BY SOFO ARCHON
All the great spiritual masters down the centuries have been teaching about the crucial importance of forgiveness for living in peace with ourselves and others.
But for us ordinary humans, to forgive is a very difficult thing to do.
Why It’s Hard to Forgive
If you’ve been deeply hurt by someone — and I’m sure you have, just like any other person alive — you must know exactly what I mean.
When someone hurts you, I bet forgiving them isn’t one of the first things to cross your mind. Rather, you most likely think of hurting them back — and as quickly as possible. You feel a burning desire to make them drink from the well of pain they pushed you into. Your heart is cut open because of them and all you want is to soak them in its blood.
Forgiveness is entirely out of the question. How could you forgive someone who HURT you? And, more importantly, how could you forgive someone who hurt YOU?
To the wounded ego, forgiveness implies not standing up for itself. Hence, giving in to it appears like self-betrayal. And since the ego is obsessed about itself, it doesn’t give a shit about forgiveness. Its kingdom is under attack and it urgently needs to fight back to win the battle ahead in order to remain seated in the king’s chair. Only this way will it be able to feel strong, powerful and proud again.
Forgiveness Requires Strength
Forgiveness, we tend to think, is for the weak — that is, for those who don’t possess the will and courage to protect themselves against the evil. It’s for those whose heart is so vulnerable and fragile that anyone and at any time could take it into their hands and tear it apart without experiencing the least resistance.
Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. Contrary to popular belief, the capacity to forgive is actually a sign of emotional strength. To stay open, trusting and loving in an unkind, competitive and often cruel environment is one of the most courageous things you could do. To allow your heart to be the decision-maker in a world that is run by cunning brains is one of the most difficult psychological feats you can accomplish. To practice compassion and offer second chances to those who’ve shown bad intentions towards you requires integrity, fearlessness and resilience.
On the other hand, building tall, thick walls around your heart to insulate it from external forces is nothing but a sign of emotional weakness. The image of a guarded, cold heart is screaming: “I’m terrified of the world and I feel the need to protect myself by staying away from it.” Insecure and afraid, close-hearted people are desperately trying in any way possible to keep a certain distance from others — and the bigger that distance is, the safer they feel. But the price they have to pay for that is extremely high: Disconnection, loneliness, alienation.
The Wisdom of Forgiveness
Other than a sign of strength, forgiveness is also a sign of wisdom. The reason is threefold:
Firstly, to forgive means realizing the pointlessness of trying to fix your heart by breaking the heart of someone else. If a person has hurt you, you won’t heal your emotional wounds nor erase the pain that results from their actions by hurting them back. The wounds will still be there, and, whether you like it or not, they’ll likely leave permanent scars on your psyche. You can either accept what happened and move on with your life or try to undo your past and stay stuck in it. Forgiving people are wise enough to go for the former option.
Secondly, to forgive means seeing the dark side in everyone. Although forgiving people don’t try to justify acts that are unjustifiable, they do recognize that all humans (themselves included) are imperfect and hence prone to commit mistakes or “wrongdoings”, such as hurting others (whether intentionally or unintentionally). Instead of expecting that others behave in perfectly nice manners and judging or abandoning them when they don’t, they understand that, despite their imperfections, all people are deserving of love and compassion. And when they feel the need to depart from a relationship that has turned toxic, they try their best to do so without adding any extra conflict and suffering to it.
Lastly, to forgive means understanding that, as Gandhi eloquently put it, “an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” Forgiving people know that those who hurt them are themselves hurt, and that revenge only makes things worse, by fueling a cycle of hatred that leads to prolonged and intensified suffering. They also know that only compassion can break that cycle, agreeing with Martin Luther King, Jr. who said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Opening Our Hearts
When we’re overcome with resentment, it can be hard to forgive someone who has hurt us. Resentment narrows our perception, clouds our judgment and hardens our emotions, preventing us from seeing our situation with clear eyes and dealing with it in an effective manner.
In other words, resentment turns us into captives of our traumatic past, not allowing us to let go and focus on what lies ahead of us. This is well-illustrated by an old Tibetan story:
Two ex-prisoners of war meet after many years. When the first one asks, “Have you forgiven your captors yet?” the second man answers, “No, never.” “Well then,” the first man replies, “they still have you in prison.”
To break free from the prison of resentment and the suffering that goes hand in hand with it, we need to open our hearts and embrace our fellow humans with compassion. Initially, this might be quite a difficult thing to do, but it’s the only way to get unstuck from the destructive patterns of our past, rediscover inner peace and build healthy relationships based on love and understanding.
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