This is a powerful word, overloaded with layers of context from religious backgrounds, moral code, all the “shoulds” in our lives. But what does it really mean to forgive?
Here again understanding begins with inner work, the inner examination of what this word means and how it applies to us, to me. Is this something that comes to us from others who have wronged us in some way? How do we recognize it? Is it an apology? And how do we react to it? Do we shrug it off as if it didn’t happen; go on as if it didn’t?
And how do we react when we are in the wrong? What form do we want forgiveness to take when we’ve hurt someone but hope they will forgive us?
I think the only way to understand forgiveness is to see how it applies to ourselves.
A couple of days ago I dropped my favorite fountain pen. I reacted with shock, dismay and anger that this pen was ruined. This was, of course, an accident: I fumbled with papers and a notebook trying to take notes during a coaching call. I was clumsy and inattentive. The pen fell, point down of course, on the tile floor. How do I forgive myself for this negligence? I go inside to examine the feelings: heartbreak, yes, but over an object? It is repairable. Let the object go. Anger, yes, both self and outer-directed. Is it the floor’s fault? Do I blame gravity? My lack of an appropriate work-area? My clumsiness? Why do I need to find fault at all? Accidents happen. As I look back at the event today it is an opportunity to examine and apply forgiveness – self-forgiveness.
I can learn about forgiveness here by going inward, self-ward. Forgiveness here is not to dismiss the event. It happened, I am still upset by it and there are consequences to deal with. But to hold on to blame or anger seems unproductive. Holding on to the lesson seems the better approach. I can also respond with action to help prevent accidents of this type in the future: I can improve my work environment and place more attention on protecting my valuable pens. Action and awareness help assuage the hurt from the loss. But ultimately I have to return to the illusive notion of forgiveness. This thing happened; it can’t be undone and should not be forgotten. But I take the lesson and come back to the mantra: “I am always doing my best and I am continually learning and improving.” This is the rock-bottom message here. This is self-forgiveness.
We can then take this into the outer world, the world populated by others! We are all doing our best; even those who might hurt us in some way are doing their best! We may wish they were doing better! But they are where they are. We don’t have to forget the injury or pretend it didn’t happen. We do have to take some action, to let them know of the hurt caused and to learn for ourselves what there is to take from the incident so it doesn’t happen again. And, this action may be to avoid this person or situation in the future. We remember the lesson and move on, doing our best and giving them space to do their best.
Forgiveness. Somehow there is a seed of Peace here, buried in this too often misunderstood approach to relationships. Maybe we need to practice forgiveness in order to wage Peace.