This month is one in which we celebrate our nation’s freedom from oppression and tyranny. I always find myself, however, looking more deeply at the idea of freedom and taking note of places in my life where I am still “bound” by something. We can allow ourselves to be imprisoned by so many things; fear, lack, disease, separation, unworthiness, anger and resentment. All of these things keep us limited and separate from the awareness of who we truly are. One of the quickest ways to lock ourselves into a prison in consciousness is to make the choice not to forgive.
In my opinion, the most necessary, challenging and misunderstood of all spiritual practices is that of forgiveness. Forgiveness is vital to our spiritual well-being because when we choose not to forgive we find ourselves in a place of blame, anger, resentment or even guilt. When we allow that energy to consume our lives we then become a magnet to draw more of the same right to us. Author Susan Patton Thoele says, “We need to be able to forgive, because if we don’t, we put our foot right down on the hose of our life force.” The practice of forgiveness keeps us in the flow of our good and releases damaging negative energies from our lives. I believe it is as necessary to our survival as food and water.
The challenging part is that when we have been terribly hurt, wronged or betrayed we withhold our forgiveness because we believe strongly that the event “shouldn’t” have happened that way or the person “shouldn’t” have done what he or she did. One of the greatest and most freeing quotes I have ever heard about forgiveness comes from Gerry Jampolsky who says, “Forgiveness only happens when you give up all hope for a better past.” WOW! What a revelatory thought! How often do we go over and over an event that happened and try to re-write it the way we wish it had gone?
We stay stuck in the event and all of the negative energy surrounding it because we are hoping for a better past. The truth is, however, that if it already happened…it is NEVER going to change! We cannot change it, re-write it or re-live it differently. The past is complete. The only moment we have is right now and in this now moment is where all of the love, peace, abundance and magnificence of God exist.
The great misunderstanding about forgiveness is that people often think if they forgive someone for hurting, wronging or betraying them then they are essentially saying, “It’s OK…I forgive you”. People think that forgiveness automatically condones and/or excuses the behavior. A paradigm shift can happen, however, when we make the critical distinction between the person and the behavior. Hurtful, harmful behavior is wrong, unacceptable and never OK, but the person that committed that harmful act is a child of God. When we do this great work we forgive the person, we do not condone or excuse the behavior. Every person in our lives is a child of God, acting out of their own wounds, hurts and fears and sometimes when we act from that place we end up causing harm.
When we no longer expend our energy attempting to re-write the unchangeable past and when we can, despite the behavior, behold the divine perfection within each person in our lives, then we shall truly be free. Remember, dear ones, that, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” –Lewis Benedictine Smedes