© 2003 Jeremy Youst
Although much has been written and said about forgiveness, when I think of forgiveness, I think of three fundamental qualities; forgiveness as: 1) an attitude, 2) an acceptance, and 3) an action. Although it does not really matter what order these come in, we might conceive of them as comprising a triangle, as in the following illustration:
As an attitude, forgiveness means embracing the moment with softness and kindness, and treating life’s current difficulties with the generosity of an open heart. Forgiveness as an attitude makes you ready and open to when someone commits “a wrong” against you. It is the willingness to be present and witness a transgression with innocence and understanding. It is having sufficient faith in the goodness of all things so that painful words and painful actions are seen for what they truly are: cries of a lonely heart. It is having the clarity to understand that most all offenses come not from the desire to wound, but rather from woundedness, and that the hurtful words or deeds in the long run always point to imbalances held within.
As you take your first steps with this attitude, you will find forgiveness begins with an acceptance or recognition that what you thought occurred most likely wasn’t about you. It does not mean that you agree with or condone the words or behavior. It simply means that you can now recognize that source of where they were coming from and are willing to embrace the reality of what happened. The author, Byron Katie, would say, “Forgiveness is when you realize that what you thought happened, didn’t”. In other words, the journey you take with forgiveness can eventually lead you to the deeper understanding that the so-called transgression was more about the other person’s pain than it was about you or something you said or did.
This does not mean your pain was any less real or your immediate reaction to the experience did not feel justified. It does mean, however, that upon closer examination you may find that the only long-term “negative” consequence to the wrongful act was really what you made it mean in your mind. As you learn to accept the reality of what happened, you may find that the most potent event that took place was probably in your thinking, not in the reality of the words or actions. Forgiveness is the doorway of clarity that helps heal the confusion of a troubled mind.
Forgiveness as acceptance requires absolute honesty, respect and personal responsibility. It summons the greatest courage of the heart to be able to clearly see that what you thought was wrong was probably the result of your own mental interpretation. Forgiveness is about letting go of the control and fear of what should have happened, and accepting completely what actually did happen. It is coming to terms with how, by placing the blame outside of yourself, you lose the opportunity for deeper understanding and self-awareness. It is living from a place of Love to such a degree that you are willing to climb up the most difficult mountain of all: forgiving yourself. In order to forgive others you must start with forgiving yourself.
In either case, being hurt or hurting others, learning how to forgive yourself first can open up your thinking to see more clearly how you consciously or subconsciously contributed to the event that eventually caused you pain. You become willing to take an honest inventory of yourself and the words, attitudes and/or actions that set the course of events in motion. Regardless of what others say or how you compare this action to others, forgiveness means you are willing to take responsibility for what has happened in your reality. It means you now have enough courage to release the blame and face the imbalance that lives within you.
As such, this attitude of acceptance always leads it to the words or actions that can then release you and others from a repetitive cycle of victimization. With the realization that perhaps the greatest long-lasting harm is what you thought or made it mean, you are now ready to proclaim and act in truth. After the initial reaction and perhaps a response that honors your feelings and need for the safety, through the act of forgiveness you are ready to make amends, so to speak, to yourself, to your God and to all those involved.
Forgiveness seizes the opportunity to take action in accordance with divine will. It rectifies misunderstanding through the bravery of self-responsibility that then becomes grounded through compassionate action. It’s says, “I see what you have done to me, brother, and I now set you free. I see how you have only done it to yourself, and that through this experience you were willing to share with me, I can see what needs to be healed within myself”.
In its completion, forgiveness is an act of gratitude and love. It is the affirmation that you are all deeply connected to each other and struggle for the same self-love and freedom. It is a divine deliverance to the place where you come to realize that nothing really can ever hurt or separate you from yourself or your goodness. Forgiveness sets you and your neighbor free through the recognition that we are all doing the very best we can, no matter what has been said or done in the past.
Finally, forgiveness is the quality that alleviates all suffering: the suffering of woundedness, the suffering of disease and injury, and the suffering of separation or death. Forgiveness is the soothing balm that heals our deepest wound: the belief that we are separate from God. It is the ongoing discovery that our actions and the actions of others always point in the direction of reclaiming our wholeness and holiness, no matter what the immediate experience or interpretation of that experience may look like. Put simply, forgiveness is returning to the awareness and knowledge that we are all basically good and live together as a part of the One God.