The Forgiveness Myth

by | Oct 5, 2023

I have just returned from facilitating my annual silent 5-day retreat. Part of the offering of these retreats are self-enquiry circles, designed to draw to the surface the common issues of the day. They were magnificent, profound and life changing. The bond between us as we open together into the deeper realisations is long-lasting and often life-changing.

One of the themes that resonated with me, and I hear often in my one-to-one practice too, is around forgiveness. There sometimes seems to be a myth in spiritual circles that we must be all loving all forgiving to everyone, all the time. I often hear my clients efforting and castigating themselves for failing to live us to this ideal, compromising their energy and their integrity in the process.

I understand, I used to do this too. The rush to forgive had been part of my training for years. And as I, like most of us, am basically a caring person, this felt like the right thing to do.

However the hurry to forgive, and the mental intention to bring love to a situation that disturbs us, glosses over the most important part of the process of all; the journey of compassion and spiritual deepening that evolves over time. In the same way we cannot force a baby to grow more quickly or force a chrysalis to reveal a butterfly, in our haste for speed in our modern times, we overlook the process itself.

Firstly, we need to acknowledge our feelings; our resentments and the other myriad of emotions that come from being on the receiving end of unconscious behaviour. This is a sacred process and evolves over time. During every year as part of one of my courses or retreats, I suggest an exercise asking everyone to make a list of who or what they resent. I write one too, and this year on the silent retreat, I was especially struck how short my list has become, compared to many years ago when I would write pages and pages!

Next, we may need to acknowledge the painful feeling that we wish our lives had been different, that we hadn’t gone through what we did. Another classic spiritual belief is that we choose our challenges at a soul level before incarnating to help us evolve and awaken. This is a helpful belief and one that can bring comfort, but in my view only after our ‘personality selves’ have been heard and acknowledged. We may need to rage and argue with what happened to us, before we can create space for these spiritual ideals to become true for us.

Another line of enquiry is to face our own victimhood, as well as the times when we ourselves have been perpetrators. We have all behaved badly, many times, not only to others but also to ourselves. If, in the past, we had the conscious awareness that we do now, I am sure most of us would have said and acted differently. When we bring this current awareness to what has happened to us in the past, then forgiveness and compassion can flow more naturally, without effort or doing on our part.

It’s important to say that we are not condoning bad behaviour here, and some things that happened to us may feel unforgiveable. We are simply creating space to allow awareness and compassion to help us reclaim our power, ground our energy and strengthen our boundaries. We take responsibility for our energy and treasure the ever-increasing connection to Grace that comes with releasing old hurts and resentments.

This may mean that we step away from unhealthy relationships, we may stop trying to make them into something they are not. We offer these connections up to Grace, in a place of surrendered compassion for all, without any agenda or need for things to be different. We tend to our own journey, staying present to what’s here now, and leave the rest to Grace.

In this way we are able to let go of the desire to forgive anyone or anything. We create space for more beauty, compassion, stillness and love to flow in.

Often, after the silent retreat, I hear stories of fractured relationships being repaired, and other magical changes taking place. This happens because there has been such a profound letting go; not an egoic surrendering, but one that has come from stillness and Grace.

This is the power of a self-enquiry practice, rooted in stillness, and in taking time out to reflect and appreciate how far we have come.

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