Monday, April 7, 2008

Forgiveness #3 ...

Then I got a jolly email from Therese Borchard, who writes Beyond Blue, and in her blog today, she writes about the Prayer of St. Francis, and getting hung up on the "it is in pardoning that we are pardoned" part...

Which led me to remember this article I kept posted on my wall for years after my second divorce ...

Decontaminating the word "forgiveness"

This is very important, because for some people the word has been damaged by exposure to religious abuse or double standards in the past. Here are Ten False ideas about the Forgiveness Process often used as reasons for not doing it, and some corresponding truths.

1. Untruth: Forgiveness somehow "allows" the person forgiven to continue their harmful actions, or condones what they did. Therefore I cannot forgive.

Truth: You can apply the forgiveness process (i.e. cancel your demands that another person meet your demands and expectations as a condition for allowing love to flow through) - and also take remedial action to stop or prevent harm, or to confront injustices. Forgiveness, assertiveness, and caring confrontation are very compatible. It is loving to the other person to do whatever is necessary to prevent them continuing upon a destructive path. As a forgiving person you can see that beneath the other person's attacking or destructive behavior is really a cry for love.

2. Untruth: To forgive may make me a "doormat" or "victim", and means I lose being "right". The other person must be shown to be "wrong", punished, and change their ways before I can forgive. Therefore I cannot forgive.

Truth: Doing the forgiveness process has nothing to do with "door-matting" or being a "victim", which is usually done from an unforgiving stance. Doing the forgiveness process helps one to stop being a "doormat". It restores self-determination.

3. Untruth: To be forgiving is a sign of weakness. I do not want to be seen as weak. I must be hard to be strong. Therefore I cannot forgive.

Truth: To use the forgiveness process is an act of will (mental and spiritual). To be unforgiving is to be "willed by" emotions and feelings, and to not really be in charge of your direction in life. Using your higher will strengthens you and your will. Using the forgiveness process makes you stronger. This can be tested.

Genuine unconditional love is and act of will, not a feeling or emotional reaction.

Anger and hostility may make you feel "stronger" or "righteously indignant", but your body or relationships become the victims unless the anger is expressed in a safe way. Being "right" does not means that you must prove the other person "wrong", or make them admit that they were at fault, before you let love flow. Unconditional Love, by definition, does not require prior approval of the other's actions (or of one's own).

4. Untruth: If I forgive I am supposed to forget. I cannot forget the harm done, therefore I cannot forgive.

Truth: You learn from experience, and your memory enables you to do this. Memory is a precious part of your mind. It is wise to remember the lessons learned, and not put temptation in the way of those who do not yet have the capacity to practice right relationship. However, safeguarding need not prevent you from doing the forgiveness process, which is a separate class of behavior. It is found that people who use the forgiveness process become able to access more of their joyful memories, however. They do not need to use the repressive mechanism any longer to repress their pain, and they can recall their good times more easily.

5. Untruth: Doing the Forgiveness Process sometimes brings up painful memories. Surely that means I should not be doing this work. Is it wise to "dredge up" memories like that from my unconscious. Isn't it better to leave it? I cannot forgive because it brings up painful memories I would rather not look at.

Truth: Forgiveness is a healing of memories. Painful memories stored in your unconscious, even from long ago in the past, control you in the present. You are often unaware of just how much they do that. You have to become aware of them if you are to heal them, so you can be truly free. The pain you feel on recalling a painful memory is a signal that you need to use the forgiveness process, not a reason for holding back. Pus in an abscess needs to be drained quickly, and not allowed to fester, scar, or spread. The sooner you do the forgiveness process, the less harm will occur to yourself and your relationships.

6. Untruth: Forgiveness is making everything too "nice" (the word is used in a derogatory sense) and is too sickly. We can't have all this "sweetness and light stuff".

Truth: Forgiveness has nothing to do with this kind of insincere "niceness" - it is an energy dynamic for healing yourself.

7. Untruth: There are some people who are so evil that they can never be forgiven. Some atrocities are "unforgivable". Therefore the whole idea of unconditional love is idealistic rubbish and a waste of time.

Truth: Some actions are indeed very evil and wicked, and do a great deal of harm - true. Society needs to be protected - true. Part of this process may include the capture and fair legal trial of, and inflicting punishment or isolation on, wrongdoers - true. Some people are what is called "evil" because they do not experience any kind of conscience, and so they cannot self-correct their errors. Imagine what it would be like if you were like that yourself, how devastating you would find the effect of that on your life.

Some people cannot learn from experience as well as you or I - for example, children of severely alcoholic or drug-dependent mothers, born with the so-called "fetal alcohol syndrome". Maternal malnutrition, childhood emotional deprivation, other kinds of genetic or acquired mental disability may also damage a person's capacity to make wise choices. We must remain aware of the effects of certain industrial, household chemicals and drugs upon human behavior also. Many people who take drugs are using them to repress their pain - of having being sexually abused, for example. Remembering these possibilities enables you to be more compassionate to those who do terrible things at the same time as protecting society from their actions. We could all look deeper before condemning them as unforgivable.

To hold back on your love-flow and to continue to hate the wrongdoers has a number of effects that are harmful to your own self, and which therefore act as a kind of punishment to you , for what the other person did. This can harm your body and contribute to disease. It limits your own freedom of choice inside yourself. It can poison your emotions, limiting your capacity to express goodwill. It can cause you to harbor harmful thoughts and beliefs, and limit your positive creativity. It can damage your relationships if you project and generalize your bitterness; and can lead to national, racial, and religious prejudice and war. These effects can be cumulative.

With respect to the so-called "enemies of society", society itself suffers when prisoners do not grow and mature into responsible citizens during the time spent in prison, and are released back into a prejudiced world with their bitterness still unhealed. Remaining unforgiving also holds back and limits your own growth as a spiritual being . The forgiveness process is an act of will which you consciously choose to undertake to heal yourself and your own memories. An enlightened response to any imperfections you discover in your world is to act to heal them, rather than criticize.

Doing the forgiveness process is not a repression or forgetting of harm done. It is a decision to heal oneself and no longer be controlled or diminished by the memory of it. It is neutralizing the hostility and grudge we built up in reaction to the harm.

"Until you learn to forgive,

the ‘unforgivable’ will tend to keep happening to you.

What you have not learned to forgive,

is a either part of you now, or becomes a part of you".

~ attributed to Carolyn Myss

8. Untruth: Forgiving will not make the other person change their behavior, therefore it is waste of time. I want them to change and apologize before I forgive them.

Truth: Not doing the forgiveness process does not control the behavior of the other person as much as you would like to believe, if at all. It damages your own well-being however. In fact, doing the forgiveness process often frees the other to behave in a more acceptable way. Unconditional love is, by definition, unconditional!

9. Untruth: It is unfair that I should "have to" forgive the other.

Truth: It is fair to ourselves to practice forgiveness. You must remain aware that feelings of "righteousness" and un-forgivingness, even hatred, can coexist in you, can cause much harm, and are very different from the practice of right relationship, the active work of expression of goodwill, the holding of a loving attitude, and the fostering of the best qualities latent in the offending one and yourself. You do not "have to" do the forgiveness process - it is entirely your choice whether to proceed at each step. You do it only because you want to learn how to take charge of your life and to love, independently of the behavior of other people.

10. Untruth: Forgiveness requires telling the other person that you have forgiven them.

Truth: The forgiveness process is something that happens inside you. You do not tell them you have forgiven them, which may even make them feel badly, unless they have specifically asked you for your "forgiveness". It also depends upon what they and you mean by "forgiveness". They may want your pardon. Pardoning is letting a person off their punishment. They may want your love. Forgiveness is letting the love flow again. But pardoning can happen without forgiveness and the restoration of love. It may even not be in their best interest unless they are determined to follow a wiser path. Conversely, a person can be punished and yet know that they are still loved, by their firm parent, for example. Forgiveness and pardoning are quite separate behaviors. You need to be very clear about this.

Only you can decide what is appropriate in reestablishing communication and right relationship with the other person. The forgiveness process is canceling the conditions in your own mind that are blocking the flow of love, joy, and life energy. If you decide to reach out to the other person, your having done the forgiveness process first will make your chances of restoring harmony far greater.

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