Forgiveness: The Other F-Word
"If you have been wronged, the sacred generosity and benevolence of forgiveness is primarily a gift for you from you. It is a kindness that you offer to your self and your inner space--your mind, your body, your heart, your soul. It is stewarding over your energy stores and deciding, when it is time, to make optimal use of them by freeing yourself from activities that are depleting your energy but no longer serving you. Some wrongs simply cannot be made right. Some will never make good sense. Forgiveness is not making it right. Forgiveness is not making it make sense. It is not making it disappear or giving an offender a pass to get off scot-free."
I think it is worthwhile to offer some clarifying, unschooling and word-reclaiming work here, around what we understand to be the idea and act of forgiveness. I observe that just as I once did, some of y'all appear to have it all kinds of twisted. It actually took me being found stuck in the dark trenches of fatigue and misery behind undiagnosed chronic "PTSD raging" and grief cycling after having been horribly betrayed by people in my innermost circle (more on that in a little bit) to come in mindful journeying to the epiphany of forgiveness' true meaning: inner release and personal liberation. It is not at all about an offending person's deserving or underserving. It's actually not about the offending person. Period. It is taking back your valuable mental, emotional and physical space. It is restoring real choice and agency over self as the one who has been offended. It is a powerful, hugely misunderstood, desperately needed subtle inward action that first uplifts the bearer of the injury and then consequently elevates all with whom that individual comes in contact--because it is just that powerful. Holding on to the negative feelings that are associated with an undesirable experience will do nothing to make the experience itself go away. I repeat. Decidedly holding on to malice (ill intent). does. nothing. to. change. increase. or. better. you. or your life. in any way. Incidentally, feeling, holding on to feelings and processing experiences can be three completely separate things.
One Plants The Seed
Before my own personal forgiveness revelation and realization, I can recall viewing news coverage of the families of the nine people who were killed in the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina church shooting and pausing in amazement at them beginning their public statements with passion-filled words: "I forgive you."
"Already?" I remember asking myself, "how in the world?" ... "Are they being made to do this by someone behind the scenes?"
I couldn't make sense of how loved ones of the nine deceased, seemingly less than 48 hours after receiving this awful news, could come to utter such a sacred, generous and benevolent phrase. Even so, a large enough part of me believed the fervor in the words. There seemed to be present in them a complicated mixture of power, exhaustion, sincerity, needfulness, grief, bite and strength. Personally, I was still seething at the audacity and sheer evil incarnate--this hate-full, misguided boy who came in and sat among the believers in an evening Bible study as a friend, and then turned and opened heartless life-ending fire on them as a foe. I did believe in high roads in 2015. I do so even more now, in 2017. Yet, as I was watching and listening two years ago, I hadn't yet known the depth and kinds of offenses and injuries that make certain the call for and needfulness of inner release--forgiveness--as part of personal healing.
One Waters The Seed
One victim's family member said, and this makes so much more sense to me now: "I forgive you. Will all my might, I forgive you."
"With all [her] might," she'd said, she forgave. Two years ago, I wondered at the connotations associated with doing a thing "with all [one's] might." I envisioned lifting, throwing, pulling, squeezing, pushing--moving or changing the position of something from one place to another. In my bearing witness to the way these people were handling their unimaginable grief, the seed of a new understanding of the idea of forgiveness had just been planted within me. In lingering with it all, fledging roots began to pop out into the soil of my heart and mind. I remember sharing my thoughts on Facebook in a July 19, 2015 post:
Inside my own being, I could sense how utterly consuming the terrible sheer knowing must have been--the senseless murder (1) and the sudden void (2) where a dear loved one used to be. The emotional work of processing either of those would be plenty to deal with. It was reasonable to me then that for those family members, if forgiving meant freeing up space to simply grieve and newly adjust to live now, then yes, I could see it. With all possible might, forgive.
The Universe Provides Divine Opportunity for Increase
Fast forward a little more than a year, and I'm the one who's standing front and center to feel and process an acutely intense cocktail of all-consuming and terrible emotions behind what turned out to be a series of traumatic experiences. I learned of layers of betrayals and was hit hard by profound sudden losses. I was entirely engulfed for a time in hurt, disappointment, grief, fear, longing, shame, anger, disbelief, rage and sadness. At the height of the unreleased negativity:
"I wanted to exchange pain for pain; blood for blood; brokenness for brokenness. I knew it could never match what I was experiencing, but I wanted it. And the wanting grew and grew. Bigger and stronger, until I no longer had any room for fear of consequences. My own life, my children's lives, other children's or mothers' or fathers' lives. Nothing mattered anymore than the misery that suffocated me in my sleep, the first feeling upon waking, the heavy cloud that darkened each day, all day, every day. Entirely all-consuming. I wanted vengeance. It seemed the absolutely only way to relieve myself." (Excerpt from Broken Open, book in progress by Yolonda Jones)
I absolutely did NOT want to hear anyone speak a word to me, for quite some time--many months, to be more exact--about forgiveness. It might've even gotten a few people cursed out in those first raw weeks. I didn't have a good practical understanding of the concept of inner releasing at the time. I was resistant because some part of me thought it--forgiveness--meant that I was giving a wildly undeserved gift to the people who hurt me. It felt to me like if I forgave (in the sense that I then understood) then I'd be saying, "Free passes for all. Let's behave as if it never happened. I am not devastated. You who have wronged me now have my blessing to move on with your lives. It is finished. It is done." I had it all so very wrong. And I couldn't hear or remember that little "true meaning of forgiveness" seedling--the one that had been planted back in 2015--until I could finally hear and remember. Does that make sense? Truth is unchanging and always there, however, we are all at different respective journey-places in proximity to engaging with it, moving at different paces away from, around and toward. This is the dance of our entire existence. We come to truths (or come back to truths) with openness and readiness to receive when it is time in our journey to do so and not before. And even when it is time, I've learned that hearing and remembering--specifically here as it relates to the needfulness and liberating power of forgiveness--usually happens in phases and stages.
Bit by Bit, Personal Freedom in Every Inch
Forgiveness happens in phases. Even after big chucks of misery, heaviness or anguish are inwardly released, we will undoubtedly find as we continue journeying that triggers great and small will bring more to be released to the surface. I personally believe that this is all for our souls' steady development and progression.
If you have been wronged in any way, the sacred generosity and benevolence of forgiveness is primarily a gift for you from you. It is a kindness that you offer to your self and your inner space--your mind, your body, your heart, your soul. It is stewarding over your energy stores and deciding, when it is time, to make optimal use of them by freeing yourself from activities that are depleting your energy but no longer serving you. Some wrongs simply cannot be made right. Some will never make good sense. Forgiveness is not making it right. Forgiveness is not making it make sense. It is not making it disappear or giving an offender a pass to get off scot-free. Again and in fact, it has little to nothing to do with your offender(s) at all. It is mostly about what is happening inside you. You will likely never forget and there is certainly yet work left to be done--both for you and for those who have done the wrong. You might do some parts of this work together. Alternatively, you might never encounter the offender again in this life. Generally speaking, most of the healing labor, will be done individually--each of you on your own, with your respective supports and guides, starting from whatever is your respective current journey-places.
Forgiveness is understanding that while you've sustained specific and sometimes immeasurable hurt, you will never truly be able to precisely recreate the same experience for the individual who harmed you. You may be able to come pretty close, but you'll never match it exactly at all points. And though "pretty close" may seem like plenty to satisfy some parts of you, it isn't ever truly enough. You will never retaliate your way to evenness or complete satisfaction. You can never make them feel exactly what you are feeling in exactly the same way you're feeling or once felt it simply because they are not you. Inner places where you were open, tender and lush (before you were damaged) are likely to be places where they are already damaged, closed, hardened and dry. Impact to those same areas in the both of you will not likely be experienced in exactly the same way. Trying to make it so will be futile and exhausting labor--no matter how passively you do it. Clinching down on either the expectation to have fully returned to you what probably cannot be repaid, or on the commitment to try and personally avenge a wrong that has been done to you generally makes things worse for you (as well for as those closest to you and truly for the world at large) not better. It's miserable. There's no real peace in that. People hurt others out of their own hurts and deficits. Go back in their story far enough and you'll find what made whatever they did to you or to hugely impact you (if it wasn't a direct attack on you) possible. You'll find what caused them to inwardly close, harden or dry up.
Tactfully Addressing Wrongdoings Directly With the Offender(s) May or May Not be Needful
Eckhart Tolle, the author of one of my favorite books offers this:
"[As an ongoing practice] instead of going in to unconscious reaction and negativity, such as attack, defense or withdrawal... [imagine] let[ting] [hurt] pass through you [as if your body has become transparent]. Offer no resistance. It is as if there is nobody there to get hurt anymore. That is forgiveness. In this way, you become invulnerable [invincible]. You can still tell [an individual] that [their] behavior is unacceptable, if that is what you choose to do. But that person no longer has the power to control your inner state. You are then in your own power--not in someone else's." (The Power of Now, 1999)
Again, forgiveness is not the thing where you extend your hands outward and over to someone else to give them a special gift. It is a reaching in towards YOU action that YOU do as a sacred gift to YOU--when you come to the time in your journey. Forgiveness does not mean you're granting permission of some kind for the person or people who wronged you to move on with their lives, never having to answer for their actions. Furthermore, there may actually be times when going to the wrongdoer(s) and listing out the offenses and their impact(s) could be helpful to each of your clarity and processes. The key is to watch over the self and do this task from a truly grounded and not self-interested place--here too, when it is time, if indeed the time ever comes. Regardless of whether or not you participate in any such exchange(s), many sacred books speak to the standing universal law of sowing and reaping, things going around and coming back around. It may seem at first to be the case, but no one ever goes without paying in one way or another. What you are personally doing in releasing, in forgiving, is letting go of the white-knuckled, tense-lipped grip (however many times you must let go) on the cancerous energy ball of misery that is malice/evil intent--in thought, in word and in deeds. This allows for uninterrupted energy flow in, through and around you, which offers incredible support to your total health as well as it just makes the world a better and not even worse off place.
You will know when it is time.
Here are some tools that helped reorientate me to the idea of forgiveness in my own personal healing process:
(Note: These links are NOT sponsored. These resources simply helped me tremendously, so I'm offering them in hopes of the same for you.)
What emotional debts are you holding others accountable to that can never entirely be repaid? Do you feel better or worse for it?