How do we know when, or if, we have truly and completely forgiven another?

Forgiveness is a process. I find that it is rarely a simple and straightforward task. The practice of forgiveness can seem never ending, especially when abuse, manipulation, and betrayal are involved.

In A Lamp in the Darkness by Jack Kornfield (Sounds True, 2011), he tells the story of how one of his teachers asks him to try forgiveness “twice a day for five minutes, then after six months, let me know how it’s going.” At the end, he realizes that he had been asked to practice forgiveness three hundred times before he evaluated its effects. I think this speaks to the long term and repetitive process that forgiveness embodies.

After reading the above, I found myself wondering: Have I really forgiven all that I can? In particular, have I fully forgiven someone from my past? I know that I have on many levels, in a variety of ways, and I wish them well. Yet, I also have to admit that I can still feel resentment and annoyance when this person presents to my awareness. (In fairness, the person never really let go of me energetically even though we terminated physical contact years ago. So, it can seem like being haunted and feel like I’ve moved on but they have not.)

Throughout the years, I have worked on multidimensional levels to heal. I know that as a process, each healing brings illumination and soul awareness. But, I must admit, that I do have hopes that one day I will feel complete – at least with certain people – regarding forgiveness and healing. So, I wonder: How will I know? Will I recognize the moment when it takes shape and form? Will the process of transmutation gradually take up residence with each healing? Or, will there be an experience where I simply knowthat I have truly and completely forgiven like putting in the final piece of a puzzle?

Hearts in a jar
Image by aussiegall

Maybe we do reach a point where we have truthfully forgiven a particular individual. But, the practice of forgiveness is never complete. I am reminded of this because sometimes it may seem easier to feel “done” and at peace when another is totally out of our lives. Other times, the person we are striving to forgive may still be in contact with people we care about. Even more challenging is when a person close to us seems blind to the genuine intentions of someone who is manipulative and masquerading as something they are not. We try to heal, let go, and move on, yet we are still inundated with information about the one(s) we’ve let go of. Is it fair to measure healing based on whether we are triggered emotionally by thoughts of another?

I do not think we can measure forgiveness or healing. If we embrace forgiveness as a practice, like loving kindness is, then we will be called upon to recognize aspects of ourselves and one another that seek acceptance. Then, instead of feeling let down because I thought I was “done” and had fully forgiven another, I can utilize the opportunity to identify those aspects of my own being that seek acceptance. I can foster trust and expanded perspective. Forgiveness allows light to shine on denial, darkness, and rejection.Even as I write this, I know better than to seek a sense of completion. Simple reality is: Growth, healing, and evolution are a process. If we are triggered, then we still have more to forgive. If we are still creating suffering, then there is still some unacknowledged pain within. The “other” person may have warranted avoidance of contact or not. It really doesn’t matter since forgiveness is not about agreeing, approval, or changing that which we cannot change – like the past. Ultimately, we are still served with the task of forgiving ourselves. Until we do that, someone or something may seem deserving of our judgment or resentment, but we are only harming ourselves.

Power – genuine power – comes from understanding that all we can do is open our hearts to light and loving kindness. This doesn’t mean letting someone back in our lives. It doesn’t mean trying to intervene and push them out of someone else’s life either – unless necessary for safety. It may seem more challenging when another is continuing to add new stimulus to our psyches and pain, but it doesn’t change the practice. The tricky part is whether we are allowing another to inform our ability to accept, respect, and honor our capacity to forgive our own selves.

Ultimately, forgiveness rests in the hands of our souls, hearts, and minds. It is my hope that my psyche, or ego self, will surrender and align its consciousness to loving kindness so that healing can prevail. Even if I feel that I have truly forgiven another, I know that the practice of forgiveness will never be complete.

There is no scale that can measure the breadth of forgiveness, the infinite potential for healing, and the light and loving kindness we are capable of experiencing.

Copyright (c) Sallie Odenthal 2011. All rights reserved.

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