Forgiveness is a complex subject. Like this writing, it can be messy and confusing. For years I struggled with the word and concept of forgiveness because it is so misunderstood. Too often to forgive is confused with making amends. Amends: punishment, atonement, penance, apology. I don’t think forgiveness has anything to do with making amends. I do think it has everything to do with acceptance. Acceptance of what? Our authentic and soul selves. Our value and worth as individuals and members of humanity. Authentic forgiveness allows us to stand in genuine power by fostering self respect and acceptance. Ultimately, forgiveness and acceptance have nothing to do with permission or approval of the past or present and everything to do with self respect. If we don’t value ourselves, we directly limit the respect we receive and convey to others. If we don’t forgive ourselves, we will struggle to forgive others.
Genuine power supports that we are deserving and worthy of being treated with respect and loving kindness. Not the kind of artificial respect that is generated from judgments, expectations, and a false sense of morals or entitlement. Respect that starts within by acknowledging an appreciation for our own selves. Often, it seems like the hardest thing for us to do is genuinely believe that we are worthy and deserving of happiness and well-being. How much of this stems from our own willingness to harbor fears that when another mistreats us, we are somehow deserving of unkind conduct? How often do we foster our own neuroses by continuing to mistreat ourselves through accepting a lack of appreciation and loving kindness from others as valid reflections of our souls?
I’m not sure why it’s so easy to believe that we are deserving of whatever pain and suffering we experience, yet so disbelieving of the happiness, abundance, and loving kindness we are capable of receiving. Spiritually, this seems counterintuitive and even ironic to me. Although, certainly there is plenty of religious, sociological and cultural programming that supports our disempowerment. For example, my husband who was raised catholic shares his experience (printed with his permission): “There were long lists of sins, bad, and evil with the associated punishments, yet they failed to teach what was good behavior, so the absence of pain and punishment was the best I could hope for, and the concept of happiness was non-existent.” It’s as if the goal is to remain neutral; don’t sway too far from middle by going to the dark or light side. Personally, I’m tired of neutral! I seek optimism in the face of lack and doubt. I am optimistic that I am worthy of appreciation, happiness, and loving kindness because I believe that all beings are. I trust in the unlimited potential of all beings, yet I often fail to show myself the same compassion and hope that I support in others. Instead, I seek genuine forgiveness by shining light on doubting my worth. I bring my belief that I somehow deserve to be mistreated out of the closet and into my awareness where I can transform it.
Forgiving another seems to come easy to me. I’ve never been one to hold a grudge or seek “justice.” Well, that’s not quite true. I can certainly hold a grudge against myself. I can take on blame and internalize the anger and judgments of another towards me with zeal! But, I’m tired of harboring subconscious fears and doubts that lead me to think that maybe, just maybe, whether another forgives me somehow reflects my own ability to forgive my own self. What I have discovered is that underneath the projected hurts, fears, and rejection, is a desire to be free. Free of the burden that I may have unintentionally contributed to the pain and suffering of another. I know that part of the human experience is that we will all create and be the recipients of unkind acts. The difference for me, is whether we are willing to openly and honestly accept our failings, learn, grow, and attempt to respond with greater kindness. As I start to take flight on the wings of self compassion, fears and doubts give way to a new horizon. The anger and grudges of others that I’ve taken on as my own lighten and lift. Like the clouds parting on a dark day, sun, light, and love shine through. And to my surprise, a new aspect of forgiveness emerges. Allowing another to seek forgiveness and acceptance from me. Don’t get me wrong. Allowing another to seek forgiveness does not necessarily mean permitting someone in my life when my boundaries know better. But, it’s funny that it didn’t really enter my mind that others sought forgiveness from me. My own lack of worth assumed it was only me that sought forgiveness. And so it is, in the shadow of fallen or struggling relationships, the light of soul forgiveness, gratitude, and respect prevail.