When someone asks 'what is
forgiveness?' (or you ask yourself that question) you can easily end up
Defining forgiveness seems like looking out at the clear night
sky and trying to count the stars. It seems like an enormous task. We know that
forgiveness is very important, but we don't really know what it is, and so we
feel that we don't know how to forgive.
We DO know how to forgive, of
course, and forgiving ISN'T complicated at all, but many times it sure seems
both complicated, undesirable and very hard to do. All of which it isn't.
Looking at life in the simple light of love, unity, and inner peace versus
fear, separation and conflict is a powerful personal development technique. I
recommend using it whenever something seems difficult or complicated. In that
Forgiveness is the movement from a belief in and an experience
of fear, separation and conflict to the truth of (and an experience of) love,
unity, and inner peace.
Forgiveness is giving up illusion and accepting
reality - not just any reality, but absolute reality.
Forgiveness is letting go of hurts and grudges from the past as well as
letting go of the fear of tomorrow. When you forgive you become present in the
now instead of living in the past or the future. When you forgive you move your
focus from your ego and the ego of others to your true self (your heart, your
core, your soul) and the true self of others (their heart, their core, their
Thus, forgiveness is simply allowing. Forgiveness is allowing
yourself, others and life to be the way you and they are.
is a form of letting go and coming Home.
Our Cultural Heritage Confuses Us
Why are we so very confused when it comes
to forgiveness? The answer lies in our cultural upbringing. The thing is most of
us have grown up in a culture that has got most of the important things in life
turned upside down. For instance:
- Using a sentence from a famous
TV-show we think 'The truth is out there' ... when really the truth is 'in here'
(inside ourselves, in our hearts, in our souls).
- When something goes
wrong we think it's about appointing guilt, blame and punishment, when really
it's just about putting things right for everyone involved.
- We think
that being 'right' and 'good' (and thus making others be 'wrong' and 'evil') is
important, when really 'right' + 'good' and 'wrong' + 'evil' is socially,
individually, culturally and in every other way relative (as well as the basis
for separation), and all that matters is being present with ourselves and other
- We think that holding on (to an idea, an ideal, a belief, an
identity, a feeling, a memory, a habit, a person, a thing or anything else) is
important, when really by letting go of whatever it is we're attached to will
lead to our having the thing we desire in abundance.
- We think that life
and other people 'do onto us', making us powerless victims of life and others,
when in fact they are only doing what they think is right, so taking
responsibility for yourself and your experience no matter what happens is the
ultimate in empowerment and a high road to happiness.
- We think that we
need to fight to fill a bottomless pit of unavoidable, inflexible
needs , when really
our true needs are quite limited (small and easy to fulfil) as well as flexible
and subject to our free will.
- We think that love
is something external,
conditional and limited that we need from others, when really love is internal,
unconditional and unlimited (and part of our true nature), so that GIVING love
to ourselves and others next is what causes us to feel the love we so desire.
- We think that forgiveness has to do with other people and life itself,
when really forgiveness is an internal process that only has to do with
ourselves. Having misunderstood the nature as well as the purpose of
forgiveness, and we think that withholding our forgiveness is 'just punishment'
for others (and life itself), when actually the only person really punished by
lack of forgiveness is ourselves because as long as we do not forgive, we keep
suffering while others move on.
- In short, we all want to be happy, and
our culture has taught us that happiness lies in other people and material
things, when our inner state of being, our consciousness is the all important
key to happiness, and we should be empowering
our children to explore and work with consciousness rather than seeking external
approval, conditional love, money and material stuff.
What It Does to You
What happens when you do NOT forgive? Well, when you do
not forgive you think yourself 'innocent' and 'right' as opposed to others (as
well as life itself) whom you judge and condemn as 'guilty' and 'wrong', which
means you make yourself a victim (of others and of life itself).
are always disempowered, of course, as opposed to people who assume
responsibility, which makes them empowered, which means that not forgiving is
And also, having separated yourself from others and life,
you feel unable to connect with others and with life itself, so you live in
Further, when you do not forgive:
- you are trapped
in the past (reliving old hurts over and over and over again) - you fear for
the future (fearing that the old hurts will repeat themselves) - your focus
on the past and the future makes you unable to experience the now - you are
continually vulnerable because you do not let old wounds heal - you are
uncooperative and alone, instead of cooperative and together with others -
you are rigid and inflexible (and thus breakable), instead of flexible and
adaptive - you are focused on and identified with your own limited,
fear-based ego, and not focused on and identified on your loving heart and your
Living in the past (and fearing the future) is living in
an illusion, because the past is gone and the future hasn't happened yet, only
the now is real.
It's the same with being identified with your fear-based
ego: it makes fear seem real to you (which it isn't) and makes love, peace,
freedom and happiness seem UNreal to you (even though they are properties of
absolute reality) - in other words: more illusion.
So in all the areas
where you cannot forgive you cannot access reality, only illusion.
Example of Non-Forgiveness from Real Life: Infidelity
Someone I know mentored
a woman who felt her life was shattered when she discovered that her husband had
been having a 2-year affair with a co-worker.
Her extremely intense
reaction to this stemmed, of course, from the beliefs she had taken on:
beliefs about herself, her husband and her marriage. These beliefs ended up
hurting her badly.
In her grief and rage, she started digging and found
out every detail that she could about their liaison. Then, she went about
re-enacting with other men what her husband had done to her.
out to be a really bad idea, because not only did her revenge based philandering
make her even more discontent, she caught several venereal diseases and made her
lovers hurt and angry too, so her 'revenge' cost her health and wholeness, and
it got real close to costing her life as well!
Did she get what she
wanted? Of course not. Her expectations, beliefs and feelings had been hurt, she
was in turmoil, and what she wanted was inner peace, unconditional love, freedom
and happiness. Hurting yourself and other people (here: her husband, but even
more so her lovers) will NEVER give you those things. Not ever. Forgiveness, or
if you prefer,
letting go is what can give you those things.
Definition of Forgiveness
Oxford English Dictionary defines forgiveness as "to grant free pardon and to give up all claim on account
of an offense or debt". The definition of forgiveness includes moral, judicial,
religious, political and therapeutic interpretations.
This is the
'official' definition, and it gets everything wrong, albeit indirectly.
Why the Traditional Definition of Forgiveness Is More Cultural Illusion
If look closely at the above definition of forgiveness you will notice that this
definition has the SAME mistaken cultural bias as mentioned above: it's about
others. Granting OTHERS pardon, giving up all claims you have on OTHERS, giving
up debt that OTHERS are supposed to owe you.
In this definition
forgiveness is supposed to be giving up your 'right' to give back to someone
what is 'deserved' - to hurt as you've been hurt. It is supposed to be
'merciful', not giving back what is 'deserved' in revenge and retribution.
All this is turning reality upside down.
Also, as Mahatma Gandhi once
said, "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind". Or, to put it bluntly:
the 'normal' definition of forgiveness in our culture is a load of crap!
Forgiving is NOT about other people.
Forgiving is about YOU, not others.
YOU are the one forgiving.
It is true that others (and life) can be a
part of the equation, but it is pure illusion to think they should be the focus
of, or the reason for, YOUR forgiveness. YOU are the reason for your
forgiveness, YOU should be the focus of your forgiveness.
No matter what
happened, other people just did what they did because that was the best they
could do with the knowledge, understanding and resources available to them at
the time. All they did was do their thing, play their part. They were merely
actors in what became YOUR drama.
If it is your drama (and it certainly
is), then you are in charge. You always have been, and you always will be.
YOU are the one who will be empowered by taking responsibility for whatever
happened back in the past as well as for whatever will happen in the future,
because YOU are the one who decides to live in an illusion or in the reality of
the now. You don't always get to decide exactly what happens, but you ALWAYS get
to decide how you experience it and what you make it mean to you.
our shared cultural background all this is not an easy set of things to wrap
your head around!
Because forgiveness always means that there is supposed
to be a precedent offense, it seems very costly and unfair. Why should you have
to give up retribution ('payment') when you didn't do anything wrong? Why should
you set someone free when that someone surely deserves everything he or she has
The answer to all such questions is always that it isn't about
others, because it is YOUR drama in which you are the victim, so you are the one
who needs the empowerment that taking responsibility will give you. You are the
one who will be set free, not others. You are the one who cannot currently see
reality and feel inner peace, love and happiness, not the others. In every way
YOU are the one who will be benefitting from YOUR forgiveness.
Traditional Definitions of Forgiveness
If we look at forgiveness from an
higher, somewhat anthropological perspective these probably what we would call
the primary dimensions of forgiveness: 1. Judicial Forgiveness When an
unlawful act has been committed, the offended party takes on the penalty of the
law, and lets the offender go free without paying the 'debt'.
and Religious Forgiveness When we're talking morals and religion, forgiveness
is a response to 'sin', hurt and injustice. The response is returning one of
non-retribution (as in 'turning the other cheek'), or even of giving 'good' for
'wrong' (as in helping those who have offended). This peacemaking behavior can
be attributed to either a deity or simply to the ruling cultural norm of 'good
behavior'. The point is that when we have been deprived through offense we still
freely and with good will give forgiveness.
3. Political Forgiveness
(incl. Racial Forgiveness and Other types of Group Forgiveness) Political
forgiveness acknowledges historic offenses towards ethnic and national groups as
well as abuse of power by those in charge and forgives those who transgressed.
Political forgiveness is a radical act of peacemaking that admits oppression,
and offers a new start. The past cannot be relived or altered, and the wrongs
cannot be made right. The debts may be incalculable, but peace is valued more
highly than war. 5. Therapeutic Forgiveness (incl. Forgiveness as
Personal Development) Forgiveness is letting go and setting yourself (the
offended) free. It is what this page is (mostly) about.
No matter what
the problem (offence) is, therapeutic forgiveness can always be achieved -
simply because it is a choice. Of course it is a choice that the offended has to
be ready to make.
So therapeutic forgiveness can either take the form of
a long and slow movement along a meandering trail of therapy, or it can be the
result of a short and quick and often very intense sequential process.
If the forgiveness takes the slow, meandering path it may include careful
untangling of the resentment and bitterness that imprison the offended, taking
steps in a safe context to explore the background and the possible meaning(s) of
the offense, acknowledging any personal responsibility, grieving the losses, and
finally setting yourself free by letting go. A process like this can take weeks,
months or years.
However, in spirituality and personal development
therapeutic forgiveness can ALSO be fast. If the forgiveness is the result of
using a powerful self improvement technique even very serious issues can be
resolved fairly quickly in the course of one or a limited number of sessions.
The whole point
is that forgiveness is a decision to set yourself free of the past (and the
fear) and live in the now, and any process of forgiveness is simply a way of
helping you get to the point where you can and do make that decision. In fact,
odds are that reading this page has facilitated your own personal ability to
forgive, simply because you now understand more about the nature and the process
What Forgiveness Is Not
Another way to discover
'what is forgiveness' is to examine what it is not. It's a good idea simply
because forgiveness is so very important and there are so many misconceptions
about the concept. So, here are a few things that forgiveness is not:
Forgiveness Is Not Denying
Forgiveness isn't pretending that something
didn't happen, or that it wasn't hurtful. On the contrary, forgiveness gives a
realistic appraisal of the offense, and relinquishes revenge.
Forgiveness Is Not Forgetting (as in 'Forgive and Forget')
We hear about
"forgive and forget," but real forgiveness does remember what happened, and
since real forgiveness is empowering and takes responsibility, the remembering
is a way to ensure that the offence doesn't happen again.
Deutsch, a community builder among Holocaust survivors, expressed the fear that
the world would forget the atrocities of World War 2. It is a real possibility,
so films like Steven Spielberg's
places like the Auschwitz-Birkenau
State Museum are exceedingly
important. If we forget, we run the very real risk of repeating and reliving
atrocities. Forgiveness Is Not Enabling the Offender
doesn't minimize the wrong. It doesn't make excuses for what happened. It
doesn't avoid the attribution of responsibility. Forgiveness doesn't enable the
offender to keep on offending; on the contrary it enables the victim. Forgiving
enables the victim to shed the chains of that role and move on.
Forgiveness Is Not Bargaining or 'Quid Pro Quo'
Forgiveness isn't a quid
pro quo deal. It has nothing to do with bargaining like, "If you do this, and
promise never to do that, then I will forgive you." On the contrary forgiveness
is a one-way, unconditional deal that the offended has one hundred percent
control over, and which really doesn't have much to do with the offender. And,
of course, even though the offended has forgiven the offender one hundred
percent, the offender might still be punished by the law / the justice system. Forgiveness Is Not Indiscriminate Belief or Trust
Trust is built
over time, with a demonstration of changed behavior. Forgiveness does not mean
that personal boundaries are abandoned so that we open ourselves up to abuse; on
the contrary, by taking responsibility for our experience of what happened and
moving ourselves OUT of the role of a victim we ensure that we will not take
part in such happenings again. Forgiveness Does Not Ensure
Forgiveness doesn't wait for an apology and is not
dependent on another's behavior. It is a free and gracious gift that we SEEM to
give the offender but which in reality we give to ourselves. Forgiveness may
facilitate, but does not ensure relational restoration. True reconciliation
requires change in both parties. Reconciliation is the coming together of both
sides in mutual respect.
The Benefits of Forgiveness
shows that forgiveness brings health and happiness. There is a decreased
incidence in cardiovascular and neurological disease among forgivers.
Resentment, on the other hand, has been shown to increase the number of health
Dr. Fred Luskin's work (see:
Learning to Forgive ) reveals that those who are taught (!) how to
forgive are less angry and hurt, don't have a false feeling of entitlement and
feel less like victims. They are more optimistic, flexible, compassionate, and
self-confident. They manage stress better, have more energy and their health is
better. Who wouldn't want all that, huh!
When people use powerful self
improvement techniques such as the aforementioned 'the Journey' by Brandon Bays,
the Work by Byron Katie, the Let Go Method by Soren Lauritzen and Stanislav
Grof's Holotropic Breathwork to create forgiveness, they experience the exact
Moving from fear, hurt, separation, conflict and a feeling
of being trapped to the truth and absolute reality of love, bliss, unity, inner
peace and freedom is the exact same thing as happiness. The bigger the hurt or
injustice we forgive and let go of, the more powerful is our experience of
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