The Hard Work of Forgiveness (part 1)

Forgiveness figures prominently for anyone on a spiritual journey and is a recurring theme in all healing literature, from addiction recovery to coping with crises in any health-related context. Countless movies, lectures and books (including most ancient wisdom texts) extol the great benefits and indeed the critical necessity of forgiveness in our lives, and most of us, if polled on the street by a random reporter could state the reasons we need to forgive.

We know that it’s more for us than it is for the person who wronged us; that living in the past is counterproductive to moving forward and many of us can quote that saying that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick.

If we know all of this, why is forgiveness as an art and practice so difficult?

I believe that this can be answered by what I am describing as The P’s of Forgiveness Work (yes, a little play on words: P’s ~ Peace)

The 1st P stands for proximity which is defined as “nearness in place, time, order, occurrence or relation”.

To illustrate, let’s use a traffic example. We’ve all wanted magical powers to turn people into toads when someone has treated us rudely in traffic on the way into work; especially the ones who hang out the window screaming obscenities and flashing particular fingers while laying on their horns. We may be embarrassed, frightened by the aggressiveness or mad as hell about this behavior but as traffic moves along and the angry person takes his/her anger with them down the road, our ability to forgive can begin to take hold almost immediately.  This random person is not someone who is in our face regularly, has no impact on our lives (other than the morning upset today) and we can assume that we’ll never encounter them like this again.

If this same behavior took place in our neighborhood, perpetrated by a neighbor who is chronically angry about his/her life and who made a scene early in the morning when everyone was outside getting ready to leave for work, most of us would require a little more time to forgive this ridiculous behavior because we will re-encounter this person, and the “scene of the crime” on a regular basis. In addition, we’ll likely be reminded of the incident by others we know (neighbors) who observed it, and the most important aspect of proximity: this happened close to personal turf.

A word about turf: all of us have “turf” or personal zones that we want to keep free of threats, irritants, and negativity in general, and I classify them into 3 categories: macro, micro and nano zones. Familiar public spaces are macro zones: the grocery store, the roads we travel, the mall, etc. Micro zones are those more intimate and personal spaces like our workplace; our neighborhood, churches, schools, soccer/baseball/football fields – in other words, physical and communal places where we are known, and have some personal stake. Nano zones are ultra-personal places that can be physical (think of someone breaking into your home or assaulting you) OR non-physical (someone using intimate and personal information about you to manipulate or otherwise hurt you). It doesn’t take a PhD in counseling to figure out that the upsetting incident with a rude clerk at your favorite grocery store is easier to forgive and forget than the neighbor described above, or a close friend who shared personal data about you with others.

Proximity is a major factor in our forgiveness work. Whenever we are struggling to forgive someone, it is helpful to look at the zone the forgiveness work falls into AND to check in to see how easily and quickly we are able to forgive people in the more distant zones. Quick example: if we’re someone who takes a random road rage incident and responds by chasing the person to the next exit, then telling and re-telling the story all day at work and then looking for that same car on the way home from work and again the next morning,…we need to work on active forgiveness in this macro zone before we try to tackle any larger and more personal issues in the micro and nano zones.

The next P stands for Power: how much power did the person we need to forgive have over us? This may be real or perceived power. Real power is probably best described in examples like a parent, teacher or boss at work. Perceived power comes from those people to whom we give some power in our lives. We need to remember that this is power that we can take back easily if we recognize bad behavior. For example, if a minister in a church is misusing their power by manipulating you, withholding information or pitting one group of people against another, they are in a position of power but we can walk away. It’s much harder to walk away from a parent, or a teacher, or a manager at work – all of whom have some power that can significantly impact our life.

While forgiveness work with people who do NOT have real power over us is easier than it is with people who do, recognizing the difference between real and perceived power may need to be the first step we take in this part of the journey. Here’s a good question to ask if we’re not sure:

If I walk away from this person today, what changes in my life?

I’ll revisit this later, but think about the difficulty in walking away from a parent, spouse or sibling versus walking away from someone who has been a friend for a few years. Or consider the impact on your life by removing a toxic manager from your life (fairly significant in terms of the scope of the change) as compared to walking away from a toxic minister (minimal and there are many comparable alternatives, including ministering to yourself through meditation, books and videos – gotta love the Internet!).

In my next few posts I will explore the P’s of Position, Premeditation, Profiting and Penitence and will introduce a scoring system that we can use to evaluate the intensity of the forgiveness work we need to do. I will also explore how to recognize when we can handle it ourselves, or are at risk for long-term resentment to settle in at which point we may need to call in some reinforcements.

Until then, here’s a simple affirmation you can begin to use today:

I trust my intuition. The wisdom of the Divine flows in and through me and I can rely on this guidance to know what is right for me. I am open and receptive to seeing things as I need to see them for my highest Good, and I release my attachment to any outcomes I previously held on to in this matter. I have learned from this situation, and I am healed from the pain, disappointment and anger that it once caused me. I release all negative thoughts and feelings into the wind where they are scattered and neutralized, and I accept the quiet peace that remains.

And So It Is.

Letting Go

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One thought on “The Hard Work of Forgiveness (part 1)

  1. Pingback: The Hard Work of Forgiveness (part 2) | A Practitioner's Path

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