Forgiveness.....am I able to?
Forgiveness is a spiritual practice in most traditions. Its usually conditional, dependent on confession and repentance of the wrong we have done. There are also approaches, such as that of A Course In Miracles, which centre on unconditional forgiveness. The benefits of forgiveness are many, not least the fact that in withholding forgiveness we are trapping ourselves in the past and robbing ourselves of the future.
But forgiveness is tough, isn’t it? Even minor grudges can be hard to let go of. Real traumas are major life challenges. I myself only really forgave my parents in recent years for stuff they did way back when I was a kid. Really forgave: its an emotional matter, forgiveness. I can want to forgive, I can think forgiveness, I can meditate it, I can pray it, but unless I deep-down feel it, it’s fake, and I’m still trapped in what was.
Is there any help? One recommendation often made is to cease attaching to the past. Another is to separate the person from what they did: hate the sin, love the sinner. Either of those ways could be promoted by integral: if I understand the context of the harm done to me, perhaps I’m less likely to blame, more able to let go. To know all, as someone famously said, is to forgive all…
Makes sense, doesn’t it? But look closer. Isn’t there a danger of living in denial here? Take 9/11. Should someone who lost a loved one there, and who wanted to forgive, be better able to do so if they deepen their understanding of the terrorists - their social background, their psychological make-up, the influence of others, the political context? I make no apologies for being a little emotive, because forgiveness does have to involve the emotions. So take another case: that of the parents of a six year old girl who was stalked, abducted, raped and murdered. They are truly lost in the past, with their memories of her much-loved happy face as well as the horror of what happened to her. Yet who would dare to advise them to give up attachment, or to empathise with the criminal in his context? One reason we wouldn’t dare is that we know that we couldn’t follow our own advice in their situation. Maybe another is that we suspect that somewhere, somehow, despite AQAL, there is accountability for actions, that to understand all doesn’t mean that there is nothing, ultimately, to forgive. Yes? No?
Amazingly, there are some who ARE able to forgive the unforgiveable. Try the stories at http://www.theforgivenessproject.com/. What such people tend to say is that forgiveness is not so much an outcome of understanding as a grace, a spiritual gift. Their forgiveness is unconditional. If it was conditional, it would never happen, because no amount of regret on the part of those who caused the harm could match the suffering which was caused. Yet… I wonder if understanding isn’t needed first before the grace of unconditional forgiveness can be received? This seems to be what Anne Gallagher, a nurse bereaved in the Northern Ireland troubles, is saying on the Forgiveness Project website:
‘To heal the wounds of Northern Ireland I believe you have to see humanity in the face of the enemy. But forgiveness is a journey. Today you can forgive and tomorrow you can feel pain all over again. I’m not a religious person, but for me forgiveness is about grace. To be able to forgive someone who has hurt you is a moment of grace.’
To ‘see humanity in the face of the enemy’ is to begin to see them integrally, as fellow creatures caught up like us in samsara. Yet, is noone personally accountable? In choosing to harm others, are we a product of our context, so that there is nothing, ultimately, to forgive? What do you think of forgiveness as spiritual practice?
I guess what got me going on this......and something that is very personal to me....is this.
I was raped/molested....whatever word you choose to describe it.....by my maternal grandfather from about the age of 5-12? I might be off a year.....but I was young so forgive me. That's the only thing I will say about that. Period.
Now he is in the hospital and dieing. I refuse to go. He keeps asking for me. My family, while understanding of how I feel they say, almost to a point make me feel badly because I refuse to go see him. Then tonight.....like a slap in the face..........I get a call from the hospital because I am the closest BLOOD relative asking me to become his guardian and place him in a nursing home. I was like.......how dare you. How dare you have the utter AUDACITY to call me! TO ASK ME!
Then I thought..........I thought I had forgiven him? I thought I was beyond this. I thought that all the money spent on getting myself counseling and talking to them about it and moving on in my life was supposed to help me not be bitter. Then i thought.............if that was truly the case....I wouldn't have nightmares. I wouldn't relive things night after night in my sleep. Then wake. Smile. Move on with life. I refuse to let this define me. To let him have power of my here. My now. My future. He controlled enough of my past. The present and the future....they are mine.
I want to forgive, I want to be the bigger person.... but today/tonight.....showed me that while I thought I had....I haven't. I wonder.........will I ever?