Keys to Forgiveness

Last week, I had a lovely conversation with my mom. Thank you to everyone who watched that episode or read the blog! It was fun, but I also saw it as a meaningful way to cultivate some additional memories with mommy. She provided me with many useful nuggets of wisdom, and I will treasure those for as long as I am alive.

Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about the topic of forgiveness. Maybe that is because this year has reminded us so intently and intensely about the fragility, but also the beauty of life. Some things don’t seem worth holding onto when we know that it will all end. Doesn’t it make sense then to use the time that we do have to focus on the things and people that we love? Shouldn’t we focus on what brings meaning and joy to our lives? It does to me. Check out this week’s video here: https://youtu.be/Lu-9trkl3lk

Having been on the other side of this perspective—having experienced depths of pain that nearly brought me to my personal limits, I can say that it is much better on this side. I share this information because there was a time in my life when I did not think this way. There was a time when I wanted to die. I am thankful for the people who poured into me, and helped to pull me from the quicksand of despair. It is work, and I don’t want to diminish that, but I want you to know that putting in the work, does work. Because I have been there, and because for the past several years, I have been genuinely happy, I can say that there is always hope for a better day and a better live. As long as you are breathing—thriving is possible. Release the things that no longer serve you, and free your mind. Peace of mind is absolutely priceless. 

Recently, I have had numerous conversations with different friends and relatives about forgiveness. Within that conversation, two questions came up pretty frequently. One was, “how was I able to forgive someone for something that happened?” and the second was, “how long does it take to forgive?” When I was having my conversation with my mom, she said two things that really stuck with me that pertain to forgiveness. In two situations, she talked about forgiveness. First, she said that she learned about forgiveness from her own parents. Second, she said, and I quote, “I have also learned to forgive because it is in forgiveness that you heal. When you forgive others, you are in a better place. I believe in sister Karma, and I believe that when you forgive someone, a higher power takes care of them and you are not destroyed in the process.” I think the crux of this for me is when she said that in forgiving, you are not destroyed in the process. 

My younger sister often says that holding on to grudges or certain old feelings, and not learning how to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. That is a little drastic, so she also says that it is like holding on to a burning log and expecting the other person to get burned. Essentially, she is saying that holding on to something that may need forgiving is allowing someone to occupy space in your mind rent free. 

In my opinion, forgiveness is something that occurs between people and it is also something that happens on an individual level. I think that most actions that precipitate needing forgiveness happens in interactions with others. Marianne Williamson in one of her books said –this is not verbatim–that we can live our whole lives by ourselves and never learn the lessons that we need to learn. But we can spend three days interacting with other people and our soul will receive such a profound evolution based on the lessons that we learn from one another. That thought has stuck around with me too. I also think that forgiveness is deeply personal, and sometimes the one who needs the grace of forgiveness is the self. Sometimes we need to forgive ourselves for things that we perceive that we did or did not do.

The Greater Good Magazine from Berkeley has an amazing and in-depth explanation of forgiveness:

“Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.

Just as important as defining what forgiveness is, though, is understanding what forgiveness is not. Experts who study or teach forgiveness make clear that when you forgive, you do not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. Though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from legal accountability.

Instead, forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger. While there is some debate over whether true forgiveness requires positive feelings toward the offender, experts agree that it at least involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings. In that way, it empowers you to recognize the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you, enabling you to heal and move on with your life.” ~ Greater Good Magazine, Berkeley 

I really love that within that explanation of forgiveness is also the inclusion of an important point. Forgiving someone does not mean that you forget what happened, or that you have to be close to that individual ever again. It just means that you are realizing those feelings so that they don’t cause you unnecessary stress, high blood pressure, and even just bitterness and an inability to move on with your own life. I think when we hold on to certain things, it doesn’t allow us to move forward because we apply the previous experience as our point of reference.

For example, if you had your heartbroken, you might be tempted to think that everyone will break your heart. I think it gets worse if you have multiple heartbreaks. We can talk about healthy love another time. If you think every relationship will lead to heartbreak, you might not even try since you want to protect yourself. However, in doing that, you are missing out on what could be a beautiful experience. You aren’t hurting any of your past loves by doing this. They have probably moved on. Let yourself do the same. I tell my friends—if you want to get to Tahiti and you live in DC, you are going to have to take a plane or a boat. Most likely a plane. If you are afraid to fly, you will never get there. Forgiveness is a little selfish, but that is perfectly fine. Why? Because you do deserve to live a happy and healthy life.

On my own life journey, there have been people that I have had to release from my life. This includes people that I loved very deeply. The pain of heartbreak is very real. I once asked my mom if someone could die from heartbreak and she said yes, there is actually a medical term for it. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Broken heart syndrome is a temporary heart condition that’s often brought on by stressful situations and extreme emotions. The condition can also be triggered by a serious physical illness or surgery. It may also be called stress cardiomyopathy, takotsubo cardiomyopathy or apical ballooning syndrome.” I will talk about this when I talk about chakra’s and how Mr. Rishi and his family helped save my heart chakra!

I can tell you from personal experience that most pain does not feel good. I have felt the pain of betrayal, ungratefulness, the breaking of my trust, and even physical harm. This video is about redemption from all of that though. I think that how we forgive is situational. Was the incident major or minor? Is it something that we can recover from—really recover from and not just how we feel at the moment? Can something be salvaged from this? Should anything be salvaged? We can love people from a distance. I would tell my younger self that it is ok to let some people and some situations go. There are indeed lessons, blessings, and people and situations that will last for a moment or a lifetime. As far as the relationship with self, forgiving yourself can be hard, but with practice, you can and will get there. One day, I got up and realized that some of the things that bothered me, just held no power over me anymore. I was doing the work to heal from those things, and it feels like learning another language. You practice, you learn, and one day you understand.

In the height of a major transformational moment in my life, my aunt presented me with this Buddhist Forgiveness Prayer. I repeated this frequently, as many times as I needed to. Whenever the thought of something came up that filled me with pain, anger, or rage, and I knew that I needed to be in a calmer place, I would say it like a mantra. It says, 

“If I have harmed anyone in any way either knowingly or unknowingly
through my own confusions I ask their forgiveness.

If anyone has harmed me in any way either knowingly or unknowingly
through their own confusions I forgive them.

And if there is a situation I am not yet ready to forgive
I forgive myself for that.

For all the ways that I harm myself, negate, doubt, belittle myself,
judge or be unkind to myself through my own confusions
I forgive myself.”

I believe too that as we are experiencing life, there will be many moments where things will happen and we will have to dig into our tool kit to find ways to handle situations. This prayer is in my forgiveness tool kit. 

Elizabeth Gilbert recounted hearing Iyanla Vanzant talk about her own experience with forgiveness. She said, 

“”[Iyanla] My love of you — it’s got nothing to do with you. I’m trying to save myself. So I love them. I get to choose my relationship with them. Doesn’t mean I will invite them for Thanksgiving. But I can love them from my altar and from my prayer table IF IT MEANS MY FREEDOM.” [Elizabeth]. I wept when I heard this. Your forgiveness of people who have harmed you has nothing to do with THEM.  Your forgiveness is about YOU trying to achieve liberty from the prison of your own suffering, your own anger, you own grief, your own darkness, your own obsessive thoughts, your own indignation. Love is the only way out of that prison. Radical, outrageous, nearly impossible, superhuman LOVE.”

I think this is how I saw forgiveness ultimately. I needed to free myself. I wanted to be happy and live my life without holding on to regret, or without beating myself up for things that I did or did not do. Self-love helps you to forgive yourself. Treat yourself as you would treat a good friend.

So, I guess to answer the questions that I had with my friends—forgiveness can take time. It is also personal and individual to you and the situation. Be gentle with yourself, but know that with practice, with time, and with your commitment to your healing, then it does get easier. I hope that if there is something that you are holding on to in your own life, that you can find the grace to afford yourself some peace and personal freedom. I am rooting for you. May the stars shine brightly over your week, and may it be an amazing one indeed.