Forgiveness: a Heroic Act of Consciousness

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful acts a person can accomplish, freeing both the person who asks for it, and the person who delivers it. Alexander Pope even calls it divine, but what, if anything, can you do when forgiveness eludes you despite your best efforts? How do you forgive yourself for not being able to forgive? And how can you forgive someone who isn’t sorry?

To forgive is a heroic achievement of consciousness, which punctuates the heavy, seemingly opaque veil of our psyche. True forgiveness sets you free to move forward boldly, and it isn’t a quick and striking act. It steels in quietly, softly. It filters into you and through you when you aren’t expecting it and irradiates a new heart within you. Mahatma Gandhi is right, then, when he said that “The weak can never forgive; forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” Only a strong person can see and reach beyond grips of the past and coerce a new future.

Forgiveness does not excuse the offensive act, but rather removes the burden of waiting for remorse. It is that ceaseless anticipation that is burdensome, and let’s face it, that is what keeps you small, stuck, and bitter — when you are waiting for another person to acknowledge their shortcoming, instead of realizing that the act of waiting for it is actually your shortcoming. And that is where self-forgiveness comes in. You begin to realize your humanity, your failing because you at one time required more of someone than they were capable of. The alchemical shift happens here, where instead of blaming and waiting, you seek to understand yourself, and why you required their recognition in the first place. And then you become cognizant that the benevolence of forgiving is in fact not requiring a response. It is simply moving forward without one.

When you choose this, compassion must be its twin. The kind of compassion that you would show to your dearest friend is the kind to show to yourself. And so you ask, “Did I do my best?” and from your current vantage point, you will likely answer, “No.” However, your best changes as you grow, evolve, and learn to master life and all that it has to offer. Realize that this is also part of the self-forgiveness process. Give yourself time to process all of these things, even time to grieve, but also, remind yourself that you are truly doing the best that you can. No one was sent here with instructions for how to live a perfect life and how not to falter. Mistakes lead you home. They humble you and transfigure you, and while the pieces never go back the same way, somehow you end up better for it.

One more thing. As you work on forgiving yourself, you may notice that one day while you weren’t looking, you have forgiven the other person, as well. That’s kind of how it works.