Forgiveness of the Self and Others

by Nirmala Raniga
Learning to forgive is a fact of human existence. In the New Testament, Jesus was betrayed by his friend and disciple, Judas Iscariot, for 30 pieces of silver. The Apostle Peter also denied Jesus following The Last Supper. Nevertheless, as Jesus was on the cross, He asked God to forgive those involved, saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (English Standard Version, Luke 23:34)
In our own lives, we often learn about the value of forgiving others when we start to explore ways to create and maintain healthy relationships and find greater peace of mind. Inherent in that concept is the need to forgive ourselves, to let go of our own past misdeeds, whether real or perceived, so that we can move forward in healthy ways.
When we are hurt or have hurt others, we have a tendency to relive those moments and those ways in which we may have been wronged or inflicted harm. As we do this, we become enmeshed in the past, a habit that does not allow us to be fully awake in the present. In this way, we miss the many beautiful opportunities to nurture and deepen our current relationships. Dwelling on past wrongs, whether we do so from the perspective of victim or perpetrator, can also drain us of our emotional, physical, and spiritual energy, which can take a toll on our physical and emotional wellbeing.
There is the oft-shared adage that holding onto anger is like drinking poison in the hopes that another person will die. In reality however, when we cling to past pain at the hands of another, or blame ourselves for something that we may have done, we are perpetuating pain in ourselves. We can understand this idea simply by feeling what is going on in our bodies. When we are angry or resentful, we feel that pain somewhere in the body. If we continue to harbour negative emotions, we can cause ourselves even greater problems. Addiction, physical disease, and psychological issues are all examples of how holding onto feelings that no longer serve us can manifest in the physical realm. Consequently, in order to cultivate greater inner peace, invite good health, and live to the fullest in each moment of our lives, we must make a conscious choice to let go of self-blame or any anger and resentment we might be feeling toward others.
As we choose to forgive, we must be patient with ourselves and recognize that letting go of past emotional pain can be a gradual process. It is also helpful to understand that people often lash out in response to past traumas. In this way, we do what we can to get our needs met in the moment. By realizing that each one of us has experienced deep suffering in some way, we can better understand one another and ourselves, and a clear path toward forgiveness and compassion can be paved.
Meditation can be a useful tool to assist us as we work to release painful emotions. By spending time in silence each day, we begin to connect with the peace of pure consciousness so we can begin to take this feeling back into our daily routines. From this place of calmness, we are better able to see those around us and ourselves through the lens of compassion and love.
Journaling is another activity that can benefit us. Writing about our feelings and experiences can help us release some of the emotional charge that painful memories contain, making it easier for us to let those memories go.
Dr. David Simon, who co-founded the Chopra Center for Wellbeing with Dr. Deepak Chopra, wrote a beautiful book, Free to Love, Free to Heal, which focuses on letting go of the past in order to return to wholeness. In his book, Dr. Simon notes how important it is to change our perspective in order to invite more love and happiness into our lives. “Healing from our past is an essential aspect of expanding our sense of self and awakening our capacity to love. This shift often manifests as a change in the questions we’ve been asking ourselves. Instead of What do I need? we ask, How can I serve? Instead of What am I getting out of this? we start to ask, What can I bring to this situation to promote the highest possible outcome for everyone involved?”
Our modern world is particularly fraught with violence, turmoil, and chaos. Seemingly everyday, acts of violence take place. Innocent lives are lost, and people suffer needlessly at the hands of others. As we consider these atrocities and wonder what we can do to help, we can look to Dr. Simon’s wisdom to guide us. Letting go of anger, relinquishing past hurts, and changing our outlook from one that is self-serving to one that recognizes the vulnerabilities of others and serves their needs will go a long way in bringing peace to our families, friends, neighbours, ourselves, and the world as a whole.
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