A Reflection on The Power of Forgiveness…
A reflection on practice by Gina Sharpe
Forgiveness is not simple. When we have been harmed, hurt, betrayed, abandoned, or abused, forgiveness may seem out of the question. And yet, unless we find a way to forgive, we will hold hatred, resentment and fear in our hearts forever. Without forgiveness, we’re forced to carry the suffering of the past as a great burden on our shoulders. As Jack Kornfield says, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.” Thus, when we begin the work of forgiveness, it is primarily a practice for ourselves.
Forgiveness is often spoken of as a kind of indiscriminate absolution, without taking the need for fidelity, loyalty and right action into account. Instead, principled forgiveness asks us to reflect deeply and rigorously, cleaving to compassion for our shared humanity balanced with, and without dismissing, the need for accountability. Our ability to forgive allows us to make space with a kind heart for our shared humanity, and for our suffering as well as the suffering of others.
The Buddha said, “If it were not possible to free the heart from entanglement and greed, hate, fear, and delusion, I would not teach you or ask you to do so.” The power of forgiveness releases us from the power of our mental defilements. Our practice of loving-kindness is enhanced by our practice of forgiveness, because forgiveness allows us to be free from self-defeating emotions like vengeance and to be uplifted by our offer of kindness.
Forgiveness does not gloss over what has happened in a superficial way. The practice is not a misguided effort to suppress our pain or to ignore it. If you’ve suffered a great injustice, coming to forgiveness may include a long process of grief and outrage, sadness, loss and pain. Forgiveness is a deep process, calling us to investigate our difficult questions, and repeated over and over and over again in our hearts. It honors the grief and it honors the betrayal. The forgiving person, knowing she has the strength to express anger and resentment toward the offender, also knows she is strong enough to give away that anger and resentment. And in its own time, that strength ripens into the freedom to truly forgive.
If we look honestly at our own lives, we can see the sorrows and pain that have led to our own wrongdoing. In this way we can finally extend forgiveness to ourselves and hold the pain that we have caused in our heart of compassion. Without such mercy, we would live in isolation or in exile, unable to ever forgive.
In order to cultivate a truly loving and kind heart, we need to develop the practices that cultivate and strengthen forgiveness and the natural compassion within us. As you practice forgiveness, let yourself feel whatever small or large release there is in your heart. Or if there is no release, notice that too. And if you are not ready to forgive, that’s all right. Sometimes the process of forgiveness takes a lifetime, and that’s perfectly fine. You can unfold in your own time and in your own way. Emotions will come not because we force them to but because they’re expressions of deep feeling inside. Forgiveness is an attitude of welcoming, inviting and spaciousness rather than an emotion that we force and pump up in our minds and hearts.
We practice with the faith that as we practice, body, mind, and heart learn. That’s the beauty of these practices; we learn that we’re not in control of the fruits of our practice, but we are in control of how we practice—whether we do it with patience, diligence, determination, wisdom, effort and energy. We’re not in control of how it then manifests in our life. We’re not trying to make anything particular happen, because in the trying to make something happen, we will miss the beauty and delightful surprise of what does happen.
This is excerpted and edited from Tricycle’s Wisdom Collection
See more about Gina Sharpe