"Despite possible criticism from some people within the establishment who would prefer to leave some disturbing facts under wraps; Alison has continued to reveal how certain information has been suppressed - information which could be of great help in our understanding of why we might be ill, and showing us how we can take steps to improve our own wellbeing."
Tony Norton, Physiotherapist and Acupuncturist
I recently watched a documentary in the Storyville strand entitled Despicable Dick and Righteous Richard about the efforts of an ageing rogue called Richard Kuchera to rectify the misdeeds of his past (see below).
After a lifetime of drink- and drug-fuelled misdemeanours, he had been attending Alcoholics Anonymous for 20 years and was seemingly stuck in the process. Specifically stuck between steps 8 and 9 which require you to make an inventory of all those you have wronged and to seek to make amends.
And there was a lot to forgive.
He had done people out of money, been unfaithful, bedded the wives and girlfriends of his friends and relatives, tried to push his wife out of a moving car, abandoned his 6 year old son in favour of a hitchhiking trip around the world, and so on.
Pictures of him in his youth showed a handsome, moustachioed cowboy-type and he was certainly used to charming and manipulating people to bend to his will.
Now living in a trailer on the South Dakota prairie he undertook a road trip to see those he had wounded. This culminated in a family reunion in Las Vegas which was a sort of informal convention for Dick survivors that ended alternately with him tearfully saying that he was only 'expressing his feelings' when challenged and sticking his fingers in his ears like a child and refusing to listen to the grievances of those he had hurt.
In truth, there really is no reason why any of the people he had wounded should have granted him an audience, much less have forgiven him for some fairly heinous and wilfully destructive behaviour. Whether his search for forgiveness was genuine or not or just another way of being the centre of attention remained in question at the end of the documentary. And, at one stage he admits to a pastor that he enjoyed his wicked ways and missed his past behaviours.
So what is forgiveness and why is it so important?
Forgiveness is defined as the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution.
When you forgive you must do so without any expectation of compensation or restorative justice, and possibly without any response on the part of the offender who you may have no means of contacting or who may be dead.
Sometimes the perceived offender may either have asked for forgiveness or may acknowledge or respond to the act of forgiveness. And some people take it one step further by not only forgiving the perpetrator but by offering them attention, time, or financial support.
The seeking of revenge and justice
Some people who percieve they have been wronged seek justice or vengeance. Where justice is defined as the payment of a penalty for wrongdoing even if the party who has been transgressed against takes no pleasure in the transaction. And vengeance is the desire to see those that have made you suffer on the receiving end of their own actions.
There is a natural instinct when hurt to want to hurt the other back in equal measure. But this is playground stuff. The fact is that ultimately the only person that suffers as a result of holding a grievance is the grudge holder. Buddhism reminds us that “The victimiser is, truly, the most unfortunate of all.”
This is because an unforgiven injury binds you to a past moment and to old feelings. These feelings of hurt become immortalised and are revived every time we recall the event. They haunt us in our waking and sleeping hours. And the feelings don't even subside when the perpetrator dies, but can live on as a parasite inside of us for an entire lifetime. Ultimately, to keep this hate alive in your soul is truly corrosive - to your life, not theirs.
The seeking of revenge never evens the score. Instead it locks all parties involved into an escalation of pain in which feuds can persist for generations because no two people or groups ever weigh pain and wrongdoing on the same scale.
In any event I have always considered the best 'revenge' to be living a full and happy life and if you succeed in achieving that, you may find that any apology becomes superfluous. In fact, it can be surprising to realise what has been weighing heavily on someone's conscience for decades.
If you spend your life waiting for an apology you might wait in vain, and frankly even when it comes, sometimes it is a bit of an anticlimax. In the meantime you can invest a lot of energy in wanting to make the perpetrator pay or waiting for them to "make it up to you" when you have been giving the event and the wrongdoer power over your life.
Others may never change and you need to accept that nothing you do can make them change. They will come to the realisation of the harm inflicted in their own time - or not at all.
Teachings on forgiveness
Most religions include teachings on the nature of forgiveness. Some stress the need to appeal for forgiveness from a higher source and others the need for us to forgive one another.
In Christianity, Jesus spoke repeatedly of the need to forgive and to 'turn the other cheek' when wronged. In the words of Gandhi "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" and the Christian teaching is not to pass the misery on, but to have the courage to let it stop with you. This can be regarded as weakness by some who fail to grasp the concept and who regard vengeance as being righteous or strong.
Allied with this is the fact that Christianity also talks about refraining from judging others. Jesus counselled "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" For we can clearly see the shortcomings of others', but can get no clear perspective on our own which may remain invisible to us.
In both Buddhism and Hinduism the belief is in karma so that there is an understanding that what happens in one lifetime is a balancing process for what has occurred in other lifetimes. This means that although earthly justice may appear imperfect and unfair that there is a belief in a perfect and divine justice. Sometimes you can see this in action over a period of decades let alone lifetimes!So the emphasis in these religions is in taking full responsibility for one's own actions and in preventing incurring negative karma by refraining from intentionally hurting others.
In the best-selling book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom the author recounts the lessons he learned from his former sociology professor, Morrie Schwarz, when he knew he was terminally ill with Lou Gehrig's disease. In spite of 16 years having passed with no contact between the two men, Mitch Albom chose to travel to see Morrie every Tuesday in the last months of his life and in the process became a changed man.
Much of Morrie's advice centred around the need to love one another and to forgive as in the exhortation to "Forgive everyone everything" and also on the need to "Forgive ourselves ... For all the things we didn't do. All the things we should have done. You can't get stuck on the regrets of what should have happened." And sometimes forgiving ourselves is truly the hardest act of all.
There's nothing to forgive
Understand also that ultimately, there may be nothing to forgive. That the judgement of wrongdoing may have been mistaken in itself. And that sometimes people can bear grievances when they may have been in possession of only some of the facts or may have fingered the wrong person or have misassigned motives to their actions.
We have rules that we think others should live by and when they transgress we may hold a grudge when the transgressor may be completely unaware of the perceived harm done. Conversely, it is sometimes sobering to realise that something you regarded as being of no real consequence may have been greatly troubling another or that something that has weighed heavy on your conscience may have been long forgotten by those you perceived were hurt.
Everyone has a highly subjective perception of events so that literally no two people can ever witness the same event. We all create a story based upon our limited perceptions, events of our childhood, and so forth that makes any kind of objectivity impossible. There is never just one side to any story and the account you might get were you to speak to the other party might differ in every particular.
We perceive that we are separate from each other and separate from God. When in fact we are literally all one superorganism - humanity - with the appearance of individuation. We also perceive that we have in some way been abandoned by a loving God, when in fact the whole of creation is God and it is us that have been given the freedom to experience freewill and the consequences of our actions.
True forgiveness involves the realisation that we have not been abandoned to our fate, and for that we need to recognise the humanity in the transgressor and that we too are fallible.
In a very literal way, because everything in your world is a reflection of the disowned parts of yourself, when you forgive another, you are ultimately and quite literally forgiving yourself because there's only one of us here.
Also, because what we think of as reality is fractal in nature every change in the heart and mind of an individual is reflected throughout all levels from the micro to the macro so that we can create a different outcome rather than perpetuating the status quo which - let's face it - has been a bloodbath of vengeance for untold centuries.
The benefits of forgiveness
The benefits of forgiveness for the forgiver include:
Not dragging anger and bitterness from the past into every relationship and new experience
Being able to live in, and enjoy, the present
Decreased anxiety, hostility, stress, hurt and depression
Possible feelings of meaning and/or purpose
Being able to reconcile spiritual or religious beliefs with your actions
Being able to connect with others in a meaningful way
Greater self-esteem.Knowing that you were the biggest person you could be and that you did all you could do irrespective of how your actions were received.
Letting go of the role of victim and taking back the power you had given over to the perpetrator
Finding compassion and understanding for others - and for yourself
Not living in fear of encountering the transgressor
Improved cardiovascular and nervous system health and a lower rate of suffering from all illnesses
Increased happiness, optimism, vitality, peace of mind, joy, and serenity and a
Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse.
So who wouldn't want the many benefits? The truth is, that sometimes it is HARD to forgive. And the way the universe seems to work is that you have to give something freely with no expectation of return in order to receive the benefits. Forgiveness is ultimately about birthing a new hope and dream for your own future, not about the other.
Whilst we may want to, many of us may not know how to forgive. This is borne out by a survey of Americans in which although 94% said that they thought it was important to forgive, 85% also said that they would need help to be able to do it.
Holding on to grievances
Some have likened the number of grievances we hold to running 'programmes' on a computer which just generally slow the system down and make it less efficient. With resolution of every ancient emotional issue, a layer of toxins is released and this frees up the whole mindbody system promoting good mental, emotional and physical health.
Sometimes a simmering resentment can express itself in becoming accident prone or attracting violence - however seemingly accidental. Which, of course, further validates the concept of victimhood and the universe being a hostile place for the person who has been wronged.
First, you need to examine your anger and sense of being wronged. Has something similar happened before? Has this perceived wrong re-activating unresolved issues from the past or are you being re-presented with a lesson? If so, how can you handle it differently this time? The fact that the lesson has been repeated means that you perhaps didn't learn everything the first time round. If you don't want another repeat performance at a later date, then this is your chance to reach for the highest way now. You wouldn't be being presented with the lesson unless you were ready on some level. The rest is theory, this is the practical.
The trap of victimhood
Probably the vast majority of people are satisfied to go on resenting and hating people who have, or that they perceive have, wronged them. These individuals define themselves in terms of being victims and solicit sympathy from others with their tales of woe.
I can see really clearly in my life where some of my close circle just aren't willing to give up their attachment to their story. It eventually just becomes a little tragic when they are still rehashing ancient hurts to all that will listen decades after the event. They do it because it works. They receive the sympathy and pity that they crave and they derive a feeling of specialness and importance from maintaining the grievance.In a sense it doesn't seem to matter how petty or great the perceived wrong is when set against a world scale of the suffering of humanity.
By allowing ourselves to become victims we also disown our own power and give the wrongdoer more power than they deserve. We willingly give them the power to destroy our lives and our peace of mind. Rarely is the person who committed the act a monster and it does not serve anyone to think in this way. Usually they are weak, needy, wounded, possibly irresponsible, reckless, thoughtless, stupid, young, immature and occasionally mentally ill.
Some people hurt others in order to feel, or because they have been so traumatised themselves. In these cases, it can be worth imagining the antagonist as a small child and the wrongs they may have been on the receiving end of.
The art of forgiving
Forgiving isn't an easy option - it is for those brave enough to confront their pain, accept the permanent changes the wrong may have inflicted and who can be big enough to move on.
In fact, it is our capacity for forgiveness and repentance that the Russian writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, considered distinguishes us from other animals.
Forgiveness is ultimately a deeply personal affair between the victim and the victimiser in which all other parties should step aside. You can't forgive because someone told you to or because you think that you should. Forgiveness has to come from the heart. Eventually, after the hurt and anger have been processed you may actually come to feel sorry for the other person rather than angry with them. You may just feel as though the whole thing is over - that you have nothing left to say about it all. True forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.
Some people may move to forgiveness too quickly, in order to either avoid their pain or from feelings of moral superiority which allow them to feel virtuous or which give them power over the other. But if you have been deeply wronged, you need time to process the hurt. There is a right time that only the individual concerned can judge when they have worked through the wound but before the rage becomes entrenched.
When wounds are deep, forgiveness can be a lengthy process. Some people truly forgive outrages in one epiphany, but others need to revisit the wound several times before healing is complete. Serious injuries can shatter an individual's view of the world, other people, good and bad, and their own history. With forgiveness their world is redefined until it makes sense to them again.
Forgiveness is not about forgetting - deleting the memory - it is about putting the past into perspective, and moving beyond it. Forgiveness is not about understanding which may, or may not, come later.
Life truly is terrifyingly short and none of us are perfect. It is important to understand that others probably bear you grievances for things that you did or said or that they perceived you did or said. None of us are completely without fault or completely innocent. Sometimes, we may see that in some small or large way that we permitted the painful event to occur.
Finally there is the fear that by forgiving we are inviting the perpetrator to hurt us again or that we are condoning what they did. Forgiveness is categorically not the same as denial of your feelings, needs or desires - nor of the harm inflicted by another.
If 'forgiveness' is used to allow unacceptable behaviour again and again without requiring the other party to change, then his may be ensuring a dysfunctional relationship by rewarding the mistreatment. Then it may be an excuse not to take personal responsibility or as a way to avoid making threatening changes.
However, some people are fairly toxic and having forgiven them, you may want to give them a wide berth rather than invite them back into your life where they can wreak further damage.
And when the shoe is on the other foot and we perceive we have wronged another and we ask for forgiveness, we cannot demand the response we want. The other party must be free to respond in whatever way they feel inclined. They may not be willing to let the issue go, may be getting some kind of benefit from holding on to the anger that they aren't ready to let go of or may be too frightened or wounded to let go of their anger.
If the response is disappointing, then at least we have taken responsibility for our actions, discharged our duty to the other party and facilitated our own healing. Allow others to be where they are. Some people have actually become comfortable in their emotional prison cells. Respect their right to feel the way they feel. Sometimes the other party may respond to our approach at a later date when the time is right for them.
Quotations about forgiveness
"These unforgiven places block me from contributing to humanity in the way that I want. I ask for your help in releasing once and for all these troublesome issues and the effects that they produce in my life. Now and in all times and dimensions I release these issues and forgive those that I perceive trespassed against me. Amen."
A forgiveness prayer
"Never forget the three powerful resources you always have available to you: love, prayer, and forgiveness."
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
"The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world."
"He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven."
"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you."
Lewis B. Smedes
"Forgive many things in others; nothing in yourself."
"Without forgiveness, there's no future."
"Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave."
"Forgiveness is the economy of the heart ... forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits."
"Forgiveness is the final form of love."
"Forgiveness is the giving, and so the receiving, of life."
"Forgiveness means letting go of the past."
"Genuine forgiveness does not deny anger but faces it head-on."
Alice Duer Miller
"Life is an adventure in forgiveness."
"The one who pursues revenge should dig two graves."
Allen C. Guelzo
"To understand is to forgive, even oneself."
"When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future."
A useful book on the topic is The Art of Forgiving by Lewis B Smedes available from Amazon UK or US.
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Forgiveness: Article summary
This article looks at the philosophy and benefits of forgiveness and at stance on the issue taken by various religions. Quotations about forgiveness are also offered.
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The Natural Recovery Plan Newsletter June 2012 Issue 30. Copyright Alison Adams 2012. All rights reserved Dr Alison Adams Dentist, Naturopath, Author and Online Health Coach www.thenaturalrecoveryplan.com