Archive for January, 2015

It’s Stronger to Forgive

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

032In stillness, when the silence seems almost magical and we sit by ourselves in a comforting, peaceful place…we can sometimes hear the whispers of Higher things. One of these is forgiveness. Make no mistake, however; though its voice is soft, forgiveness brings us power and strength beyond comprehension. Although many think forgiveness is a sign of weakness, of submission to or acceptance of injury from others, nothing could be further from the truth! Forgiveness comes from a highly evolved soul, one which knows that we can pardon others’ hurtful behavior while at the same time not remain a victim of it.

Forgiveness reflects love of self, so to find it we must turn our attention inward instead of outward. It is within every person’s reach, and yet impossible to achieve without at least some willingness on our part to feel it. In other words, to forgive is a choice, and some of us need to go through the pain of not forgiving before we’re ready for its healing effect.

The Pain of Anger

Why is it painful not to forgive? Because without forgiveness, hate is like a ball-and-chain, keeping us bound to the thing we loathe. In a very real sense, we give up our power to whatever we hate. Consider all the pleasures, happy thoughts, and creativity that could fill the hours we spend brooding over some person or situation we resent. Hate also breeds retaliation, causing more injury, destruction, and sadness…and of course, more hatred. Simply put, anger and animosity only lead to more of the same, and our entire lives can pass beneath this dark cloud of negativity.

Unlike the gentle tones of forgiveness, the voices of hatred, vengeance, and bitterness are loud, adamant, and raucous. They noisily grab our attention with promises of immediate gratification, causing us to say and do things we feel guilty about later on. Unfortunately, however, besides being the loudest voices, they sometimes yield short-term rewards. When we act out our resentment, we gain a false sense of power, righteousness, and superiority. In the anger equation, we are right and someone or something else is wrong! And let’s face it, who doesn’t love the satisfaction of being right? (Of course, we’re “right” according to our own view of what that is…) Also, if others cower to our bullying, we feel mighty and in control.

In its extreme form, intense anger demonstrated by tantrums, yelling, and physical aggression can be a physiological stimulant that accelerates our heart rate, breathing, and muscular tension, among other bodily effects. These sensations can actually be a “high” to some, who unconsciously look for a “fix” again and again. In this way, anger is like a drug, and one to which many become addicted. Like any addiction, however, the behavior and feelings often must be escalated to achieve the desired release.

Even on a lesser level of intensity, dwelling on the people and situations that are unacceptable to us can take up so much of our time and emotions that it becomes a distraction from dealing with other less compelling but very real emotions and problems. Things we might unconsciously wish to avoid are non-glamorous aspects of being human, including fear of close relationships, anxiety in social situations, confusion, low self-esteem, boredom, lack of motivation, feelings of failure…the list goes on and on. Like any escape from reality, however, anger blocks pleasurable feelings as well, like satisfaction at reaching a goal, appreciation of beauty in the world and people around us, and gratitude for the gifts we have in our lives. The saddest consequence of clinging to antagonism is that we become “stuck” – unable to grow emotionally and spiritually.

Working on Forgiveness

To forgive, we sometimes need more than just willingness. We actually have to work on changing our attitudes. Depending on how gravely we feel someone has injured us, this process can take time. The good news is that if we persist, we will always – ALWAYS – succeed in forgiving. Furthermore, even if we can’t forgive someone fully yet, we’ll feel better immediately just by taking small steps to try. Think of forgiveness as opening a window just a crack in a stuffy room. The fresh air we let in revitalizes us so much, we will want to open the window even more.

It’s crucial to understand that we cannot forgive others until we have forgiven ourselves. You’re probably wondering what you must forgive yourself for… The answer will be different for each one of us. What are the things you need to look at about yourself and your behavior that are or have been harmful to others or to you? It’s time to come clean about these things – write and talk about them, take responsibility for them, and make amends if needed. Now, here’s a real challenge: if you’re in conflict with someone else, say, a person you simply can’t stand, apologize to him or her for your part in the dispute! Sound crazy? You won’t believe how you’ll feel if you give it a try. Amends can also take the form of simply making better choices in the future. In many cases, we ourselves are the ones to whom we owe the greatest amends.

The hardest job is to develop more love and compassion toward yourself, but when you do this, the ability to forgive others comes naturally. If you get mired in resentment toward a particular person, here are some tricks you might try. One is to silently wish the very best for them (even if you know you’re lying initially). Do this every time you get caught up in anger at the person, and you’ll find the feelings loosen up and disappear over time. Another strategy is to make a short list of the person’s positive qualities, and read it to yourself daily or whenever negative thinking threatens to take charge of your brain!

One other fully guaranteed bitterness-buster is to make a list of the things you’re grateful for in your own life, apart from your anger at anything or anyone else. This is basically a positive displacement exercise, because if your mind is full of gratitude, there’s no room left for destructive thoughts.

Spiritual Help is Limitless

Alexander Pope said, “To err is human; to forgive divine.” In just these few words, Pope expressed that the act of forgiving requires more than just our mortal ability. As human beings, we make mistakes, have misunderstandings, and hurt each other. That’s where all the anger and hate comes from in the first place. Without something more powerful than our own limited mental and emotional capacities, we frequently aren’t able to forget or let go of that which has caused us pain. This is where we must reach out for spiritual help, and once we do, we are ultimately granted the strength to forgive no matter how deep the hurt.

What is your “something more powerful?” Many call it God, but others prefer terms like Universal Order, Higher Power, or Spiritual Center. It really doesn’t matter what we name it, as long as we are aware of two critical things: that He, She, or It has infinite power over the world and every single one of its troubles, and is a loving force that cares about us deeply as individuals.

Forgiveness and love are something we’re all born with. It is “life,” people, and painful circumstances that then start chipping away at us, teaching us to fear and to build protective shells around our core. If we didn’t have to create these insulating layers between ourselves and the world, we would all be able to trust, and freely love and forgive each other. It’s food for thought, wouldn’t you say? Maybe the true challenge and goal of life is to find your way back through all that accumulated defensiveness and hatred to reconnect with your whole, forgiving self. Seen in this way, the return journey is worth every step.