If you’ve had a chance to check out our Instagram, Twitter or the meditation challenge page, you know that this month, we'll be focused completely on the act of forgiveness. So with this blog post, I wanted to share with you my personal journey through the land of forgiveness.
When I was younger, my entire outlook on life was built around Old Testament justice. I believed in doing the right thing and I also believed that God would take care of “my enemies” who would one day be a footstool for my pedicured tootsies (Ps. 110:1). So I waited and waited because I wanted to be in the front row, snacking on popcorn, enjoying the groveling of those who'd wronged me while choosing whether to grant them the clemency they so desperately wanted from me. Yeah, to say I was in for a rude awakening would be the understatement of the century.
Despite coming to the full understanding that those who did me wrong are not obligated to drop dead on the spot (hell, they’re not even obligated to acknowledge their actions), I still wanted some kind of tangible vindication for my pain. I mean, how else can I release the person from my headlock of guilt if they don’t emotionally and very publicly say “Uncle”? I felt I needed this in order to let go. But what I didn’t understand was that my unwillingness to let go was tying me forever to the life of the very person I deemed “my enemy.” I also needed to ask myself how this person and their past action was still a part of my story. If I’d cut them off, why was the pain still there? And who was I mentally (and sometimes verbally) sparring with about the situation?
MAKING PEACE WITH MYSELF
This is where forgiveness started for me. Through meditation and nonjudgmental observation of my thoughts, I began to realize that I needed to forgive myself and release whatever I’d internalized. For example, I’d been hurt years back and - despite my relentless grudge against the person who’d hurt me - the real truth was that I’d blamed myself. My deeper consciousness was overly critical, saying things like “You LET that happen” or “You were so stupid.” Repeatedly saying these things to myself at a subconscious level, caused my conscious self to speak out in defense. And the more I defended, the more I was arguing with a ghost. Reliving the past, on loop. Demonizing a person (who no longer existed) and their transgression (that was no longer happening) so much so that they now lived on in infamy in my mind, committing this “crime" against me over and over and over again.
The day that I truly forgave my younger self, telling her that I understood and loved her, was the day I released my own spirit from the “headlock of guilt” I’d so incorrectly imagined the other person (the one who'd hurt me) had been in. My younger self became stronger. She became freer. And I was finally able to let go of the pain WE were in. But here’s the thing… I had to really understand and love her because lying to my subconscious self wasn’t an option. And so through meditation, I spoke directly to her, thanked her for doing her best at the time, and am happy to say, we’re doing quite well these days thank you very much.
As for the person who’d hurt me in the original situation, as I said earlier, they no longer exist. This might sound harsh, but what I’m saying is that they’ve changed and are (hopefully) now a better person. I know I'm not the same person I was when the situation happened and to assume that the world has stayed still since that day would be ridiculous and depressing. Thankfully for me, that person ceased to be a part of my life and so I can only wonder what’s happened to them. But in situations where I’ve had no choice but to continue to be in a person’s presence, I’ve been forced to utilize another key component of forgiveness...
We’re all doing our best with what we have. All of us. Even those who are out here doing some terrible stuff. And to forgive a person, means you have to come to terms with their actions. And in order to come to terms with their actions, you must first understand them. (Don’t have to agree with them, don’t even have to like them… just gotta understand.)
In my life, this was key. For years, I’d heard ‘forgive those who have hurt you, so you can have peace’ or ‘forgiveness is not for them… it’s for you.’ And while these words make it all sound flowery and easy, if you don’t know HOW to truly forgive someone, then how in the world can you do it and then proceed to reap the benefits? You can’t… that’s how. Forgiving someone is not simply uttering the phrase “I forgive you” through gritted teeth while peacefully holding your hands together and calmly walking off into the abyss.
Forgiveness is NOT a performance.
Okay, story time… I used to work with a woman who was very annoying. (I’ve worked with a lot of annoying people in life so anyone reading this post who personally knows me will not be able to narrow it down.) This lady was rude, meddlesome AND she was my immediate supervisor. Every day that I had to see this person (and it was every single day because this woman never missed a day of work), I knew I was going to be targeted, bullied and irritated. It didn’t take long, however, before I saw that this person was dealing with some serious insecurities. (Spoiler Alert: everyone who bullies and mistreats others is doing so from a place of existential lacking.) Anyway, when I saw the details of what she thought of herself - her need to put others down in order to have any semblance of self esteem - I realized that she was just a struggling-ass person, doing the best that she could… just like me and every other human being on this planet. I was just lucky enough to not feel the need to go around treating people badly because my self esteem was in a better place than hers. I could look my fellow coworkers in the eye and feel strong in my sense of self. I didn’t take pleasure in anyone’s pain or humiliation because it had absolutely no bearing on what I thought of myself. She, on the other hand, didn’t feel she had that luxury. Her sense of self relied fully on other people to the point that she couldn’t function without creating a miserable work environment that reflected the darkness that lied within her soul. Now if that ain’t sad… I don’t know what is.
Did coming to the realization that this poor woman was creating her own hell - because that’s what allowed her to live with herself - make me feel any better about having to work with her? No. But it made her less of a threat because I didn’t internalize anything she said or did. And, to be honest, it even fueled my ambitions to work my way up and out of that particular job. This, for me, was forgiveness. It'd took the form of quiet, compassion. I didn’t spend my time focusing on changing her or accepting an apology that she was never going to give in the first place. The focus was on understanding her so that the ongoing psychological threat she presented was neutralized. In other words, her actions and words didn’t control my emotions. In other, OTHER words… I’d made peace with myself, with her and with the situation.
MAKING PEACE WITH THE OTHER PERSON
One of the things that irks me more than anything about how we as a society view forgiveness is how much we make it about the act of publicly excusing the other person while telling ourselves and others that it’s NOT about the other person at all. Press conferences are held where victims courageously announce that they’ve chosen to forgive the most egregious of crimes barely seconds after the crime has been committed. It becomes a spectacle. Loud. Instant. As if the transgression was no longer a crime but instead an unfortunate but necessary sacrifice for the victim to reveal their ascent to sainthood.
For these situations, I always wonder why the focus is on forgiveness of the transgressor and not on the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of the person who has been hurt. It makes me cringe when - immediately after some horrible crime has happened - what should be a natural grieving process seems to be trampled beneath the obligatory forgiveness parade. I often wonder if the person has been given the proper amount of respect, care and space to repair their spirit.
I think that in order to forgive someone, it’s important to neutralize them as a threat. I mean, you can’t exactly make peace with a lion while it’s ripping you to shreds. It’s also important to - as mentioned - repair yourself. To use the lion analogy again, you can’t make peace with a lion while you’re losing consciousness from bleeding out. Call me crazy but it just makes sense that you would need to possess a bit of grace for yourself before you can proceed to extend it to others. If forgiveness is recognizing another person’s humanity, how can this be done if we’re not in sound mind?
Not saying we should withhold forgiveness, just saying do a quick body scan to make sure you’re okay first.
I was lucky that my aforementioned cantankerous manager never got the chance to fire me. I’m sure that had she decided to do that, I would’ve been very upset and it would’ve taken me a bit of time to recover before I could travel down the road of forgiveness. However, if she’d have done that I would have had two options…
I could go on for the rest of my life being fired by her over and over and over again in my mind or I could move on and remember her as a person from my past who was a catalyst for some new job, lesson or journey that I wouldn’t otherwise have experienced. In one scenario, she’s a major part of my consciousness forever and in the other, she’s a very minor character in the awesome and spectacular story that is MY life.
For me, when I say the words “I forgive you” to someone, what I’m really saying is “I have no emotional ties to the part you played in this situation anymore.” Doesn’t mean the situation is no longer relevant. Doesn’t mean that I don’t hold the person accountable for what they did. Doesn’t even mean I can’t be angry sometimes. It just means that I’ve made peace with the person's existence. I can see them and hold them accountable for their present actions, as opposed to something they did in the past that I cannot ever change. No one wants to walk around being defined by their worst moments - I know I don’t want to be - and so giving another human BEing the chance to BE a better human (even in our imaginations), is a wonderful gift. It’s not always pretty. It’s not always easy. But that’s life. And, for me, that is forgiveness.
Enjoy your April and feel free to share your journeys and stories of forgiveness on Instagram, Twitter and in the comments below!