How to Master the Controversial Art of Forgiveness

Friends, nothing widens the perspective like forgiveness does. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about wanting to forgive, or trying to forgive, or believing you’ve forgiven but all those negative emotions are still present. Forgiveness isn’t what many people think it is and true forgiveness is actually life changing. But if you’ve been working with those other types of forgiveness – don’t worry! Think of it like building a strong foundation before you build the house. You’ve done the incredibly hard work of building that foundation, so well done! Good job! Give yourself a moment to pat yourself on the back, just in case no one else does!

Now take a deep breath, because we can never rest on our laurels for long. The next level is true forgiveness, the kind that changes your life.

What is true forgiveness?

Well, you’ve already heard what it isn’t, and the short way to understand what it isn’t is this: 

If you think you’ve forgiven but you’re still feeling negative emotion (anything from incandescent rage to a mild sadness), at the very least you haven’t finished forgiving.

But what is it, then? Well, this is where controversy comes in, and this is why forgiveness is a profoundly deep spiritual practice. True forgiveness is much deeper than ‘forgive and forget’ and its annoyed twin, ‘forgive but not forget’. 

True forgiveness is a letting go because it’s not important to you anymore. You’re fully aware it happened and you may take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and also it no longer defines you. It doesn’t dictate how you feel, what you think, or how you react to situations. And you know when you’ve truly forgiven because you’re actually happy afterwards. Not darkly amused, not satisfied in a sinister way, genuinely capable of giggling.

Aaaand, that’s where we have controversy. And I get it. I’m here for it. No one should even suggest to you to consider true forgiveness until your good and ready because the horrible shit that happens to people is very truly horrible sometimes. Childhood abuse? Someone abused your child? Killed your father? Killed your spouse? Tried to exterminate your people? Tortured your dog for fun? (This isn’t a random list. This is an anonymous cherry-picking of people that I know and love and these are a smattering of things they’ve had to go through.) 

So practically speaking, if you like the idea of true forgiveness and would like to experience its life changing effects… maybe don’t try to forgive the biggest thing in your world, first. That’d be like a freshman in college sneaking into a 500-level graduate course on dissection. Not recommended. Start small. Start practicing forgiveness on people you happen to love anyway most of the time.

And when you’re ready to let go of the pain and anguish that is involved with holding onto these hurts that have been done to you, and the hurts you’ve done to others, then it can happen. The first one’s always free. :) It’s just a spontaneous occurrence, and that’s when you’ll get a glimpse to just how life changing it can be.

To take all the pain, all the suffering, all the anguish, all the horror, all the agony and just let it go. And then it’s gone forever. And in its place, you’re actually happy instead. That’s why it changes lives. In particular, it will change yours, once it begins. It is a recipe for personal happiness. (Will you still need to take your meds? Yes. Please. Continue to take your meds until your doctor tells you not to. Will true forgiveness elevate your mood despite your issues? Yes, yes it will. And maybe it will impress your doctor.)

And after that first spontaneous moment, then it’s on you to just start forgiving everything you take seriously, everything you encounter, large and small. To just let it all go. It becomes a form of moving meditation that you can do everywhere. Every small frustration, annoyance, moment of mental complaining, any negativity, and even taking those positive moments too seriously. Everything is good fodder for forgiveness, and true forgiveness always brings happiness.

For more about forgiveness, check out the series I’ve dedicated just to that subject. The first blogpost you can find here.

This is part of a series of Sarey’s Practical Guides: Widening Perspective. To find the other posts in the series you can go here: reading books, compassion, gratitude, religious community.

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