Striving to reach for our full potential and genuine self-acceptance in life, we are faced with a number of predictable human challenges, among them:
- how to muster the strength to persist in the face of setbacks and losses;
- where to find courage and meaning despite realizing that our time is limited, that death inevitably arrives making it all for naught; and,
- how to find forgiveness for the hurts and betrayals we have experienced along the way.
Let’s look, for a moment, at one of these – the need to, and benefits of, forgiveness.
To truly forgive what has felt like a deep betrayal, we must face the underlying feelings of shame and sorrow that are masked by our outrage, hatred, and fantasies of vengeance that defend against them. We must also learn to open to the disappointment and heart-break that accompany the loss of connection.
None of this precludes standing up, speaking out, and seeking justice where such actions are justified and appropriate. It does not mean that what happened was OK or acceptable. It does not mean continuing to associate with those who have been abusive, or to allow such harmful and disrespectful behavior to cross our personal boundaries ever again.
“Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.” – John F. Kennedy
Ultimately, however, we must find a way of letting go and forgiving – for our own sake. Forgiving ourselves, and our complicity, as well as the hurtful actions of others.
With friends and loved ones we generally find it easy to forgive. That’s, in fact, one of things that has made them enduring friends and loved ones – as we all make mistakes.
Our “sacred friends,” as the Dalai Lama calls them, are another matter – those individuals with whom we have crossed paths in life that we find more challenging to forgive. They are “sacred” because they challenge (require) us to grow, to mature, to evolve, emotionally and “spiritually”. To learn the humbling lessons of compassion and respect for the difficult struggle that life is for all of us.
“Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults.” – Benjamin Franklin
When we make mistakes – and we all do – instead of becoming mired in shame and fear, we can benefit from learning to gently open to and explore the unmet need that led to the action (or inaction) that we regret.
We can practice and learn to feel compassion for ourselves, for our imperfect humanness, for how our conditioning – the ways we were hurt – sometimes gives rise to interpersonal patterns that play out in less-than-thoughtful ways.
And we can learn to feel that underlying sadness for ourselves, for others who have been affronted by our behavior, for others who have been unkind to us, and for all of humanity that struggles with this very human frailty.
In this way, we can move – step by step – closer to being able to forgive, to letting it go, and then moving forward.
We are all doing our best at any given moment, given the ways we have been hurt by life. And, we are all capable of higher functioning. Both are true.
“Without a trace of irony I can say I have been blessed with brilliant enemies. I owe them a great debt, because they redoubled my energies and drove me in new directions.” – E. O. Wilson