Forgiveness is a difficult concept, yet one that is fundamental to healing. Many refuse to forgive because to do so seems to absolve another of responsibility for hurtful behaviors. Somehow by holding a grudge, we imprison the offender in a cell of our consciousness. We will hold them there until they are sufficiently remorseful or repentant. Even then, we may not release them. Sometimes remorse is not enough, we reason. It cannot fix the past. Consequently, one is left feeling that he just cannot get over the harm that was done.
Of course it is difficult to move on, when you keep the offender in a cell in the middle of your consciousness. Ironically, the hardest pain to carry in life may be the one we create within our own mind. The deepest hurts, notwithstanding loss of loved ones or the pain of abuses, invariably result when we feel someone has not lived up to our expectations. They have not loved, respected, or cared for us as we wish they might have. We yearn for that fulfillment to come, like a cat waiting for someone to fill up her food dish. We feel a void inside, and keep focusing on that emptiness. We feel sad it is there, and look to someone else to fill that void. It may be a parent, partner, friend or even an employer. When it does not come, there is a feeling of disappointment, sadness, and perhaps bitterness along with feelings of lesser worth.
Unfortunately, others cannot fill our void. They have their own inner void. We are all moving along a healing path, after all. The love, respect and caring we crave needs to come from within anyway. If we truly love and honor ourselves, with compassionate patience, we fill the inner void. Then we are free to simply love others, without expecting anything in return. This is the unconditional loving that returns a hundredfold. Waiting for others to do this for us creates pain. Resenting them for not having done it in the past creates bitterness. Pain and bitterness reside in our own hearts: we are hurting ourselves. If we no longer want the hurt, we must give up the idea of changing what is outside of ourselves. Instead, we just release the pain and bitterness. That’s it. As soon as we decide to let go of the pain and bitterness we have chosen as the response to life events, the hurting stops.
Forgiveness does not mean that the hurtful acts of others are okay. Forgiveness means that we are no longer going to hold others responsible for the pain and bitterness we have been carrying in relation to them. We will no longer keep them locked in a holding cell in our minds. We may not understand their actions, or why it is they cannot change. We recognize the pain as our way of blaming them for not being who we want them to be. Forgiveness means we see they are who they are, and we are free to choose a less painful response. We may love them anyway, or decide to keep some distance. Either way, we no longer blame them for our unhappiness. This is letting go. Once we learn to let go, whether the person is in our lives or not, we have untied the knot that bound us together in negativity. Both feel the freedom.
The irony, or the miracle, is that often once we have let go, the love we have always wanted begins to flow more freely. Even if we have chosen to move away from that individual and there is no further relationship, we have freed up space in our consciousness for our own loving energy to circulate. Just as we cannot be relaxed and anxious at the same time, we cannot be fully loving if we are also carrying bitterness somewhere within. So if we want a lighter heart and more love in our lives we must set our prisoners free, then get rid of the walls and bars. Having cleared out our consciousness and opened our hearts, we take a quantum leap along our healing path. The energy that was tied up in guarding our pain is now released and available for building our joy.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning Psychotherapist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books or cds, visit www.gwen.ca