The Nature of Forgiveness

I was angry with my friend:

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:


I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,

Night and morning with my tears;

And I sunned it with smiles,

And with soft deceitful wiles.


And it grew both day and night,

Till it bore an apple bright.

And my foe beheld it shine.

And he knew that it was mine,


And into my garden stole

When the night had veiled the pole;

In the morning glad I see

My foe outstretched beneath the tree.


William Blake


I have many stories from my years overseas, but I thought I would share an essential experience from my past that shaped my future. It shaped my self-understanding, my flexibility, and my ability to be nonjudgmental.

As I thought about the nature of forgiveness I thought about my own struggles with this. Many years ago when I first thought about the necessity of forgiving the abuse I experienced, I thought I needed to forget it. Sheer willpower did not work so I simply ignored the pain. Little did I realize it was growing strong within me and expressing itself as anger and defensiveness towards the world? At one point during a group healing session, when I was in graduate school, I was able to cry. The crying went beyond simple tears but became what Oprah has referred to as the “ugly cry”. Given I rarely cry on the outside, and prior to this, never in front of anyone, this was an unusual breakthrough for me. The process of healing began. It was after this experience understanding began. I was able to understand why my mother did what she did. I thought about what it would mean if I had been married at fifteen to a man twenty years my senior; someone I did not meet until the day I was married. In fact, she did meet him once, and her reaction was “she pitied the woman who married him, because he had a flat head. In the day my father was born, they tied babies to boards so their backs would be straight, but it made their heads flat. I wondered what I would be like if I was taken from the homeland I deeply loved, and forced to live in a country I hated. I wondered what my own anger level would be. Through understanding, came compassion. I was once told I could not have forgiven my mother because I still speak about what happened. I realized many years ago that although I have forgiven my mother, I have not forgotten what happened. The difference is, it no longer has a hold on my emotions. If something happens in my life now that triggers a past memory, I can recognize it and move on.

However, the biggest accomplishment is the ability to forgive myself my own anger, and my own feelings of hatred or vengeance. This is the harder journey. It is easier to understand, to feel compassion for someone else, whether my mother, a friend or someone else who has wronged me than it is for myself. Part of this is pride, part of this is feeling how can I forgive myself, as I am not worthy of my own forgiveness. It is said, before we judge we need to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I believe before we judge we need to see clearly the shoes we use for walking.

Forgiveness comes from compassion that comes from understanding, which comes from experience. There is a saying; one of the four agreements, expressed by Don Miquel Ruiz, is to never take anything personally, as nothing that is done to you is meant for you.

“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of misunderstanding.” Don Miquel Ruiz

Strange is it not. Hard not to take it personally when someone is beating you with a belt, or a wooden spoon, or telling you how much she hates you. It feels very personal at the time. However, I remember my mother saying to me, in the middle of one of these sessions: “I do this to you because you are strong. You can take it.”

And it wasn’t me she was beating or berating. She was beating the father who beat her. She was beating the father and Uncle who married her off at a ridiculous young age. She was beating herself for her powerlessness to speak or to have a say in her life. And she was beating the mother who could not protect her. And most of all, she was beating my own father who brought her to this land, separating her from her home, her family, and most of all from the boy she loved. My father, before he died, asked my mother’s forgiveness for this, as he realized she was too young.

I learned to forgive her, and through this forgiveness, I learned understanding and compassion for myself. I learned to forgive myself. The beatings stopped when I was about thirteen. They stopped the day she chased me up the stairs, and I turned on the stairs to her, and said, “If you come up one more stair, I will knock you backwards down the steps.” I did not care if I killed her. I had become cold inside. Consequences did not matter. I only wanted her to stop. On that day she turned to emotional abuse. I learned how to listen, and not listen. I paid her words no heed, but they still hurt, and this was another path for forgiveness.

On that day I learned never to judge another person. I saw within myself the capacity for murder. I had dreams of murdering my whole family. I saw myself with the knife, the knife with the blood of everyone in my family on it.

Through this experience I came to realize the connectedness of all life. I realized we were all capable of murder, given the right circumstances. Neale Donald Walsch states there is no need for forgiveness, as there is no right or wrong. We all see the world according to the reality we experience. We all play our part. We are all one. We all participate in the creation of reality. I once, may years ago, told a college class that no dictator, i.e. Hitler, could exist, unless he existed within the people. Jung referred to this as our Shadow side. It is the part of us we refuse to face because it is so painful. But this refusal leads to its dominance of our actions. It is only when we face the shadow we can change it, work with it, and make gold out of it. I use the analogy of being in a dark roomful of rattlesnakes. It is only when the light is turned on, that we can learn how to move around and avoid them.

Forgiveness is more for ourselves, than for the other person. It actually matters little whether someone else forgives us, if we can truly forgive ourselves. It takes considerable energy to block forgiveness and this keeps us from advancing spiritually. As long as we refuse forgiveness, we refuse our true nature, which is Compassion, with a capital “C”, a Divine essence.

We cannot control another’s response; we can only control our own response to another’s behavior towards us. And know it or not, justified or not (this is not the question here), we are all engaged in a dance. It is often extremely difficult to understand the dance we engage in, because our vision, our perception is limited, but there is a dance. And I need to forgive myself, my part in this dance. I need never to see the other person again, if I so choose but I need not to allow my own lack of forgiveness to be the poison apple within my soul. I bring peace within myself when I can forgive both the other person and myself.

There is the story of a healer who worked in the Philippines in a hospital for the mentally ill. He practiced a type of healing where he never talked with the patient but was seen to take the file of the patient and to hold it. He was heard to say, “I am sorry, please forgive me, I love you.” He understood the part we each play in the other’s pain. He prayed this prayer constantly. Within some months the hospital was empty. The patients had all been healed of their illness. He recognizes the oneness of all creation. We are intertwined and, like it or not we are all one. This is not a truth for convenience or when it suits us. It is a Truth that when we accept it, and recognize it brings inner Peace and Healing.

Brain wave studies have shown a remarkable change in the brain through forgiveness. Forgiveness brings us into the Alpha wave stage, which is the wavelength of meditators. It can also achieve Delta stage, achieved by only the most advanced of meditators. The state of self-forgiveness and compassion for self and others brings a change that moves outward to others.


Rumi says:

“Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”

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