, even though I might have done it different.
I feel so much lighter now, it’s truly incredible.
Ultimately this forgiveness work is about finding peace within ourselves. If you refuse to forgive, how can you let go? And if you refuse to let go, how can you find peace? And if we all carry hurt in our hearts as a badge of honor, then how can we move towards forgiveness?
We have to feel, suffer, breathe and finally, finally…let go.