In a recent posting Forgiveness Means Giving Up All Hope for a Better Past, one reader left a comment highlighting a lifelong experience he had that gives us some insight into how forgiveness really happens and its transformative effect.
Robert described his experience so beautifully that it would do it injustice to paraphrase it so I’m just going to quote him:
“A very long time ago, my next youngest brother, throughout our childhoods and after, performed the worst possible acts of psychological torture on me and our other brothers, who he most intensely hated for reasons we have never known. Other people simply cannot know the kind of pain he intentionally caused. And we never, ever reconciled, and I never, ever forgave him, even after his death at age 47, twenty years ago. Up until last year my hatred for him survived at 2000 degrees Celsius. And he was the only person I’ve ever hated. I really wanted to be at peace with him, which involved acknowledging the utter misery he must have been in to act that way, though I’ve never understood why he did it. And I did it. I did it sincerely. I tried to imagine the level of misery any person would have to be in to act the way he did. And I think I did get close to feeling like he must have, close enough, at least, to feel with him, and to walk away from that hatred. It always helps though, even now, to read material like your article of today, which soothes a large scar.”
How is this a teaching for many of us?
Robert acknowledged his aspiration to “really be at peace with him.” In a recent interview with Chopra Center Director, David Simon MD, he gave the advice of charting two points on a map, where you are and where you want to be. It seems that Robert was clear about this.
It seems that Robert began to put himself in his brother’s shoes “which involved acknowledging the utter misery he must have been in to act that way…I did it sincerely.” I would argue that this is the great art of compassion. Through this process Robert got close enough to “walk away from the hatred.”
Sheila followed with the insight that forgiveness often begins with ourselves first and offers the lovingkindness practice as a path toward doing so. In the full lovingkindness practice, there is also opportunity to work with compassion for those we have difficulty with as well.
In practicing this art, it’s also important to acknowledge timing and that it may not be time to engage in forgiveness or lovingkindness if the trauma is still very fresh or overly intense and this may very well be best practiced with a trusted healing professional.
However, at the end of the day, when we carry grudges or hate, there is no way around it, we are the ones carrying it and it has negative psychological and physiological effects on our health and well-being. It’s a worthy endeavor.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.