So far, you may be feeling that I haven’t said anything new or different. This would be very disappointing, since it would mean there’s nothing new here for you to learn.
Aren’t you tired of that feeling — the feeling that no one is giving you straight answers to hard questions? It’s easy to find “easy answers” — 10 minutes to a perfect life! Just send 5 easy payments of $99 to the phone number on your screen! — but it’s not so easy to find straight answers.
The one straight answer you almost never hear about is Forgiveness. If you want to travel more than a few feet along the Spiral Path of healing, you’re going to have to be willing to work on Forgiveness.
The mystery of Forgiveness is where the rubber meets the road. It’s where your soul straps on your walking shoes. Where the parts of your biological brain that are wired into your soul’s energy start to take charge again (as they were supposed to be doing all along). Where you begin to recognize your core identity, your core purpose, as a soul.
In the analogy of the spiritual kitchen, forgiveness is the dishcloth that allows you to clean up your mistakes as you go along.
Yup, the dishcloth.
Forgiveness isn’t the lightbulb that brings illumination to the kitchen. Forgiveness isn’t the secret family recipe for the Colonel’s special chicken or Grandma’s Christmas shortbread. And forgiveness isn’t a magical clock that turns time forward so you don’t have to look at or think about yesterday’s fallen souffle.
Forgiveness is the mundane dishcloth you pick up with your own hands and use to wipe the spilled cocoa from the counter. It’s the tool you use to clean up a mistake once you’ve admitted that you’ve made a mistake. (Or once you’ve admitted that somebody else has made a mistake.)
It’s not very mystical-sounding, is it?
No. Which is why you so rarely hear about it in religious or New Age teachings. Forgiveness is not magical and it’s not secret and it’s not reserved for just a few select, chosen, special students. So it doesn’t have much mystical razzle dazzle. It can’t be bought or sold, so it has no commercial value. It can’t be patented or put in pill form, so it has no pharmaceutical value. Instead, it’s an inner state. Both a choice and a gift. Once it’s yours, it’s yours, and it can’t be taken away from you. Ever.*
So right away you can see why it’s of no interest to Big Religion or Big Business.
One of the reasons the practice of forgiveness isn’t taught by mainstream religion is the embarrassment factor. The embarrassment of mistakes. The average person doesn’t want to admit his own mistakes, let alone the mistakes of his family and clan and revered religious tradition. In fact, there are few things in the human experience that cause more suffering than the refusal to admit one’s own mistakes.
The strange part about this stubborn refusal to be honest about mistakes is that it’s NOT intrinsic to your soul’s true nature. You weren’t born this stubborn. In fact, when you were a young child, you were constantly making mistakes, but it never slowed you down in your learning process because each time you made a mistake, you forgave yourself, learned from the mistake, and moved on.
Most people don’t remember this part of their lives. They think they’ve always been stubborn and unforgiving and quite willing to lie through their teeth in order to avoid the embarrassment of admitting a mistake.
My boss at work is quite willing to lie without blinking an eye whenever somebody close to her points out a mistake she’s made. She can’t deal with honest truth when the honest truth is directed at herself. She’s quick to point out other people’s mistakes, but she’s not good at taking responsibility for her own mistakes. She has a reflex action of trying to shift the blame to somebody else if she can. I don’t think she even realizes what she’s doing. It’s a learned biological response, a trained reflex, not a natural part of her true soul self. But she’s been doing it for so long she doesn’t question it anymore. For her, it’s normal. Nonetheless, it’s hurtful. Hurtful to herself and hurtful to those she tries to blame for her own mistakes.
She and I don’t get along very well some days because I have a bad habit of being honest with her when she makes a mistake, and then forgiving her right on the spot. I’m also honest with her about my own mistakes. I try to communicate clearly and honestly about mistakes without holding grudges (since holding grudges is the very antithesis of forgiveness). I try to learn from mistakes — my own and others’.
Surprising as this may seem, my boss doesn’t like being treated this way. She doesn’t understand me because I don’t play by the grudgefest rules. She’s used to living in a world where people hold grudges. She knows how to respond to this sort of behaviour and she enjoys playing cat-and-mouse games of revenge (where she’s the cat and her staff members are the mouse). A few of us at work are refusing to play mouse. She finds this quite stressful at times. But, you know, that’s her problem.
When I say I forgive her, I don’t mean I choose to ignore the harm she’s created. I don’t mean I make excuses for her behaviour or pretend that bygones are bygones. I remember what she’s done. I remember her behaviour as clearly and objectively as I can. But I don’t “hang onto” the past. Instead, I allow the past to guide me and teach me so I can deal more effectively with the present. I understand that she’s responsible for her own choices, and I understand that she could be making different choices if she wanted to. It doesn’t do either of us any good to pretend otherwise. Pretending otherwise is just another form of lying. Forgiveness requires honesty.
I choose to love the person and reject the behaviour, rather than rejecting the person. This takes a lot of will power, especially on difficult days when somebody is REALLY not being his/her best self. There have been a few times for me in recent years when I don’t know how I would have got through the day without the decision to forgive, forgive, forgive. Forgiveness keeps your feet planted solidly on the Spiral Path. Forgiveness combined with courage helps you take a deep breath and keep on going, even when the terrain all around you is hostile and cruel (as it sometimes is). Forgiveness is the choice that allows you to move from the glass-half-empty-with-sour-lemon-juice to the glass-half-filled-with-sweet-lemonade.
Of course, you’re the one who has to supply the sugar.