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Re-evaluating the concept of forgiveness

Today, as we see so much of our security eroding and lawlessness increasing, we can no longer doubt that the outside world – both people and events – are impacting upon our lives, and not always in ways that we welcome. These times may be highly uncomfortable and, for many, even dangerous.


As a result, we will often find it necessary to examine our beliefs concerning what is happening both to us and to others who may be close to us. In doing so, we will also be called upon to look again at concepts such as blame and forgiveness.


What does it mean to forgive? Can we always forgive others? Is this even necessary? Do our attempts to forgive all too often just lead to sweeping our real feelings under the carpet – with bitterness, anger and resentment simmering away – unresolved – until, one day, they find some other way of expression?


These are times in which so many issues are confronting the world – issues which will either escalate into disaster – or be resolved. If we wish to avoid the path of destruction it will be necessary for every one of us to seize the opportunities that are presented to us, and to resolve them fully for ourselves.

In order to resolve them, and in order for us to come to terms with the events in our lives, we need to look at what forgiveness really means, and what it involves.


However, forgiveness is not what we generally believe it to be.


The Toltec approach holds that real forgiveness has nothing to do with feeling sorry or apologizing – neither of which actually changes anything. True forgiveness is contained in its literal meaning. The word "forgive" is very old, and the prefix "for" means literally "to reject." So the word as a whole means "to reject the giving."


We need "to reject the giving" because, if we think we have wronged someone, we use our sense of guilt to give to that person. By giving, we hope to make it better, and to exonerate ourselves from our actions.


But giving from a sense of guilt can never lead to forgiveness. Neither can forgiveness be bestowed by another; it has to be brought about by ourselves. Conversely, if we feel that someone has wronged us, we will continue to demand payment for that offense. In the end, unless we can reject all this giving and truly forgive ourselves, we can never really move on and be free of the past.


How does forgiveness work in practice? Say that you have taken responsibility for your past by changing your behavior. The reality is that you may still have unresolved feelings about what you have done. The process of forgiveness enables you to resolve these feelings so that you can move on.


By simply feeling bad about the past, we never really move on. What’s more, we imply that the past is meaningless and has no value. What a waste. For, if we have caused harm, surely we should try to find some meaning in our actions rather than living with a heap of regrets?


Forgiving ourselves means finding value in any experience. Instead of writing off an experience as a meaningless and painful episode, we should look for the value in that experience and try to take out of the experience whatever we can learn.


By searching for meaning and value from our past, we ensure that there is no more need to give or demand payment; we can, indeed,  "reject the giving" and so forgive.


Too often today, forgiveness has come to be regarded as a process we apply to others or their actions. This is a process that is concerned primarily with “making an excuse for” the actions of others, or choosing to regard these actions “indulgently”.


However, this is a far cry from the true meaning of forgiveness, and neither does it lead to any form of resolution. Instead it keeps all parties locked into a cycle of blame – a destructive cycle which perpetuates the illusion of victimhood.


How, then, can we look at forgiveness in a more constructive manner?


Yet, if we look again at the original meaning of the word forgive, namely; “to reject the giving,” it is clear that the process of forgiveness has nothing to do with making amends; or atoning; making excuses; or being indulgent. Instead it is a very personal action – an act of the self, for the self.


Toltecs believe that the process through which we free ourselves from resentment, genuinely and lastingly, is a vital one, if we ever hope to achieve resolution. It is the only process that will result in a full acceptance of self, as well as an ungrudging acknowledgement of the fact that whatever is happening now, and whatever has happened in the past, we have ourselves called forth.


Théun Mares expresses this concept in the following way. “What then is true forgiveness? Only when we reach that point of clarity at which we can clearly see that every one who has ever played a role within our lives was there in order for us to have the experiences that have aided us in moving forward in terms of our learning about self, does it become possible for us also to see that no-one has ever done anything to us.


“In other words, no matter how much we may have loved, or hated, or despised, or worshipped, or adored, or mistrusted, or doubted, any of the people within our lives, each and every one of them have been merely instruments of power that we, ourselves, have called forth for our learning.


“And it is only once we have found the gifts of power within our experiences: not only the gifts that pertain to the mutual experiences, but even more importantly, the gifts that are uniquely our own as a result of the experiences, can we truly see that in terms of how we have orchestrated the unfoldment of our fate, there was simply no other way in which we could have learned, other than through the experiences which we, ourselves, have called forth.


“Once we can see the gifts for what they truly are, all sense of judgement of self falls away like a coat that has served its purpose, and we finally stand free and victorious in our battle for self-acceptance.


“In that moment of realisation we know that we are neither "good" nor "bad," but that we are simply warriors struggling to learn, warriors who at times falter, stumble and fall. But falling in itself does not make us bad! The only thing that makes us "bad" is failing to fight whenever we do fall down! It is so very easy to say and even to think that we accept ourselves, but to do so is a huge battle, and it takes time and it takes courage. 


“But when finally we do accept ourselves without judgement, and without justification of the past, it is utterly impossible to "forgive" those who have helped us along our way, for the simple reason that there is nothing to forgive them for. Are we going to "forgive" them for having helped us? Are we going to "forgive" them for the very experiences that have helped us to break free from self-judgment? How very idiotic to even entertain such ideas! The only person we ever needed to forgive is ourself. And this is only really possible once we are willing and able to let go our self-image and our view of the world. Until then we can at best justify our actions, and thereby judge the actions of those around us as being "good" or "bad" or "understandable" or "permissible given the circumstances."”


Justifying or judging actions – whether these are ours or those of others – can never lead to proper resolution. Instead justification and judgement only lead to a festering resentment.


It is only through striving for and by reaching the point at which we can acknowledge the gifts in our past and current experiences that we can fully resolve them and come to true forgiveness.







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