“The world belongs to those who let go.” Lao Tzu
When I was a child I had a pony named Lightning. One day I turned my back and he bit me. It hurt. It left prints on my skin. I never forgot how Lightning bit me but I didn’t hold it against him because my mom said, “He’s a pony. That’s the nature of a pony. Don’t turn your back on a pony. Ponies will be ponies.”
So, I accepted that biting me in the back was his nature. I didn’t hate him for it. I didn’t hold onto the pain of the bite. I didn’t let it consume me or cause me not to want to look at, talk about or think about ponies ever again. I accepted it and I moved on. All of these years later, I hold no grudges against that pony, nor other ponies who look like Lightning. I am not filled with remorse, regret, anger, guilt or shame when I remember him. I have let go. I have forgiven my pony. That is an over-simplified example of forgiveness, but the principle is the same. Forgiveness is a law of the Spiritual Universe. Forgiveness is the art of letting go. It has nothing to do with forgetfulness.
When a human being hurts us we can either hold onto the pain, the anger, etc. or we can let it go, realize it is the person’s nature and get on with our lives. That’s forgiveness–just letting go. Holding onto anger toward that person, holding onto pain caused by that person, doesn’t punish the person who hurt us. It hurts US (you, me)–over and over and over again. It gives that person power over our lives. It ties us to the past and robs us of joy in the present. It taints our lives. If we hold on to the negative thoughts and feelings, they will drain our life’s energy, making us bitter, angry, resentful and possibly even sick.
Forgiveness doesn’t equate to forgetfulness. When someone hurts us, forgiving doesn’t mean we don’t remember what was done to us or how much it hurt. It simply means we hold no anger or ill-will toward them. It means we acknowledge that they are the way they are, they were the way they were and we let it go.
But how do you forgive? How do we let go of the pain? The anger? The years of mistreatment or loneliness or feelings of worthlessness that someone inflicted upon us?
Well, realize that it is the past and the past doesn’t have to be our present or our future. Let go of yesterday. We can’t change it, can’t undo what was done. Think of it like a chapter in the book of life. Turn the page and move to the next chapter. Your story (my story) is not over, so don’t stay in a chapter that’s already been read. When you feel those old feelings coming back, turn to God and remember that’s where peace is found, your connection to the eternal spirit, creator of all things. Realize that you are a spirit and your spirit is not controlled by anyone or anything that they did to you. You are a great spiritual being and you are greater than anything your body or mind has endured. Get in touch with the source of all things, and say “I forgive….(whoever)” and feel peace flood over you. Forgiveness is a choice.
Realize that it’s normal to have anger and hurt and pain. They come when we are mistreated or betrayed or backstabbed or manipulated, etc., and we are not bad for feeling what we feel. We don’t have to blame someone else. We don’t have to justify our feelings. We can merely note that we have them and decide how we want to deal with them. But then we have to release them and move forward.
Ultimately, if we choose not to forgive, we choose to remain a victim. Somehow we’ve had this flawed understanding of an eye for an eye drilled into us. Ghandi said that if we lived by such a rule then pretty soon the whole world would be blind. Jesus taught to turn the other cheek, which meant LET IT GO! We have to change the way we perceive things. Stephen Covey called it a paradigm shift. Notice I used the word “choose.” Yes, forgiveness is a choice. Choose to look at it as a life lesson. The pony bit me. Now I know the nature of a pony is to bite. I don’t hate ponies. I realize that a pony is a pony. Stop trying to punish people, guilt people, get even with people, manipulate people and remember that a pony is a pony. That’s the only path to freedom. You can’t change people and holding onto anger isn’t going to do you or them any good.
There is a Chinese saying, “If you’re going to pursue revenge, you’d better dig two graves.” In other words, your desire for revenge, your determination to get even, will eventually destroy you. Retaliation is NEVER the answer.
There’s a scene in the movie Old Yeller that has stuck with me for years. Travis is sad and regretting the fact that he had to shoot the dog he loved so much. He is having a hard time forgiving himself and letting go of the past. His dad comes home from a long journey and finds him still grieving. He tells him that life is part good and part bad. If we spend all of the good times regretting the bad, then we lose out on the good. In this world people are going to hurt us, physically, emotionally and mentally. Spouses are going to leave. People are going to cheat you out of money. They’re going to side-swipe your vehicle, toilet paper your house, shoot your dog, run over your cats, throw beer cans in your yard, cuss you out on Facebook. They’re going to steal from you and lie about you. They’re going to throw you under the bus at work, take the promotion right out from under you. And sometimes–they’ll do it on purpose. We can either spend our whole lives bitter, resentful and feeling sorry for ourselves, holding onto the past and the hurt that they caused us or we can seize the moment and find the beauty that is in front of us right now.
There is freedom in forgiveness.