Forgiveness. We all think we know what it means. We all try to be good humans and push ourselves to forgive others when they have done wrong.
But do we really understand what REAL forgiveness is? I am not so sure and I am willing to bet a large majority of people are doing it all wrong. What do I mean by this?
Well, I found out not too long ago that I was doing forgiveness all wrong. Or to put it in a more accurate description, I wasn’t forgiving at all.
it was all a sham.
What made me come to this realization?
There were two breaking points that made me realize what I was doing when I was ‘forgiving’ people was actually condemning them to a greater sin; a greater debt than I felt they owed before I ‘forgave’ them.
The first breaking point came at the tail end of my meditation retreat in Vipassana. On the last day, when we were finally allowed to speak again, the 20+ men that I had spent the previous ten days with whom I wasn’t allowed to communicate with started to open up about their experiences. Not surprisingly, the conversations moved towards other spiritual experiences we had encountered.
As one man recounted his tale of his adventures in South America and participating in some shamanistic ritual, he explained the feeling of a spirit guiding him through the experience and revealing to him that he was holding many grudges. The only way to move on, the spirit explained to him, was to forgive those who had wronged him. Now, here is the interesting part; the man was completely unaware of these grudges until their existence was revealed to him by this spirit.
The funny thing about hearing this story and retelling it is that I remember vividly sitting at the collapsible table in the dining hall at the meditation center listening to this man and asking myself whether or not I had anyone that I needed to forgive.
After some thought, I quickly came to the conclusion that I had none. I held no grudges. I was free as a bird.
This was only a four months ago.
The second more recent breaking point in my life came when caught between two feuding friends; one who had clearly been wronged by the other. But it was when the ‘wronged’ friend claimed to not hold grudges, I was not only shocked, but I had to hold myself back from laughing.
The friend who ‘held no grudges’ claimed to have forgiven the other. Ok, fair enough.
The problem with this statement is that her actions seemed to disagree with what she believed in her heart. She believed that she doesn’t hold grudges towards anyone. But as I spent time with both of them, she clearly treated the other with hostility, made fun of him, and took a couple of opportunities to embarrass the other. It seemed so clear that she was, in fact, holding a grudge. I couldn’t believe someone could have so little self awareness.
As I sat by and watched the hypocrisy take place, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. ‘At least I wasn’t as blind to my actions as her’, I thought to myself.
I soon realized I was acting pretty blindly myself.
As I had done before – I asked myself whether I was guilty of acting in the same way. Had I convinced myself that I don’t hold grudges and yet still act in a way that ran counter to that?
Could I have met two different people from two different worlds who both needed lessons in forgiveness and awareness and I somehow did not? Didn’t seem likely.
I had forgiven all of those who had wronged me, hadn’t I?
But as I started to pry and ask myself more questions I quickly realized that what I was doing when I convinced myself I was forgiving people was not real forgiveness. I was using forgiveness as a weapon against those that had wronged me.
Forgiveness as a weapon?
Had I really forgiven my friends who I thought weren’t living up to their potential? Had I really forgiven the girl who had cheated on me? What about all the people I considered genuine assholes; were they forgiven? Or did I just convince myself I forgave them to make myself feel better.
Think about it. How often do we hear the phrases – ‘be the bigger person’, ‘don’t stoop down to their level’, ‘take the higher road’. Phrases that infer that you will be the better person, the superior person for acting with ‘kindness’.
“there is no greater victory over the enemy than when they meet you with aggression you meet them with kindness.”
This quote pretty much sums up what I mean by forgiveness as a weapon. This all sounds nice and rosy when you first think about it. You may even ask yourself, ‘What’s wrong with that Mahyar?’ You are beating out those that have wronged you.’
Well, the problem is that this basic act that is meant to eradicate judgement and get rid of past ‘errors’ is instead being used to demean the other person or to make yourself out to be superior or self-righteous.
The person wrongs you. You ‘take the high road’ and forgive them. And then you make them feel as though they owe you because you were ‘kind’ enough and ‘good hearted’ enough to forgive them. This isn’t forgiveness. Nothing is let go and nothing is forgotten. It’s a transaction and it’s self-righteousness. It’s vindictiveness and we don’t even realize that we are doing it most of the time because most of us operate this way and it is taught to us as good and holy. So it is insidious too!
It’s a feeling of debt after you forgive someone. They owe you something AFTER you forgave them? Sounds like you never forgave them at all.
And what about the classic line, ‘I can forgive, but I can never forget’. It’s just the easy way of saying you are not ready to forgive.
Now I am especially guilty of acting this way and I am quite ready to admit that. For so long ( and I’m sure I still do this if I don’t consciously notice it) I used forgiveness as a tool to make myself better than the people who wronged me or ‘ruined’ me. Had I really found it in my heart the love required to forgive those that had hurt me so bad?
No. It was just a bunch of horse shit. I hadn’t forgiven anyone. I was just giving my ego something to jerk off to because now I can be happy with myself for being such a ‘good person’. And the worst part of it all, that resentment, that anger, that feeling that you are owed something which forgiveness is supposed to get rid of, stays with you… only this time, you don’t know about it.
What I am starting to understand is that any type of forgiveness that makes you feel morally or emotionally superior to others is not real forgiveness at all. Any type of forgiveness that doesn’t erase all past sins is not real forgiveness at all.
‘You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens’ – Rumi
Now that I have explained what forgiveness is not, I’d like to try to explain what I am starting to understand as to what forgiveness really is.
Real forgiveness is realizing that you had no right to judge others in the first place.
Real forgiveness is understanding people, especially ourselves, make mistakes but that is not who they are. It also means staying objective because we don’t want a ‘fool me once, fool me twice’ to happen. Understand what people are and aren’t capable of but do not judge their worth by it.
Real forgiveness is a feeling of lightness after the burden of holding something against someone is lifted off your mind and soul. I liken this feeling to the Rumi quote I mentioned above. When I start to send love and good will towards those who I perceive as having wronged me, it is almost like the plaster mold of the grudge that has formed around my chest and makes me feel heavy starts to crack a little bit.
The more and more this plaster molding cracks, the more my light shines through, the lighter I feel and the more at peace I am.
It’s time to ask yourself – have you really forgiven lately?