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