I grew up in a world where forgiving others for their faults and failures was wrong. If someone hurt you in any way, you held it against them. You wished them harm. You withheld mercy and compassion because you wanted them to feel your pain. You believed in a “God of Retribution” and expected others to get theirs.
It has taken me 14 years to right this incorrect way of seeing the world. Once I turned 18, I left home to seek new worlds. It has taken every one of those 14 years – through university, moving to the West Coast, moving back to the East Coast, my parent’s divorce, the end of my one and only long-term relationship, my younger brother’s untimely death, and a series of starts and stops in my personal and professional lives, including no less than 30 separate jobs and 16 different addresses – to see the light.
Whether it’s having had your heart broken or a fight with someone you know, in order to truly forgive others for their trespasses, you must recognize three truths:
1. Nobody else can ever be responsible for your feelings. They should respect them, of course, as we all should respect each others’ feelings, but you ultimately are responsible for your own healing and any inner aftermath. What this requires is a set of practices that help you fend off negative energy that seeks to break into you and rob you of joy. This requires a deep self-love. Not narcissism, but self-respect and motivation and an adherence to a regimen of activities that keep your blood flowing, endorphins pumping, and life moving forward at your own pace and by your own rules. Yoga is an example of teaching the body-mind how to remain calm when faced with an intense situation, on and off the mat. Meditation is also a great tool. Enjoying the company of good people, enjoying the silent company of nature, having a creative outlet. When you have a practice that keeps you grounded in your self, then it is harder for others to break in and set off your alarms.
2. When you forgive someone, you relieve yourself of a burden and give it back to whomever caused you harm. If you truly committed no wrong or have already owned up to your own actions in the situation, then rest assured that the weight of the situation is no longer yours to bear. You have taken ownership of your own feelings and actions. The rest is up to the other person, but have no expectations that they will ever come around. Have faith in the best of all possible worlds, but don’t try to change someone else’s mind. Change your own – that is peace. Know that you have experienced the burden and that it no longer belongs to you. In most cases, people come around. And if not, then what goes around comes around anyway and we all have our lessons repeated to us until we learn them.
3. Why that person caused you harm is most likely not really about you but about that person’s own relationship to himself. Most people project their own issues onto others around them. There may have been a real reason from which the discord has sprung, but if that person has chosen to ostracize you instead of resolve the situation or is heavy-handedly playing the victim without revealing all the truth to their audience, then you have to understand that that is the way that person operates in his or her world and that that has pretty much nothing to do with you. You don’t need to fight against the grain of someone else’s behavioral patterns. Have patience, instead, because eventually the storm passes. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” Jesus said, as his belongings were ransacked. Most people are blind to their own behaviors, and blinder still to how they affect others. It may seem or feel personal, but it’s probably not. That person just needs attention. Don’t feed them with yours.
These three truths about forgiveness empower you to remain strong in the face of darkness, which always precedes dawn. A Course in Miracles teaches us that “only love is real” – so when you find yourself confronted by something that is not love, know that it has no power over you. Love saves the day. Love is courage. Love weathers the storm. The American bison does not flee or hide from a prairie storm – it turns and walks through it, head on, because it is the quickest way through it. Be the bison. Have a heart as big as a bison. True strength is within. Om.
Stefan Piscitelli is the creator of Outermost Yoga.