True forgiveness is a promise not a feeling. When we forgive other people truly, we are making a promise not to use their past misdeed against them. True forgiveness is a kind of gratitude. When we forgive others we show them the mercy that we have often received and have been thankful for.
True forgiveness is an act of love. It is most healing, most profound when it grows out of humility and realism. It is a challenging act, that whether someone else is entirely to blame in a situation, and we are blameless; there is still in each one of us insufficiencies and imperfections that can be our greatest teacher.
We may not recognise true forgiveness even when we have experienced it. Yet we feel it in our body that something has left us and we are no longer carrying the load that we used to. We tend to feel sorrow instead of rage over the circumstance, and we start feeling sorry for the person who has wronged us rather than being angry with them.
The muscular tensions that we had come to assume were normal get eased. We become less vulnerable to infection or to far more serious illness. Our immune system lifts, our face muscles let down. Food tastes better, and the world looks brighter. Depression radically diminishes. We become more available to others and to ourselves.
True forgiveness doesn’t lead to forced reunions, as there may be some people whom we are better never to see, to hear from, or even think about for more than a few moments at any time. But it help us to let people go from our thoughts, to release them from any wish that could harm them, and to bring us cleansing freedom.
We may be able to discover true forgiveness in a moment, but more often it takes weeks, months or sometimes years. It is something that we have to open to it, to invite it in, and it rarely goes one way only. As we may need to learn how to forgive ourselves before we can offer our true forgiveness, face to face, or silently to others. “The most important lesson on the road to spiritual maturity is how to truly forgive.” • Lisa Prosen
To search our way towards true forgiveness, we may need to bypass our rational mind. As it deeply offends the rational mind to forgive truly someone who has hurt us, abused us, wounded us; to forgive completely someone who has taken away the life of someone we love or has simply offended us or misunderstood us. There is no easy way to talk of bypassing it, and there is certainly no easy way to put true forgiveness into practice.
As challenging as it is, true forgiveness is the supreme virtue, the highest point of love, as it proclaims: I will try to go on loving the life in you, the divine in you, or the soul in you. Even though I totally despise what you have done or what you stand for. What is more: I will strive to see you as my equal, and your life as having equal value to my own, although I abhor what you do and everything you stand for.
Because true forgiveness is, in its raw forms, a virtue that is disturbing and confronting as it is healing and uplifting. It is important to be clear that there is no confusion between forgiving and accepting. Extending our true forgiveness doesn’t mean that we justify the actions that caused us harm nor does that mean that we have to seek out those who have harmed us. True forgiveness is simply a movement to release and ease our heart of the pain and hatred that binds it. “Forgiveness is not letting the offender off the hook. We can and should still hold others accountable for their actions or lack of actions.”
The need for true forgiveness starts with an act of betrayal, cruelty, separation or loss. Sometimes what is lost is trust. Sometimes it is a feeling of certainty about ourselves; about who we are, how we are seen, and what we stand for. The suffering that precedes the need for true forgiveness is never welcomed. It may well be the debris in our lives that we will finally and painfully turn into the gold of awareness. But we often dragged towards this knowledge only with great reluctance.
Hurt and suffering pushes us to expand our emotional arsenal, even as it pulls away the security of what is familiar. Forcing us to consider what our values are, and how they can support us; what strengths we dare own up to; and what strengths we need promptly to acquire. All of this is too invigorating to be in any way comforting. Yet as Young Eisendrath has said: “When suffering leads to meanings, that unlock the mysteries of life, it strengthens compassion, gratitude, joy, and wisdom.”
We sometimes use the word forgiveness when we are more correctly excusing ourselves for something we have done or have failed to do. Excusing doesn’t mean accepting what has been done or not done. It simply means that someone regrets what they have done; probably wishing that events could have been different; or that someone is at least optimistic that it won’t happen again; and the matter can be dropped.
True forgiveness is a different matter. It appears to enlighten another realm of experience altogether; a place that is grimmer, more depressing, more shadowy, much more confusing; a place where there is at least some element of fear, cruelty, betrayal or breaking of trust.
To extend our true forgiveness may be an act of supreme love and gentleness, but it is also tough. It demands that at least on party faces the truth, and learn something of value from it. It doesn’t involve accepting, minimising, excusing, ignoring, or pretending to forget what has been done. “Hate is not conquered by hate. Hate is conquered by love“.
Even under most dire circumstances, long before any version of true forgiveness become possible, impersonal love; the love that makes no distinction between us and all other living creatures; demands that we give up notions of vengeance. This may not mean ceasing to be angry, if angry is what you feel. True forgiveness certainly doesn’t mean pretending that things are fine when they are not. Nor does it mean refusing to take whatever actions is needed to amend past wrongs, or protect you in the future.
We often talk about true forgiveness in a way that suggests we giving something away when we forgive. Or that we accepting something in return when others forgive us. This is false. Offering true forgiveness or allowing true forgiveness to come to existence in whatever form within us, takes nothing away from us. It restores us to something that is always within us but from which we have become unbound: a sense of unity expressed through the qualities of trust, faith, hope and love.
The one who forgives never brings up the past to that person’s face. When you forgive, it’s like it never happened. True forgiveness is complete and total. • Louis Zamperini