Forgiveness Isn't Necessary
. . . once we're no longer holding someone else responsible for how we feel.
When someone is traumatized by someone else, as in the case of rape, molestation, physical or emotional abuse, when someone is betrayed by another, it is normal, natural, and appropriate to have very strong feelings in response - feelings that create all sorts of physiological chemical processes at the level of the bodymind. This pain accumulates, resulting in what we might call the individual pain-body.
When whole groups of people are persecuted, traumatized, or demoralized, it creates a collective pain in the bodyminds or psyches of people who are part of those groups. African Americans, Native Americans, Jewish people, and women, typically carry a shared pain, which we call the collective pain-body.
There is no doubt, in all of these cases (and others), that deep wrong was committed, leaving deep emotional wounds. This is when various spiritual traditions might suggest that forgiveness is in order. Forgiveness, they say, is the path to healing. I don't disagree with the spirit of the message. I take issue, however, with how most humans, clergy as well as laypeople, or other spiritual teachers, interpret forgiveness and how it is to be achieved.
When I was a mere babe, twenty-three years old to be exact, I caught my boyfriend in the act with another woman. I just about went crazy. I'll spare you the gory details of that night, but I was left with a broken heart and a broken jaw, a very remorseful boyfriend, and a lot of shame and shock to find myself in such a situation.
While common rhetoric went something like: If he hits you once he'll hit you again, I knew deep down, quite miraculously in retrospect, that I was being called to work through this thing - not just point an accusing victimized finger at him and walk away. At some point I ran across a book, also quite miraculously, about forgiveness. I wish I could remember the name of it, but I don't. And I don't know that the book itself was actually all that ground-breaking, but what I did with it was.
The takeaway was this: Yes, what happened was awful, it was wrong. He behaved badly (and in this case so did I). So now what?
Whatever I read in that book made me realize that there was only one way out - and that the one way out was through. I was going to work through every feeling, no matter how dark, and chase down every little nuance of hurt that might be hiding in the deep, dark recesses of my bodymind, until I was free - free of the rage, the hurt, the feelings of betrayal and blame, until I could look at him, or think of him, and feel nothing but peace, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. And I did.
And once the pain was out of my body, I saw him and me through eyes of compassion. I saw two young, pretty immature people, who were doing what humans often do - acting out their pain, their inner conflicts and confusion, in ways that hurt others and ultimately themselves. And that's when it happened - forgiveness.
I think I grew up that year; I mean spiritually grew up. And I wouldn't trade the experience - the actual trauma, and the suffering that it caused, for anything.
I hadn't thought about this period of my life for a very long time until a client asked me recently about forgiveness. I was trying to explain that forgiveness is, in my experience, not successful when it's attempted from the neck up - from the level of the will or personal intellect. The mere decision to forgive is rarely an effective one. It tends to just gloss over the hurt, avoiding the pain that goes along with it (a process sometimes referred to as spiritual-bypassing). But it's this very pain, this suffering that we're trying to avoid, that provides the necessary motivational fuel to undertake real inner emotional housecleaning, real healing.
I've got to think that when Jesus talks about forgiveness, he means for us to do this inner work. He doesn't mean that we should just decide, using our little personal wills, simply because forgiving is what we're supposed to do.
Because it's only when we reach below the level of the egoic mind and reach our bodily-held suffering and consciously surrender to it, are we open enough to receive the miraculous, alchemical nature of healing - an alchemical process that's beyond something our minds can think about, direct, and control. It's bigger than we are.
And I know this is so because once this emotional healing happens, forgiveness is a given. It happens naturally. It's not something I have to think about or do. It's not something I have to effort at or theorize about, or try to conjure. It simply arises; like a soft flower, opening from deep within my body, blooming outward, blessing both me the forgiver and the forgiven.
I've got to believe that this is what happened with Jesus on the cross. Surely there was a whole lotta suffering going on before he got to: forgive them for they know not what they do. And if this is true, it confirms what I've been saying here all along: it's not the forgiveness itself that is holy, but the suffering and the emotional healing that precedes it that makes it so.
Love to you and yours,
Conscious suffering is holy. Eckhart Tolle
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