I admit, writing about forgiveness has become so much harder than writing about apologies. There’s an inner pain that refuses to give up it’s hold. The litany of half-truths, self-deception, broken promises and commitments, exists like a repeating siren call of anger and shame; anger at being treated that way by a friend who declared so long about love and shame and at the inner belief that at some level perhaps it was all deserved, that one is not worthy of being treated better. Is that not what many of us wrestle with, that inner voice of shame/guilt whispering to us of a reality however false that being treated awfully must somehow be our choice or reflective of our nature?
Combine all of that with a refusal to attempt amends, where the continued broken commitments create a path of wanting to work things out only on the basis of blindly accepting an apology that isn’t, thus tacitly accepting a quality of interaction that was horrible, there seems little recourse but to wallow in the self-destructive linearity of pain/anger/internal immolation. This is where the cry of “how can I forgive?” is born and soars, where the focus resides in such a way that seeing a path out is like noting a light while one’s head is stuck in the mud.
As noted in “I’m sorry” where the focus is more about the person saying it, forgiveness has the same locus for beginning movement. Make no mistake, this is not about ignoring consequence or moral abnegation or an absurd individualism that states others actions in no way affect us. Being hurt when one is abused, mistreated, lied to and broken their word about will result in pain and suffering. There is a quality in such actions that makes reality turn slightly sideways and exposes a serrated edge. The resultant feelings may be and likely are inevitable. However, the continuation of them is not a necessary aspect of reality. I am reminded here of the non-attachment stance in Buddhism. It is not so much that the practitioner has no feelings, but that attachments are noted as what they are, ephemeral and constantly changing, reflecting the nature of the one doing the feeling. Non-attachment is not no-attachment, but non-continual.
Forgiveness within this framework resides not in the pain and suffering but in that next potential moment that can and should follow, that moment of pain-less-ness. Anyone who has been hurt knows this moment, can think of it and remember the time when pain became less a constant companion and more a distant acquaintance who comes around every so often. When the reality of our lives reasserts itself in that first moment, however short, there is where forgiveness can be found. Forgiveness is not pain-filled but self-filled. Pain obscures from reality that our lives are not synonymous with hurt. Pain and heartache are a distortion, a detour on the path of a lived life.
Focusing only on the pain places awareness on the wrong object, the other person. Forgiveness is not about figuring out the other person who did the wrong, though at times that can certainly help. Forgiveness is instead a re-assertion of the reality of one’s existence, a wholeness of which we at a deeper understanding are always in possession of, where the pain/shame of hurt is no longer present .
Forgiveness becomes a re-establishment within oneself, a re-cognition of a whole that was momentarily thought broken a-part. Then this re-cognition is projected outward, not as a condemnation of the other, but as a declaration that one is no longer broken, that you see yourself for what you truly are, a whole person that while hurt at one time no longer believes the story of what the other person’s behavior said about them. We do not have to reside within the false notion of ourselves that broken promises are promoting.
© David Teachout