The Dividends Of Forgiveness
Here are just some of the returns you can expect on your investment when you make a decision to forgive someone.
I’ve been practicing forgiveness now for a couple of decades. I believe that forgiveness is a practice, like a ritual or a habit, because we never reach perfection at it. I have found that forgiveness is essential for mental health. I have also found that forgiveness makes us open to suggestions and opportunities that we might otherwise miss. If we haven’t forgiven someone, we may still be thinking about retribution. With forgiveness comes relief from the bondage of self. With relief from the bondage of self, forgiveness allows us to practice gratitude.
Life has a cycle. We’re born, we live, we reproduce, we die. Life is in a continual process of renewal. Nothing is permanent. Nothing is forever. Everything is changing all the time. What is composed must decompose. And so it is with forgiveness. With every act of forgiveness comes renewal.
Someone hurts me, I feel grief, I feel sad, I may feel alone. I talk to that person and ask what happened. Maybe I never get to talk to that person about what happened. Maybe I have to talk to someone else to get relief from what happened to me. But that thing, that day, that time we had together, will always be there in my mind. When I forgive that person for their transgression, I release that event from my mind. Nature abhors a vacuum, so when I release the harm done to me in forgiveness, nature gives me something else in its place, a sense of renewal.
With each act of forgiveness, I experience a greater awareness of the way things are. I experience a greater awareness of the tendency of people to harm me. With forgiveness, I develop a certain vigilance to be careful to avoid creating the conditions that led to the harm I experienced before. I become more aware that I can’t change people. When I forgive them, I accept the people in my life just the way they are, and if there is a potential for harm, I stay out of their way and move on. Where there is love between us, I just keep talking and working with them. With forgiveness, I think of staying together more than coming apart.
With forgiveness comes relief from ideation. What is ideation? This is a concept I’ve learned from filling out questionnaires when starting to work with a therapist. The questionnaire will always include a few questions about suicide. “Do you imagine taking your own life?” or, “Do you have frequent thoughts or feelings about suicide?”, and “Do you engage in ideation about suicide?”
Ideation, is the mental activity of playing it out in our minds, what we want to do. If we engage in ideation about violence, we have feelings that correspond to the violence. We feel adrenaline even if we don’t engage in the act we contemplate. If we are not contemplating physical violence, then there is emotional violence, and when we imagine that, we still experience strong feelings about it. We may even use those feelings to justify acts of abuse.
Ideation is a focus of attention, and it’s kind of like target fixation. When we think about something or imagine something, we tend to manifest that thing in our lives. We tend to attract that which we think about. An example of target fixation is when you’re riding a bicycle and you see an attractive someone from the opposite sex, and you look at that someone while riding. Your hands turn the wheel where you’re looking. When you imagine something, your brain turns your body towards that thing, regardless of whether that thing is negative or positive.
When we neglect to forgive someone, we may spend time in ideation about what we’re going to do to that person. When we spend time in ideation about causing harm to someone we have not forgiven, we are not thinking about our part in what gave rise to the transgression. When we engage in the fantasy of retribution, we are not thinking about how to make our lives better, we are not thinking about how to prevent that transgression from happening again. The fantasy of retribution can only lead to escalation, not peace. I’ve tried it myself, and I’ve never found anything to work for me after a transgression upon myself, other than forgiveness.
The thing about escalation is we never really want to find out how far a person is willing to go to prove he or she is right. We never really want to find out how passionately someone is willing to defend themselves when they feel as if they’ve been cornered. They need an out, a way to save face, or they will fight. “They might be giants,” I think, so I forgive. Anyone who thinks that they can confront someone with a threat of punishment for a transgression has been watching too many movies. Someone willing to engage in transgressions of violence or of faith is probably not willing to change. Forgiveness relieves us of that person’s character and allows us to focus on our own character.
That leads us to the final dividend I’d like to discuss today: relief from the bondage of self. While it is true that we are born with natural instinct for self-preservation, there is something else we’re born with that most animals don’t have: two very large hemispheres of grey matter. Just because we’re feeling like our lives are threatened, doesn’t necessarily mean that our lives are threatened.
Perhaps we’ve been victims of abuse in childhood and something we experienced today “triggers” us into reliving our childhood experiences of pain and disappointment. Some of our memories are so painful, we bury them so deep that we have no easy to recollect them in consciousness. But when someone does something to us that reminds us of that harm we had when we were two or three years old, we go ballistic, or we withdraw. We feel fight or flight even though the circumstances might not be life-threatening to an adult.
No one really has a license to rage. We are all so very fragile. But we have possessions that we think are a part of ourselves. We have a body that we think is a part of ourselves. I have several friends who are quite spiritual and they insist that “I” is not our body or our possessions. We’re still not even sure what it is that we call “consciousness”.
Everything that our senses deliver to us is called, “reality”, and scientists are still not sure about what that is. They still don’t even know why we need to sleep or where we “go” when we are made unconscious for surgery. This thing we call “self” is not what we own and who we know. I think of that thing as an observer, someone that is observing my experience as I sit here to write, as I talk with the people I know, as I read, as I work, I am aware of something outside of myself not of myself.
I am careful to understand what it is I am defending when I have been offended. I am mindful that other people experience bondage of self just as I do, but they may not be very much aware of that bondage. Forgiveness is knowing that there is something greater out there. Forgiveness is knowing that life is still more precious than a minor or major offense on the part of someone else.
I forgive people because I want relief from the obsession of revenge. I want relief from ideation about what harm I could to do someone in reprisal. I would rather expend my energies on something that I want to attract into my life. I forgive people because I am aware that we’re all so fragile and life is so precious. I forgive people because I want them to remember me that way so that when I see them again, we will talk again and share our lives in peace. These are the dividends of forgiveness that I am grateful for.