During this cleansing process, I had an epiphany on how there is a big difference between the insults and injuries we have truly forgiven and those we have simply suppressed. Upon self examination, I found many hurts, some of them huge, that have been completely forgiven. I can recall them without emotional charge, sort of like watching a movie. Then there's the more toxic stuff. Old hurts hanging out in my emotional closet that I had simply tucked away but not forgiven. It's those buried unhealed wounds that lodge in our bodies and burn like a hot coal. I'd like to clear my emotional closet of those. But how?
One of my pet peeves about alternative health practitioners is our penchant for offering simplistic platitudes designed to cure profound wounds. Maybe I'm not very evolved, but I need a more specific process than just telling myself to "let it go." So, I began to examine my life time collection of wounds to figure it out. I realized that forgiveness often happened spontaneously with acknowledgment of wrongdoing and an expression of remorse by the "guilty" party. Simply put, a sincere apology untied the knot of pain, resentment and anger. Almost like magic. And it makes sense when you think about it. Even in our criminal justice system, the convict's admission of guilt and remorse will lessen the severity of the punishment.
But those are the easy cases for forgiveness. Sometimes we fall victim to people who are never sorry. They may never acknowledge or feel remorse for the wrong committed or the damage done. They may even lie about their actions or attempt to deny or diminish your claim of hurt. In these cases, we simply do not want to forgive them because they don't deserve it.
Working out the process of forgiving in these tricky cases is my current undertaking for this year's spring cleaning. When I look closely, I can find examples where I have already done it. Instances where I forgave in the absence of apology - even in the presence of denials and lies. In these times I had a deep awareness that I simply needed to get past it and move on. To not allow the wound to be disabling. It doesn't matter whether someone deserves to be forgiven. It doesn't matter that they were wrong and I was right. It doesn't matter whether that person will ever "pay" for what they've done to me. As long as I think I need an apology to let go and move on, I give that person the power to hold me in a pattern of perpetual victim-hood. Forgiving doesn't mean condoning. Forgiveness isn't necessarily the gift we give to another, as much as it is the one we give to ourselves by letting go of the burning hot coal.
That still leaves me with figuring out how to let go. I believe the most powerful keys to forgiveness are perspective and gratitude. These emanate from from a place of my own power, instead of relying on an external source of apology. I control my own sense of perspective and feelings of gratitude. I release my own anger, resentment and pain. Perspective is attaining the higher vantage point that allows assessment. Seeing things in a new light. In the grander scheme of your life, how big was it really? How much did I contribute to the situation? What can I learn from it? How can I prevent this kind of harm in the future? What wound was in the other person's life to cause them to do what they did? With a refreshed perspective, gratitude can break up the last of the cement that binds you to the pain. Thank goodness it wasn't worse. I survived. Now, I'm so glad that I didn't get that promotion or have that relationship last. The course of my life (and all the good that has come) depended on me having the past exactly as it was - pain included. What I thought of as misfortunes at the time actually shaped my present and future good fortune. I look at the things I cherish most now - my life as an acupuncturist, my beautiful daughter. Thank God so many things went "wrong" and felt so bad to put me on the right path.
Ah, I feel lighter already.