“You must forgive those who hurt you, even if whatever they did to you is unforgivable in your mind. You will forgive them not because they deserve to be forgiven, but because you don’t want to suffer and hurt yourself every time you remember what they did to you. It doesn’t matter what others did to you, you are going to forgive them because you don’t want to feel sick all the time. Forgiveness is for your own mental healing. You will forgive because you feel compassion for yourself. Forgiveness is an act of self-love.” –Don Miguel Ruiz
Forgive all things, not because all things are worthy of forgiveness, but because you are worthy of peace.
Forgiveness is first and foremost an act of self-love. In a world where the majority of people are using people and loving things instead of loving people and using things, self-love is all the more important an ability. Self-love is having the wherewithal to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first upon realizing that we’re all living within a “crashing plane.”
Indeed, the “crashing plane” that is our human condition hitherto, is a disaster situation screaming for its inflicted members to learn the much needed ability of self-forgiveness. If it can be taught, and it can, then self-love might finally be able to triumph over the scourge of narcissism that has been plaguing our species, and systematically destroying the world, for a millennium.
Pay attention! The pathetic, and now grossly cliché, excuse of “it’s just the way things are; there’s nothing we can do about it,” doesn’t fly anymore. And really it never has. The oxygen masks have been deployed, and we are all of us being held responsible for our actions. There is no wiggle room here. Either we get busy placing the much needed oxygen mask on ourselves (fearless forgiveness), or we get busy dying (cowardice cognitive dissonance). The choice is yours, and it begins with forgiving yourself.
Sincere forgiveness tears down the prison bars of our own expectations:
It turns the tables on the petty, small-mindedness of the ego. It exonerates us from the existential burden of mortal guilt, even as it frees our soul to be a force beyond the ego, a force to be reckoned with. Like Lewis B Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
Indeed, deep, visceral forgiveness is accepting – balls-to-bones, ovaries-to-marrow – that though we were once prisoners, victims, or slaves to an immoral system, through the sacred practice of daily soulful emancipation, we can become liberated spirit warriors with the ability to turn the tables on the very notion of slavery itself, be it mental, physical or spiritual.
When the ego rules, one cannot forgive. The ego is too busy with its whiny, woe-is-me disposition toward a world that “owes” it something, to even fathom the concept of forgiveness. The reason why authentic forgiveness is so rare in the world is precisely because the majority of people in the world are operating under outdated, parochial, and ego-centric programming. Under such programming, even the concept of forgiveness itself is seen as something outside of our power, as something that is only in the hands of a higher power. When, really, it can only ever be within our own power, and within our own hands.
Deep forgiveness keeps the ego in check. It subjugates the ego, making it a pawn to the truer power of the soul. This is because genuine forgiveness forces one to take responsibility for our individual humanity in regards to the humanity of others and the interconnectedness of all things. Through authentic forgiveness true liberation is within reach.
Fearless forgiveness is courageous vulnerability:
Self-forgiveness is taking personal responsibility for the burden of having a paradoxical self in an interdependent cosmos. It is the full-on acceptance that we are each fallible, hypocritical, prone-to-mistakes, fumbling, stumbling apes who will make exceptional mistakes. Fearless forgiveness is declaring to the universe how this is absolutely okay. It must be okay, lest we shoot our own progressive evolution in the foot. Like Mark Twain eloquently said, “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” But we are the heel and that which gets crushed. With fearless forgiveness we transcend both the heel and the crushing, launching ourselves into courageous vulnerability, where we have the capacity to learn from our mistakes, have fun with our hypocrisy, and have a good sense of humor in regards to our fallibility.
“But the worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests. Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself, and past your seven devils! You will be a heretic to yourself and witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and villain. You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?” –Friedrich Nietzsche
Yes! Nietzsche hits the nail on the head. He speaks directly to the power of self-forgiveness, and even further to the power of fearless forgiveness. In order to escape the prison of the self (to become new again) we must be able to forgive ourselves our prisons (burn in our own flame). Then, and only then, do we self-overcome, and finally transcend the prison (become ashes and rise again as a phoenix).
But first we have to declare to the universe, to the gods, to the so-called powers that be, that we are no longer a prisoner. That we will no longer make the mistake of playing the victim. That we will liberate ourselves from all forms of slavery. That we will forgive ourselves our unexceptional nature (individuation), so that we might liberate our exceptional nature (self-actualization). As Laurence Sterne said, “Only the brave know how to forgive. A coward never forgives; it is not in his nature.” So let’s be brave. Let’s personify courage itself. In such a state of fearless forgiveness, not even fear itself need be feared.
Forgiveness is existential liberation:
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult abilities that a human being can master precisely because it is a self-overcoming into newer, hopefully healthier, versions of the self. Genuine forgiveness frees us from our desperate need for things to be a certain way. It emancipates us from our slavery to things that are out of our control. It is equal parts letting things go and letting things be what they need to be in order to adapt and overcome. Like Jack Kornfield said, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past.” The past is what it is. Forgiveness is a moving on, a getting-back-into-flow, a getting-out-of-our-own-way, while allowing for a better future to be a possibility.
It gets us back into flow by parting the waters of historical guilt. It places us in the forefront, in the vanguard of our own life’s developing adventure. We are suddenly allowed to be the champion we always knew we could be, starting small with the all-powerful blessing of self-forgiveness, and then moving forward with it as a daily practice. Before we know it, an artistry, a skillfulness, begins to form, and we become the empty canvas upon which that artistry becomes its own mastery.
Remember: forgiveness is never a forgetting. It is in fact only ever a deep remembering, and an even deeper letting go. It is a sacred reminiscence, and an even more sacred release. Forgiveness begins at home. If you can forgive yourself again and again, you might earn the right to forgive the rest of us. It takes unwavering strength to forgive so deeply. It takes resolute bravery, sometime in the face of stanch anger and absolute villainy. But as Khalil Gibran profoundly opined, “And God said “love your enemy,” and I obeyed him and loved myself.” So it is also with forgiveness: And God said “forgive your enemy,” and I obeyed him and forgave myself.
Thank you for reading,
Love and Light,
Gary Z McGee
(Cover image by Cameron Gray)