Holding grudges on a personal level leads to family feuds, anger, and isolation. It breaks up families and ends friendships. Fathers and brothers kill daughters and sisters in the name of family honor instead of forgiving them for whatever they might have done or not done. Brothers and sisters stop talking over some perceived injustice or inequity. Parents disown children and children separate themselves from parents. Old Friends disengage over a slight or hurtful encounter. Long married couples endure lifelong enmity because one or the other can't forgive an indiscretion. At work, the inability to forgive past offenses makes working together difficult if not impossible.
Not being able to forgive yourself for past failures, leads to a stagnant, often unconscious, inability to skillfully and happily move ahead in life while appreciating the moment at hand.
On a geopolitical level, the lack of forgiveness leads to atrocities and wars. One ethnic group slaughters or enslaves another and sets in motion strife that erupts in wars or massacres for hundreds if not thousands of years.
Look at the difference between the South African experience following the fall of apartheid and the experience in Bosnia following the dissolution of Yugoslavia. In SA the newly empowered population practiced forgiveness and embarked on a relatively peaceful journey into the future. In Bosnia, old injustices fueled civil war and atrocities with Christians recalling the brutality of Muslim overlords centuries ago and paying it back in kind in the present.
Forgiveness is an intentional and voluntary process driven by a decision to forgive. The victim fully recognizes that he or she has been hurt and deserved better treatment. Forgiveness involves change in attitude. Negative emotions and the urge to retaliate or stay separate from the offender are given up.
"....the weak can never forgive.
Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong."
Making forgiveness more difficult is the differences in perception of the offense. Perpetrators embellish and remember the offense so as to make it easier to forgive while victims do the opposite. Victims fuel their negative emotions while perpetrators fuel their feelings that the victims are overreacting, creating a cycle of increasing anger and separation.
Forgiveness does not condone the action of the offender. Nor does it imply reconciliation, forgetting or ignoring the offence. Holding onto past is painful. Forgiveness is healing.
What does it take to forgive?
First recognize that forgiveness helps the forgiver more than anyone. Forgiveness alleviates the pain of anger and releases the bonds of a past event. A story from Tibet recounts a meeting between two monks who were imprisoned and tortured by their jailers. When one asks the other if he has forgiven them, the other responds that he will never forgive them. The first says, "They still have you in prison, don't they?"
Acknowledge what happened. Reflect on the event itself and its effect on you. Were you physically hurt, financially hurt, emotional hurt?
Sense and acknowledge the way you feel about the event. Are you feeling anger? Disappointment? Sadness? Focus on the physical sensations that define these feelings.
Avoid the trap of playing the I could or should have done this or that game. Stay in the present, not the past.
Bring the offender to mind. It can be yourself or another. Sense and acknowledge the way you feel about the offender. Angry? Disappointed? Sad? Focus on the physical sensations that define these feelings. Acknowledge and accept how you feel about the offender.
Acknowledge that in this moment it is the combined effects of your thoughts, beliefs and memories that are causing your feelings towards the event and the offender.
Step back. Notice and follow your breath and observe your physical sensations, feelings, thoughts and beliefs. Letting them come and letting them go without getting caught up in them. Increasingly, focus on your breath, or if you wish a word, short phrase or calming visual image. Let go and let the focusing bring you to a calm and quiet state.
Bring back the image of the offender. Wish for them happiness, health and the wisdom to behave skillfully in all they do. At first this may seem contrived; phony. Stay with this step for as long as it takes to feel a real sense of open hearted acceptance, compassion and loving kindness towards them. See them as another version of you, driven by their conditioned reactive minds.
When you are no longer driven by your anger or disappointment you are ready to decide what to do. What will be the best course of action for yourself and the other? It can range from not thinking or seeing them ever again, to taking out a restraining order, to letting the offense go and continuing your relationship, though with new insight and the wisdom it brings.
Holding onto the past and being driven by negative emotions is self defeating. You are in prison until you let go.
� 2014 George Pitagorsky Top