Allowing Yourself to Forgive
Shana Aborn


Sometimes it's harder to tell someone, "I forgive you," than it is to say, "I'm sorry."  An apology, after all, is a submissive act.  You're the one who's asking for absolution, the one who can't rest until your guilt and remorse are removed.  You're at the mercy of someone else, your heart on the line, waiting to be restored to glory in that person's eyes.

On the other hand, there's something so wonderfully powerful about refusing to accept another person's atonement.  You can keep your anger in full flaming passion, which can sustain you long after you've forgotten exactly why you're so mad in the first place.  You can milk every last drop of public sympathy in your role as the proud, righteous Wounded Victim.  You can even have the satisfaction of knowing that as long as you stand your ground, the person who did you wrong is a lesser human being.  He or she is a soul smudged by that one sin that has yet to be washed away on earth--and you're the one with the scrub brush.

But the trouble with grudges is that they can severely sap you of your inner peace, and they go against every spiritual ideal.  We say that we "carry" a grudge, and with good reason.  It's a huge burden on your soul as well as your mind.  When you have to lug your grudge around for days or weeks or years or decades on end, it tends to get heavier rather than lighter, and the forgiving harder and harder to do, until the relationship is flooded with so much hurt and resentment that there's no going back.

It's difficult to move forward as an individual when you've got that kind of anchor keeping you weighted to the past.  So in a sense, it's as if that person is causing more damage than he or she actually did.

It's not easy by any means, but people can forgive each other for enormous wrongs.  Wives and husbands forgive affairs.  Parents forgive children who say hurtful things.  Friends accept apologies for borrowed items that have been lost.  Divorced people find it in their hearts to forgive whatever their ex did to end the marriage.

A couple of years ago, I interviewed someone who exemplifies both courage and forgiveness.  Shortly before she was scheduled to compete in the 1994 Winter Olympics, American ice dancing champion Elizabeth Punsalan learned that her brother, who had battled schizophrenia for years, had killed their father after being released from a psychiatric hospital.  She could have chosen to bury herself in rage and sorrow and refuse to speak to her brother ever again.  But she didn't.  Instead, bolstered by the support of her family and by Jerod Swallow, her husband and skating partner, she found it within herself to make her peace with her brother.  It was the only way, she told me, that she could go on with her life.  And so she did, going on to win more medals and a top-ten final placement at the 1998 Olympics.

Is there someone in your life you're furious at right now?  Someone you're not speaking to?  Someone you've vowed never to forgive?  This exercise is for you.  Hard as it may be, you're going to have to at least plant the seeds of forgiveness.  Even if you were absolutely, without-a-doubt right and the other person was totally, undeniably wrong, you're not going to be a happier person for holding that against him or her.

First, close your eyes and imagine that person sitting in front of you.  Imagine him or her saying, "I'm so sorry.  Can you ever forgive me?"  (Never mind if the person would never say that in real life; this is a visualization and you can do whatever you want within it.)  Now picture yourself saying, "I forgive you"--and meaning it.  Say it again.  Say it as many times as it takes until you can honestly believe it.  Now picture your anger at that person as a huge boulder over your heart.  Feel its weight.  Then make that boulder gradually dissolve until all that's left is dust.  Make that dust trickle through your body from your head down to your feet and out through your toes.  Breathe deeply a few times and feel how light your heart is now.

The next step, if you have the courage to take it, is to find closure in person.  if the person who has wronged you has already apologized, call or write him or her and say, "I forgive you."  If the person hasn't, consider making the first move.  Use that call or letter to say, "I don't want this to come between us.  Can't we find a way to get past this hurt?"  But if you just can't deal with the actual confrontation, then focus on living without the grudge.  You've forgiven that person in your heart; now it's time to move on.

Let me clarify something, though:  forgiving someone doesn't mean forgetting the deed.  We have to remember the things that pass between us and others, even the painful ones, in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes.  And I'm not asking you to welcome back with open arms the one who wronged you.  There are some people whom you must keep out of your life--abusers, molesters, addicts who hurt others with their addictions, people who drain your energy and money.

What forgiveness does mean, however, is that you're allowing yourself to move beyond that strength-sapping hatred and hurt feelings, to free yourself from the time-consuming task of nursing the resentment.  Then you can spend that time in more productive, life-affirming ways.

Grudges don't bring out the best in us.  Forgiveness does.

You're not going to find ultimate enlightenment in just one meditation session or, for that matter, in a hundred.  The point isn't to become perfect or more 'religious'--it's to increase your awareness of yourself as a spiritual being and to bring you closer to your concept of God. You may not feel utterly transformed by reading this book, but chances are you'll at least feel more peaceful, less stressed and eager to continue exploring your spiritual path.


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