The first time I was introduced to the opportunity to forgive myself I was a bit confused. Forgive myself? I can do that? What do I want to do that for?
Raised in the southern protestant church I was taught that God forgave, and Jesus was an example of how we should forgive others. There was no mention of forgiving myself – I’ll come back to this later.
My resistance was pretty obvious so the workshop facilitator encouraged me to do it anyway, check it out, find out my own experience…so I did, rather reluctantly with “Ok, I don’t really need this but whatever….” That was well over 20 years ago. Since that time the experience of forgiveness has continued to be a great teacher in my life. What do I mean by this statement?
Preparing this blog I found myself overwhelmed with the complexity of the journey of forgiveness, or sometimes called the art of forgiveness and the power of forgiveness. And when I get overwhelmed I tend to try and cover it all – all the different aspects, nuances, examples of this compassionate paradigm ….and I can’t do that – it’s really way too big for one article. So I will share with you today my impressions, my new revelations, what I know to be true, what I have witnessed working with others practicing forgiveness and report on the programs, circles and small but profound gatherings of reconciliation that are going on around the globe at this time.
What I will not do is present forgiveness as a should or obligation, or virtue – that’s the old paradigm that keeps this word ‘forgiveness’ in the moth balls put away in the attic and never taken down, cleaned off and re examined.
My first belief about forgiveness is that it is a choice. I would like to talk about forgiving in two ways: forgiving someone else for a hurt or a way you feel you have been wronged…and then self-forgiveness – forgiving yourself for how you have judged, shamed or blamed yourself and beliefs that you hold onto that limit you.
Every person on the planet is faced with some kind of hard opportunity to forgive. It is a universal common human occurrence. So because it is universal to me there are universal teachings and learning that are available to us all. What I see taking place at this time is a re visiting, re examining and fresh approaches to this spiritual teaching and spiritual practice of forgiveness
Let’s begin with the definition of forgiveness – forgiving others.
Let’s start with definitions: What is forgiveness?
An article published on line from the Mayo Clinic …What is forgiveness? Stated, “It’s a decision to let go of resentment, and thoughts of revenge. Doesn’t mean you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong.”
Forgiveness can help set you free of the grip of anger/resentment and lead to understanding, empathy and perhaps compassion.
I like the Greek definition of forgiveness – untying the knot…
The Mayo Clinic article goes on to site the
Benefits of forgiving someone?
- Healthier relationships
- Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
- Less stress
- Lower blood pressure
- Fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety and chronic pain
- Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse
The article sites how do you forgive someone; The effects of holding grudges; what happens if I can’t forgive? Does forgiveness guarantee reconciliation?
Great questions and often surface when grappling with forgiving a wrong or injustice.
The Campaign for Forgiveness Research funded 5 forgiveness studies in 1985 and in 1998 - 55 studies were completed. The results of these studies on forgiveness included:
Reduced heart disease; preventing crime at the source and healing troubled marriages. Since the Campaign’s inception there have been over 4500 citations in scientific papers on forgiveness. The Forgiveness research, they believe, is seeding something that will pay off in big dividends in the years to come.
Along with the research are fresh ways of bringing healing to deeply divided and contentious situations in the world. I find these programs moving, instructional and I am a bit in awe for they show me another face of forgiveness that asks me to open even more to what the heart can hold and what the heart can do.
The Social Healing Project by James O’Dea and Dr. Judith Thompson takes ‘compassionate social healing dialogues into area of deep contention and political strife – like Northern Ireland, Israel and Palestine and attempt to heal shared wounds. Through the use of dialogue they emphasize not who is right and who is wrong by who is wounded and how to heal.
By hearing each other’s pain individuals begin to soften their hearts and move beyond victim/perpetrator – because in these instances both the victim and perpetrator are caught in the same wounding cycle. They do not attempt to replace justice with forgiveness but rather release each side from the bondage of suffering/hurt/blame and restore peace – which begins a dialogue, they intend, to lasting peace.
Perhaps we can reflect at this time about what this Social Healing Project reflects to us about forgiving others:
- It begins with a choice
- Forgiving someone is not a one time – OK I’ve done that occurrence
- Healing dialogue, listening, and speaking truth about the wounding can create an opening through which a path of reconciliation can emerge.