Too often in our lives, we hold on to experiences that are connected to resentment, anger, and guilt. They are our “dead weights”. We are, figuratively speaking, hauling around with us a heavy anchor attached to our ankle with a thick chain. What are you hanging on to that you have long since needed to discard?
Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different. In recognizing that, we also recognize that it’s past time to discard the resentment, anger, and guilt that have weighed us down.
In forgiving ourselves, we recognize that the past cannot be changed but, at the same time, we realize that the past can be healed. Life review helps us become aware of aspects of our past that have been hidden in our sub-conscious mind. Though we are not consciously aware of them, they often have continued to influence us.
A tool for self-forgiveness is to write or record an autobiography. This allows us to reflect on experiences from our past in order to gain new insights or understandings. From that, we may discover things we need to do in order to heal the past. Or maybe we will find that we have been telling ourselves a story over the years that may not actually be true!
Yes, we have a story, but we are NOT our story. We have a history, but we are NOT our history. What stories have you been telling yourself?
In the late 1960’s, a man named Scott filed as a Conscientious Objector when he feared being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. He had a very strong feeling that he did not want to be involved in any actions that brought physical harm to anybody else. His first filing was rejected, and then in the course of his appeals, the war ended.
Scott’s friends started coming home, many with lost limbs and many more with “broken hearts” over what they had been forced to endure, and then to come home to a society that rejected them. Scott began feeling guilty that he had avoided being drafted. He had the feeling that because he didn’t sacrifice like his friends had, he no longer deserved good things in his life.
As he grew older, Scott became a successful businessman, but he felt disconnected. He found that he was unable to give of his heart in any of his relationships. He felt isolated, even though he was married and had children.
Eventually, Scott began to seek spiritual guidance and practice the principles he learned to recognize that there was more to him than the person who registered as a C.O. during the Vietnam war. He went back and took a look at that time in his life and realized that at the time, he was doing what he really thought was right. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to serve his country; he just didn’t want to be involved in physical violence towards another human being.
He wanted very badly to break free from the guilt that he had been feeling, so he began looking for ways he could be of service to the community. At one point he was serving as the volunteer president of a contractor’s organization. He prayed that he would be able to do something really significant for the community during his tenure.
Within a week or two of becoming president, he was called by someone who told him about a group of Vietnam veterans who wanted to build a memorial to honor those from their city who had lost their lives during the war. They needed a lot of construction work done and could Scott’s group help out?
It was a divine fit for Scott. He became a spokesperson to the other contractors and under his presidency, the Vietnam Memorial for the State of Oregon was built. At the dedication, Scott was celebrated for his volunteer efforts, but he wasn’t comfortable with that. He began to confess to the crowd the burden he had been carrying for years. Despite his fear of rejection, he told of his decision to file as a C.O. The acceptance he received and the many tears that followed – his and those of others – he was able to finally cleanse himself of the guilt and unburden himself, knowing that he had given back through this effort and was deserving of a good life after all.
With some effort, we can heal from the past, learn from it and find that we no longer regret something that happened. In many cases, we just need to acknowledge that we did the best we could, given the awareness we had at the time.
In forgiving others, most of us have a grave misunderstanding. Lack of forgiveness hurts us more than the one who has offended us. We are imprisoned by our anger and pain.
We acknowledge that forgiveness does not justify the act that caused us suffering. But what we recognize is that forgiveness enables us to fully experience the pain and then let it go. We are then able to continue growing, rather than allowing ourselves to perpetuate our sense of being a victim.
A friend of mine, Teri, had a mother who was mentally ill. As a child, she couldn’t understand or accept her mother’s behavior, but was the oldest of five children and had to sometimes intervene to protect her siblings when her mother would suddenly burst out in a violent rage. Not surprisingly, she grew to hate her mother and feel sorry for herself.
When she was old enough to leave home, she wanted to completely remove herself from the situation. She was able to do that physically, but the resentment she felt towards her mother was affecting everything in her life. She wanted to be more deserving. She wanted to lead a fulfilling life, but the energy she was holding onto about her mother was sabotaging her efforts.
Finally, Teri made a decision to change this. She knew she couldn’t change her mother, but she could change her inner relationship with her mother. We can all do that. We can’t change what’s happened in our lives but we absolutely can change our perception of what happened.
Teri was ultimately able to transform her resentment and hatred towards her mother into a practice of being grateful. She was never grateful FOR her mother and the treatment inflicted on those around her, but she was able to be grateful IN the relationship once she changed her perspective.
Teri had come to a place where she realized that she did not want to feel resentment for the woman who gave her life. Her mother was going to continue being mentally ill and be almost unbearable to be around, but Teri was able to change her experience of her mother. She refused to let her mother control her (Teri’s) inner state of being. Once she did that, she saw her mother in a whole new light.
She saw her mother as a frightened woman who could only ask for love through her illness in ways that repulsed those around her. And she saw an innocence in that behavior, which replaced the resentment she had felt before. Teri was able to shift her energy despite the circumstances. She did not feel grateful FOR the life she had with her mother, but she did feel grateful IN the life she had with her mother.
At the end of the day, forgiveness is a choice we make. It’s not an easy choice because it usually requires us to do a lot of work on ourselves. We might even feel some grief as we let go of resentment that has felt like it is part of our identity.
Forgiveness doesn’t change the past, but it changes the present and transforms the future.
As an exercise, the next time you are upset by something that someone has done or said, consider assuming that there is part of the story that you are missing. Assume that this story, if you knew it, would give the other person reason enough for their behavior. Describe how you might respond to that situation given that new understanding.
Your comments are welcome below.
If you know someone who would appreciate this information, please forward it to them.
Authentic Living Newsletter Subscription