Forgiveness, A Conscious Choice

From the personal to the group, we are all probably in need of forgiveness as well as the need to forgive. Personal injuries—some which are minor types of offense, some grievous wounds—if carved into the deepest levels of the psyche can become an intrinsic part of one’s identity as a victim: “I have been wronged; I’ve been hurt in ways that will never heal.” Equally injurious to the soul are the wrongs we have committed to others, some of which we can remember and others which lie in so distant a past that they are only vague suspicions that darken our perception of ourselves.

Historical grievances of battles fought and lost long ago still form the perspective of some peoples and even entire nations. These ancient wrongs cannot be erased from history, but if blame is to be assigned, where should it lie? To foster a sense of shame or guilt seems unproductive unless it arises from within the perpetrator, and in any case, anger towards the perceived wrong-doer is deadly to the soul. How, then, to right the wrongs of the past, whether personal or collective? More importantly, can they ever be righted or must they be relinquished in order to focus on the future?

Spiritually, there is no “my soul and thine”, there is only the one soul which unites us all. We belong to each other and to the greater Life in which we live and move and have our being. We are each and all members of the one Humanity. From this perspective, any attempt to isolate oneself from the “other”, whether a person or a group, a race, or a nation, is futile. This casts light on the esoteric view of forgiveness, which is to “give for the greater good of the whole”. Forgiveness, from this perspective, isn’t simply an expression of magnanimity but an act of sacrifice for the good of the larger whole of which one is an intrinsic part.

“There are no enemies, only teachers”, the Buddha is purported to have said. Sometimes the most valuable lessons are learned through pain, even if they are perceived as unjustified or caused by forces and circumstances seemingly beyond one’s control. Nevertheless, we retain the capacity for control. As Bishop Desmond Tutu wrote in The Book of Forgiving, “Forgiveness is not a choice you make for someone else; it is a choice you make for yourself….We choose forgiveness because it is how we find freedom and keep from remaining trapped in an endless loop of telling our stories and naming our hurts”, he wrote.

Forgiveness doesn’t let the wrong-doer off the hook; it isn’t an expression of “both sides-ism”, nor is it predicated on a forced or premature reconciliation. Forgiveness enables justice, rather than vengeance, to be rendered, for the guiding motive then is to hasten an enlightened willingness to change, to redeem, rather than to punish. The unexpected gift of this approach is that creates a space for the healing factor of time to enable the growth of recognition and accountability, to make it possible, safe, for the wrong-doer to face past mistakes and set about redeeming them. It is also deeply practical, because forgiveness is an investment in the future: we forgive so that we may be forgiven. For, in the words of the African proverb, “Those who do not forgive break the bridge on which they have to pass.”

On a spiritual level, to respond with forgiveness entrusts whatever reckoning is due to the ultimate judgment of the Akashic Records. These are found, according to esoteric teaching, in the Hall of Records or, in Christian theology, in the “keeping of the book” overseen by the recording angels. Forgiveness is based upon the willingness to accept that sometimes true justice can only be rendered by relinquishing the perceived wrong to the judgment of a higher power. Forgiveness, consciously chosen, frees both the perceived victim and the victimizer to submit to the cosmic scales of justice, which weigh all motivating factors with exquisite precision. It sacrifices the desire for retribution by entrusting the outcome to the wisdom and beneficence expressed in an insight attributed to the Greek philosopher Sextus Empiricus: “The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine.”



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