“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”–Mahatma Gandhi
Whenever the topic of forgiveness comes up in sessions, most people immediately go to the question, ‘How do I forgive when I have been hurt so much?’ This, to me, is the wrong question to be asking. Instead I try to focus on why we would want to forgive. The Buddha has said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” I love this quote. I know there have been times when I have been angry at someone and then saw that person out having fun and laughing. It burned me up inside when I saw that they were happy and I was still angry and hurt. It was that hot coal that I was holding with the intent of throwing, but all the while I was the one in pain. When we begin to see how the anger and hurt we hold is not hurting the other person, but only causing pain in us, we begin to see the why of forgiveness.
As I envision us as people we have an authentic self that is within, what religions term the soul. I usually point to the heart when I talk about this. When we have hurt, anger and raw pain that hasn’t been healed, it is like a blockage between our authentic self and the world. It is a part of us that is separated, cut off and isolated. When those blockages are small, they don’t interfere too much in our daily life, but when they become bigger the effects of the separation and isolation can be seen and felt. The underlying pain manifests in different ways in different people. Some withdrawal and they themselves become isolated with depression. Others become hypersensitive or over react to small disappointments. Others become angry or vengeful and lash out at others. Under it all is pain and the pain comes from the separation between who we authentically are and the version of life we are living.
So, the why of forgiveness is to remove the block in us that stops us from living life fully and engaging with others in healthy ways. Forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person and it has absolutely nothing to do with forgetting. The fact that it happened will always be there, but through forgiveness work the reaction to the incident no longer has the power to keep us stuck. Once it is removed, our authentic self is once again able to connect with others and the world. Removing the block is the greatest gift we are able to give our self.