“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
– Lewis B. Smedes
Sometimes in life we have the experience of being hurt by someone else. This hurt is often the result of perceived dishonesty, betrayal, disappointment, etc. When dealing with strong negative emotions that cause hurt and pain, it can be easy to get wrapped up in them. One powerful way from which we can escape that emotional suffering is through forgiveness.
One of the most important (and sometimes one of the most difficult) ways that we can extend our forgiveness is towards ourselves. We all have had errors in our thinking which have led to mistakes in our actions. Many of us still hold our wrongdoings against ourselves. We feel guilt for our actions and their effects. However, guilt is a wasted emotion. There is never a reason to feel guilty about anything. ANYTHING. Let me explain…
Guilt blocks forgiveness. You cannot forgive yourself and feel guilty at the same time. Just as you cannot hold a loving thought and a fearful thought at the same time.
When you stay stuck in guilt long enough, it can transform into shame. This means that you move from feeling guilty about your actions to shameful about the person you are. If guilt becomes an emotion that defines you, then you may start to believe that you’re no longer a good person that made a mistake. Instead, you have become a bad person who can do nothing right. It only serves your ego to stay stuck in guilt. It does not honor the divine nature of the loving spirit that you really are. Guilt keeps you from fully loving yourself and from being able to truly forgive.
What is important is the acknowledgement of the error. The realization that you may have acted in a way that was not loving is all you need to make a different choice the next time. As we grow, so do the choices that we make. Reflection of our past mistakes can help us understand that we were acting under a more limited consciousness than what we currently have in our present state of awareness. In the moment of our mistake, we acted/reacted as best as our consciousness would allow. Understanding this concept can save us from a lot of self-inflicted guilt and shame.
Just as we should not judge others for their actions, we also should not be so harsh in judgement of ourselves. When we recognize an error in someone’s thinking, we should send that person love. And if it is us who has made the error, we should send love to ourselves.
You may be saying, “But this person intentionally tried to hurt me! How can I forgive him/her? How can I love him/her?” In these situations, I try to always remember the saying, “Hurt people, hurt people.” Only a person that is suffering through a lot of emotional pain could intentionally try and inflict hurt upon another. A person who is full in love would not seriously entertain the thought of trying to hurt someone else. When you come across a person who is in the midst of such hurt and pain, compassion for them is a helpful and loving response.
Some people also hold the notion that forgiving means that you’re allowing acceptance and approval of the mistake that was made. That’s not at all what forgiveness does. Forgiveness allows you to release the anger/frustration/blame/hurt that you have been holding so that you can return to the peace and love that is of your natural state. A lack of forgiveness does not hurt the trespassers, it only affects the one holding the animosity in their heart.
I have found that prayer can be effective in fostering forgiveness. I heard Marianne Williamson mention the practice of praying for your enemies for 30 days straight and it is something that I recommend to my friends when they are having difficulty forgiving someone. Embarking on such an honest devotion towards forgiveness can help to create new peaceful circumstances and new loving perceptions. I recommend praying for peace in the relationship, forgiveness in your heart, and well-being for him/her.
When we can allow ourselves to forgive, then we can move into a space of sincere love for the person we felt we were betrayed or hurt by. Forgiveness is a tool that allows us to shift our perception from fear to love. It allows us to see past the human imperfections and see the perfection in each divine soul. And if we all exercised forgiveness and allowed love to guide our perceptions, imagine all the beauty we would see in ourselves, in each other and on our planet.
“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”
― C.S. Lewis
One of the biggest things that I have come to understand is the power of perception. Our perceptions shape our world based on the lens through which we view it. To take that a step further, situations in and of themselves are in a sense meaningless. Yes, meaningless. It is you that brings the meaning to it. The Universe shapes and moves itself according to the way in which you perceive it. This is much like how two people can witness the same event and have very different experiences of it.
For example, two people might witness a concert by a music artist at the same place and at the same time – side by side. One person could see the show and think that the artist did very well, was entertaining, and full of energy. The other person watching the same show might think that the artist was underwhelming, a little dull, and uncaptivating in their delivery. The first person might have left the show feeling like he had a great time, and the second person might have left feeling as though he didn’t get his money’s worth. How is it that they could have two different stories to tell from the same concert? Because, it is all subjective. If life’s situations themselves held all the meaning, we would all get the same thing from it, but we know that is not true.
The meaning that we give to life is based off of the beliefs and values that we hold. It may be hard to truly see how some things are not intrinsically good or bad. It is because we have such sure understandings of our morals and values, that it can be difficult to imagine someone else seeing what we judge to be bad, as a good thing. For example, many of us would agree that harming or killing children is a very bad thing. However, there are some societies and groups of people that will kill a newborn baby girl, for the simple fact that she is not a boy. This practice is known as sex-selective infanticide. For many of us, their actions would be bad/wrong. For them, it makes sense as the right thing to do.
We do not see things as they are, instead we see them as WE are. It is through who we are as a person that we determine what a situation or event means to us. As we change as people, so do our perceptions and our ideas of things. There was once a time in the United States of America, where formal slavery was acceptable. Not only was it acceptable but it was written law in our country. Now we have a law that states that the exact opposite is permissible. The same can be said for women’s voting rights, equal education, and other political and social issues. As we have progressed as a society, we have formed new ideas about right and wrong . What was right for us two-hundred years ago, is no longer what is right for us today. Through our personal growth, we will also find that old habits, behaviors, and beliefs that we were once accustomed to, no longer serve the truth and vision of who we are now and who it is that we choose to be.
I am currently enrolled in a poetry course and I am seeing how the interpretation of the conversations we have with one another throughout our lives, is similar to analyzing poetry. In class, we closely review various pieces to see what we notice in terms of symbolism, structure, and meaning. The great thing about it is that each reader can notice and gather significance from the poem in whichever way best sits with them. The author had a purpose and meaning behind the way he or she crafted their poem. The reader might be able to take away from the poem what the author intended or the reader might interpret a different meaning that was developed through their own unique perspective. The same is true for when we interpret the words and actions of others. We can choose to see them with love or with fear. Often misinterpretations happen because communication was received and then filtered through a lens that altered the meaning from one person to the other. The best way to avoid misinterpretations is to not make assumptions and to ask questions to clarify and be sure that both parties understand the information that is being shared.
This ties in with expectations. When you go into a situation expecting to see a certain thing, you probably will. If you open up and allow the greater good of all possibilities to flow, you never know what great things you could perceive.
This all reminds me of those eye illusions in which you can look at a picture and see a dancing couple or see a tree. Both are there. Like Oscar Wilde says, “The optimist sees the donut, the pessimist sees the hole.” Again, both are there. It’s all about what you allow yourself to see in it. Sometimes you see one or the other and sometimes you can see both. Just because you cannot see the good in the situation, does not mean it is not there. It’s like how there are never truly any days when the sun is not shining. The sun can sometimes be blocked by the clouds, but if you were to board a plane and shoot above them you could see that the sun was there all along. Shining bright as ever.
So even in situations when you cannot SEE the good, KNOW that it is there. KNOW that it hasn’t left. KNOW that your situation is part of a greater divine plan that was set in order for you to experience and grow in the ways that you need to.
One of my favorite quotes is by Dr. Wayne Dyer who said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” The freedom to give meaning to the situations in life is empowering. You cannot always control what happens to you, but you can control how you choose to see it. Choose to look through a lens of love and of positivity. Choose to give each situation a meaning that is uplifting. Trust that everything happens for your best. And allow yourself to see that the good is there, patiently waiting for you to invite it in!
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Somehow in our society it has become commonplace to think that someone who shows their emotions is weak and someone who is stoic and seemingly unbothered by life’s challenges is strong. However, that idea couldn’t be more wrong. The exact opposite is true. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable in a given moment, it is then that we are actually displaying our true strength.
As men, we are often taught that being emotional and being in touch with our feelings is a sign of weakness. They say, “It is only proper for girls to be vulnerable. Men aren’t supposed to have negative emotions outside of anger. Men are definitely not supposed to express those negative emotions. And there is absolutely no excuse for a man to ever cry.” But as a human-being, we all have emotions. Positive and negative. Our emotions are meant to be felt and expressed. With this understanding, we can move from a place of letting our ego be in control, to really letting our soul shine through.
One of the most important things that we can do is to teach our children and our youth how to express their feelings. So many times we tell our kids to “Suck it up” or “Stop crying and don’t be sad“. Such statements are often made by loving parents who do not want to see their children hurt and in pain. The error is that we are teaching our children to deny their feelings. We are teaching them that they should not feel any type of sadness or hurt. Instead, what we should be teaching our youth is how to feel their emotions and let them pass as they naturally will. What ends up happening is that instead of learning how to feel their emotions, children start to build up walls to protect themselves from feeling much at all. These walls often carry into their adult lives and create unnecessary struggles for them in the forms of trust issues, defensiveness, and sabotaging a good thing in the fear of being hurt by it. By guiding our children through the right way to deal with their feelings, we can help them establish strong emotional grounding that will support them as they grow into adults.
I’ve found that one of my biggest challenges has been opening up my heart again and expressing those emotions that are deep inside. Sometimes it seems easier for me to pretend as though everything is okay, rather than to let someone know that I am actually upset or saddened by something. But as I am learning, I see that without feeling you are not truly alive. You have to be able to feel.
It is okay to have feelings of sadness, of heartbreak, of despair, of hopelessness and of other negative emotions at times. What is not okay is ignoring your feelings as if they don’t exist. When emotions are kept bottled up, it is unhealthy on many levels. Bottled up emotions often are the root of extreme expressions such as rage and tantrums. And they are also the cause of many physical dis-eases such as ulcers, cancers, etc.
Many people use different things to numb their pain instead of feeling it. Some of these things may include working a lot, eating in excess, drinking alcohol on a regular basis, excessive shopping, etc. All of these things are distractions that keep you from feeling those negative emotions that are deep within. The way to move past these extreme behaviors and addictions is to feel whatever pain you’re avoiding. Deal with those issues and allow all of those feelings to come up no matter how painful they may be. What you are not willing to deal with and face, you will not be able to heal. Don’t use your behaviors as an excuse to stay stuck in sadness, hurt, anger, etc.
It takes a vulnerably strong person to say that “I am sorry.” It takes a vulnerably strong person to say that “I was afraid.” It takes strength to show your heart. Much like with many things in life, the more you practice being vulnerable and living from your heartspace, the easier it will become to act from that place in more of life’s situations.
Being vulnerable doesn’t mean that you are being gullible or too free in sharing yourself. It simply means that you are willing to express your emotional truth in a given moment.
Being vulnerable is really just being open. Open to the good things and the bad things. Without one or the other, we wouldn’t be having a full life experience. An open heart may experience heartache but a closed heart cannot feel love. If you’re too busy worrying about protecting yourself from being hurt all the time, you may miss out on all of the love and joy that could come in the most unexpected of ways. I offer you to see vulnerability as one of your greatest strengths. You may find that you’re stronger than you had ever imagined.