When we focus on sorry and forgiveness as simply words expressed, we are somewhat misled into believing that the act of forgiveness can only happen in a physical and literal sense. We must say sorry out loud, someone must say sorry to us (preferably with witness) and we must announce the acceptance or non-acceptance of an apology through an act of forgiveness, commonly in the form of a hand shake. Emphasis is placed on the physical act of apology and forgiveness. Our widely accepted and expected practise of forgiveness suggests that we cannot forgive a person who has done wrong unless they first apologize for their wrong. But what if they never apologize? How long must we wait? Do we spend our entire lives full of anger and resent, believing that we cannot free ourselves from such heaviness unless the person (who hurt us so badly in the first place) actually does say “sorry” What if the cause of our anger and resent isn’t even a person, but a thing, a place, an institution, a government, an event or a situation. How does it say sorry? What if sorry appears in the form of an action instead of a word and we totally miss it because we were expecting a word? What if sorry arrives as a more complex emotional cue beckoning us, likened to espressivo in a musical context, where musicians must closely watch and feel the intent of the composer in order to intuitively express that feeling through their music?
Forgiveness is the action or process that releases a feeling of anger or resent towards (someone) for an offence, flaw, or mistake. I wonder if the someone in this definition may be the reason why so many of us rarely consider the need to forgive the things that cannot say sorry. For example; the storm, the loss, the injustice, the prejudice, the bad timing and so many other things in life that make us angry and resentful because they are the things in life that we label as unfair. Also, this definition of forgiveness involves another person, someone other than self. More often we need to actually forgive ourselves for our flaws and our errors in order to truly be free. It’s not hard to see that forgiveness is much more than just a verbal tennis match between I’m sorry and you’re forgiven. It is actually a process of letting go, releasing and freeing ourselves from a feeling of anger and resent. Forgiveness can and should take place without the presence of an ‘external’ sorry. It is not something owned and controlled by another person who did wrong. Forgiveness is a virtue available to us all.
In my experience as a holistic health practitioner I have found that the topic of forgiveness always brings up the greatest amount of emotion. People’s views regarding forgiveness are so diverse and so intense, that it can quickly divide a group of otherwise like-minded humans. The thing about forgiveness is that we confuse it with justice. I have asked myself many times, how did this misconception about forgiveness become such a deep-seated belief within so many of us? More importantly, how do we change this belief in order to model to our children that forgiveness is actually the act of letting go of emotional baggage such as; anger, resentment, revenge and disappointment. Feelings that only make us bitter and sick the longer we hold onto them. There is an expression in the metaphysical context that goes something like this; don’t bother asking someone what is wrong with you, you may as well ask who is wrong with you?’ (The Wisdom of Florens Shovel Shinn) This connection between holding onto emotional pain which then shows up as physical discomfort, physical pain and dis-ease, has been made over and over again, yet we still hold onto things that keep us locked in the past or worse still, make us really sick. Why do we do that? Could it really be due to a belief that forgiveness should make things right again and in right, what we really mean is fair.
Our focus should be on owning the act of forgiveness as a tool, a path, a method and our right to release and let go of emotional pain. We cannot expect forgiveness to magically emerge through some sort of righteous and entitled life that we have imagined, waiting for fairness to be made visible through external expressions of heartfelt apologies for all our suffering. To say this is delusional is an understatement at best. This sort of fantasy does more harm than good, waiting for the grand fairytale apology that will release the chains of anger and resent and allow us to finally live happily ever after.
Forgiveness should be embedded within our daily rituals through really being able to forgive ourselves for our human flaws and errors. The act of forgiveness should always belong to the individual because it is an action by the individual and can only live within the individual. No amount of forgiveness will ever make things fair but it will make us free.
Learning to forgive through mind and body techniques such as meditation and tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) takes us away from all the physical expectations we have about forgiveness and empowers us to really be able to let go of harmful emotional attachment. It doesn’t excuse the wrongs or make them right, it doesn’t make things fair and it isn’t about allowing the person who did the wrong to be free of consequence. Forgiveness without an external apology releases the toxic feeling of anger and resent and it frees us up to experience more LOVE.
I do have to mention though, if you’ve worked out a way to forgive in your life, please don’t shout it out as though it is the easiest thing to do. Forgiveness is not a public competition, it is personal and for some of us it is a very private journey. We have no right telling others that they must forgive when we have no idea what they have experienced. If I have learned anything while working with so many people over the years, it’s that no matter how hard you think your life has been and no matter how many challenges you have overcome and wrongs you have forgiven, there is always someone who has experienced more. Respect that. When you truly know the value of forgiveness you will simply be it and in being it you will light the path for others to begin their journey of forgiveness, however that journey should ‘be’ for them.
Dear Adult, JTLYK about Forgiveness,
I forgave you the moment I met you. I had to, for my own inner peace. You are human after all and it was not your fault you were doing so many things wrong through your fear-driven human habits. I noticed a lot of the human things you did because they were so obvious to me at that time. You had been human much longer. I was in a different place. I wasn’t quite human yet. That’s all.
You had learned and experienced all the unfairness and harshness of being human. I arrived as a complete being; body, mind and soul. I was full of intent, unconditional LOVE and compassion. Forgiveness came naturally to me because I was still able to see and honour the complete being within you.
Making a mistake, hurting somebody or being disrespectful can happen to anyone. Saying sorry is an action and the right thing to do when this happens. Being sorry is a feeling, for children it’s mostly a sad feeling because we are sad that we hurt someone or sad that we made a mistake. Showing that we are sorry is like providing evidence that we really were sorry by making sure that we don’t do it again. It all sounds pretty simple in this very physical and human form, but even when we follow all the steps and do all the right things on the outside, the damage has still been done on the inside. The focus on words instead of feelings is hard for children to fully understand and it separates us from our early emotional instinct to simply know what feels good and everything else that doesn’t.
So as I got older I too distanced my human self from my complete, intuitive self and I became more human like you. I learned forgiveness in the form of a human act of saying sorry and expecting to be forgiven because I said sorry. I noticed that sometimes I could say sorry even without really being sorry. It made me wonder if people were saying sorry to me even when they were not really being sorry on the inside. I often forgave a lot of things and people that I didn’t really want to forgive. Things that were unfair, things that hurt my feelings, things that made me angry inside. I learned that if someone said sorry, I should forgive them and then everything would be okay again. But it wasn’t. The feelings were bigger than words and so the words were not enough to really be sorry or to really forgive.
I noticed that hiding feelings inside of us is a human speciality, as long as you stick to showing the right feelings on the outside. You can hide a lot of things on the inside but eventually the inside shows up on the outside. For children, the inside usually shows up on the outside when we are not children any more. By then we have forgotten what we actually hid on the inside and so when it shows up on the outside we don’t even know what it’s about. If we don’t know what it’s about then it is really difficult to make things better.
Being a child is really our time to practise being a person, being human and eventually being an adult. Childhood is short and it’s not really necessary for adults to be telling us how to be children. No offence, but when an adult tells a child how to be a child, it’s like telling an astronaut how to be an astronaut when you are not an astronaut. Instead of assuming the job of telling children how to be children, adults are more suited to the position of showing children how to be good adults, since they are already adults themselves.
As for forgiveness, it really is quite simple when you recognize that the act of forgiveness is more about feelings than words.
When I LOVE, value and respect myself enough to let go of feelings that harm me I will choose FORGIVENESS.
When I LOVE, value and respect myself enough to know when it’s time to move on I will choose FORGIVENESS.
When I LOVE, value and respect others enough to give them another chance to show that they LOVE, value and respect me, I will choose FORGIVENESS.
When I know that by forgiving I am letting go and in letting go I am free, I will choose FORGIVENESS.
Forgiveness is so easy for young children. I just wish the adults could show us that we can choose FORGIVENESS when we are adults too.