What is Forgiveness?

I am sure that you have all heard about the benefits of forgiveness. In traditional therapeutic terms and in more spiritual oriented thinking it is not only considered the path to healing but the only true way to release ourselves from the ties that bind us to any particular situation, person or energetic pattern. We’ve even heard the saying, “forgiveness is for yourself, not the other person”. But what does that really mean? It all sounds good, but how do I move from anger, resentment and hurt into a place where I can access a way of reaching forgiveness?

It all starts with being able to separate human behavior from the divine essence that exists within all of us. We may have acted inappropriately, done something hurtful or chose a path that led to our own pain or painful experiences for others. What does that ultimately mean? It means that we made a mistake. We weren’t acting from our highest self and in that moment we blew it. But that isn’t the end of the story because in any given moment we can choose again. We can right the wrong and make amends. If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve accumulated some choices and decisions that weren’t your proudest moment.

What we all want is to be welcomed, allowed, accepted and loved as more than our worst moment. We want a chance to redeem ourselves, to demonstrate that we have grown, learned and evolved. None of us want to be defined by our mistakes or errors. We know that it is not a true representation of ourselves and what we have to offer the world. The bottom line is that if we want mercy and forgiveness from the world for our mistakes, we have to be willing to extend it to others. When we remember the divinity that is the true essence of ourselves and others we lay the foundation for seeing things differently.

None of this condones inappropriate behavior or means that we don’t hold people accountable for wrong or even unspeakable criminal behavior. It means that we realize by holding onto our anger and unforgiveness towards another person we are completely identifying them with their mistake. We essentially define them as the sum total of their errors and write them off completely. We also often have an agenda for how another person’s behavior “should be” if they are to be deemed worthy of forgiveness, which sets ourselves up for more disappointment and resentment.

The truth is we are called to be people who have a heart filled with infinite compassion for all living things, which means extending forgiveness to both ourselves and others. Some people hear this and think that living this way would make them a doormat and subject to accepting any behavior and/or abuse from others. On the contrary, living from this place makes you better equipped to discern your boundaries, own your choices, and own your “yes” or “no”.

At the deepest level I can realize that you are more than your mistakes, but that realization does not mean that I will necessarily be coming over for Thanksgiving dinner, inviting you for lunch or continuing the relationship in the same manner and closeness as before. We are actually better able to make decisions from this place of forgiveness because we have let the other person off the cross of persecution. When we put down our resentment, bitterness and victim consciousness we can more easily ascertain what our role is and the next best step for healing the situation.

We don’t heal by nursing our wounds and rehearsing our stories of betrayal. We heal by understanding that we are all imperfect and we all make mistakes. When we are willing to make mercy and forgiveness our bottom line we will begin to reap the benefits in our own life. Shedding blame and guilt about the errors we’ve made or someone else made will free up space for the next new chapter to unfold.