Forgiveness is a powerful, often misunderstood, human experience. When we have been hurt or wronged by someone, one of the most natural reactions is to feel anger. If the anger persists, it can lead to deep resentments that may affect us for years. The idea of forgiving the offending party can seem impossible, unfair, and perhaps too difficult to even consider. While forgiving others can begin with an understanding of what happened, and draw from a wide range of spiritual teachings about human nature, it is important to understand that forgiveness benefits you more than anyone else. We give a gift to ourselves when we forgive. No matter how serious the action that harmed us, working towards the goal of forgiveness will heal your heart and soul in a way that no person or event can ever take from you. Being a forgiving person is an embrace of unconditional self-love.
Forgiveness clears away anger, resentment, and fear. When we are locked into those feelings, it’s impossible to see how some of life’s most difficult situations can be opportunities for deepening our connection to what is truly important.
If we forgive, we become our own source of healing.
Without forgiveness, we’re not equipped to begin to restore our sense of well-being and preservation. Forgiveness is not about abandoning what is right and just, but it gives us the ability to know what to act on, and what to let go of. Resentments cloud our judgment. When you forgive, you release the energy that you are misdirecting on to another person and the past, and focus it where it belongs – on you, in this moment.
When you hold on to anger and refuse to forgive, you only hurt yourself. It can become a cycle of hatred that never ends. Love is what combats anger, and forgiveness is love. To forgive is not to excuse, condone, or necessarily forget. It may or may not include reconciliation. We might have to change or end a relationship in our lives, but forgiveness teaches us to detach with love. Understanding this concept – that we can be loving to everyone no matter the circumstances – can improve every area of our lives. We need to look beyond the individual incidents when thinking about the true nature of forgiveness. It should be part of our daily spiritual practice.
When we let go of the expectation that we “should” receive an apology, or that we are “owed” something for the wrongs inflicted on us, we are free in the greatest sense of that word. We should seek to approach everyone and everything, including ourselves, with forgiveness. How many of us beat ourselves up for mistakes we feel we have made? What is gained by not forgiving our own actions? If we are continually angry at ourselves it begins to become a distraction from true self-examination. Being accountable and evolving as a person is the goal. Punishing ourselves is not. It is contrary to our self-growth.
Almost all of the world’s religions and teachings address the topic of forgiveness. In Buddhism forgiveness is talked about as letting go of negative feelings that would otherwise have a lasting effect on our true nature. Meditation often focuses on forgiveness for people in our lives we feel have harmed us, and on forgiveness for ourselves. Similarly, Christianity tells us that by forgiving others we are forgiving ourselves. No matter what spiritual path we follow, when we don’t forgive, we suffer – even more so than from the original pain or hurt we felt when the incident happened. Focusing on acceptance and compassion toward everything and everyone in our lives brings harmony and enlightenment.
Forgiveness is a logical result of living life with awareness and consciousness. If we remain mindful of the bigger picture when someone hurts us, we gain understanding about how their own issues and attitudes have affected them. Compassion, empathy, and forgiveness flow if we remain aware.
Forgiveness may not come right away. It is often a process. Feelings are always changing. The wish for revenge or retribution shifts if we allow the natural pendulum of life to swing away from those initial feelings. Forgiveness is non-reactive. It is contemplative and restores balance and peace. This is not to say you must feel this way right from the start. Knowing the value of forgiveness is the ability to pause, breathe deeply, and take time to think before you double down on anger and resentment. Once you can step into a forgiving mindset, a world of possibility opens. Though we may think of forgiveness as giving something up, it is really an opportunity to gain more than we could have ever imagined.
When forgiveness becomes a way of life, we all benefit on an individual level and as a society. Whether it is forgiveness for very severe wrongdoing, or just not feeling anger towards that person who cut you off in traffic, holding a different attitude about what we do with our pain, suffering, or just everyday annoyance, can dramatically transform the quality of our lives. We have the choice to forgive. Especially ourselves.
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