Traditionally the work of the heart begins with forgiveness. Forgiveness is the necessary ground for any healing. To begin with, we need a wise understanding of forgiveness. Then we can learn how it is practiced, how we may forgive both ourselves and others.
Forgiveness is a letting go of past suffering and betrayal, a release of the burden of pain and hate that we carry. Forgiveness honors the heart’s greatest dignity. Whenever we are lost, it brings us back to the ground of love. With forgiveness we become unwilling to attack or wish harm to another. Whenever we forgive, in small ways at home, or in great ways between nations, we free ourselves from the past.
It is hard to imagine a world without forgiveness. Without forgiveness life would be unbearable. Without forgiveness our lives are chained, forced to carry the sufferings of the past and repeat them with no release.
Consider the dialogue between two former prisoners of war:
“Have you forgiven your captors yet?”
“Well, then, they still have you in prison, don’t they?”
We begin the work of forgiveness primarily for ourselves. We may still be suffering terribly from the past while those who betrayed us are on vacation. It is painful to hate. Without forgiveness we continue to perpetuate the illusion that hate can heal our pain and the pain of others. In forgiveness we let go and find relief in our heart.
Even those in the worst situations, the conflicts and tragedies of Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, Northern Ireland, or South Africa, have had to find a path to reconciliation. This is true in America as well. It is the only way to heal.
Sometimes this means finding the courage to forgive the unforgivable, to consciously release the heart from the clutches of another’s terrible acts.
We must discover a way to move on from the past, no matter what traumas it held. The past is over: forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past.
Remember these truths:
Forgiveness is not weak or naive. Forgiveness requires courage and clarity; it is not naive. Mistakenly people believe that to forgive is to simply
“forgive and forget,” once and for all. This is not the wisdom of forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not happen quickly. For great injustice, coming to forgiveness may include a long process of grief, outrage, sadness, loss, and pain. True forgiveness does not paper over what has happened in a superficial way. It is not a misguided effort to suppress or ignore our pain. It cannot be hurried. It is a deep process, repeated over and over in our heart, that honors the grief and betrayal, and in its own time ripens into the freedom to truly forgive.
Forgiveness does not forget, nor does it condone the past. Forgiveness sees wisely. It willingly acknowledges what is unjust, harmful, and wrong. It bravely recognizes the sufferings of the past, and understands the conditions that brought them about. There is a strength to forgiveness. When we forgive, we can also say, “Never again will I allow these things to happen.” We may resolve to never again permit such harm to come to ourselves or another.
Forgiveness does not mean that we have to continue to relate to those who have done us harm. In some cases the best practice may be to end our connection, to never speak to or be with a harmful person again. Sometimes in the process of forgiveness a person who hurt or betrayed us may wish to make amends, but even this does not require us to put ourselves in the way of further harm. In the end, forgiveness simply means never putting another person out of our heart.
Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are by Jack Kornfield