Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Power of Forgiveness

A reader recently left a comment about looking back on past choices, and feeling great regret. Her obvious pain and anguish moved me, as I have sincerely regretted past choices, and I'm sure many of you have too.

The question that this comment brought up for me has to do with forgiveness. At what point do you forgive yourself for past actions or inactions, and learn to move forward, and more importantly, learn to trust yourself and your choices again?

I remember when I was in graduate school, there was this kind of self-flagellation for not doing this, for not reading that, for not writing on a day you should have been writing. And you could get in a really deep funk beating yourself up for all the things you weren't doing that you were supposed to be doing.

Finally, I remember talking to a friend where we both agreed we had to let some things go, cut ourselves some slack, "be kind" to ourselves.

And this helped. Rather than letting us off the hook or allowing us to give up, it gave us the chance for grace, for mercy, for forgiveness. And I truly believe that learning to forgive--yourself or others--is one of the most important kinds of growth you can undergo, spiritually and emotionally.

When you can forgive, you don't excuse what was done or not done. Rather, you acknowledge that you were weak, or did everything you could at the time, and that you just weren't capable of more. You didn't act not because you were a bad person, but because the person you were in that moment wasn't ready, wasn't strong enough yet. Even the meanest person can be forgiven if you realize that the person they are in that moment is just too stunted, too hurt or too stubborn to do any better.

Again, this is not to let anyone off the hook. You can forgive yourself and still feel guilt or sadness or anger. But after forgiveness, you have room to create a new path, and channel those feelings into growth, awareness, and a means to do better in the future.

Self-torture perpetuates pain. Pain is too insistent, too acute to allow room for larger ideas, for breath, for growing stronger. You must stop the pain. You must stop and heal. Then you can make room for progress, for acceptance, for the possibility of bliss.

Have you struggled with self-forgiveness? Or do you have a different definition or perspective on forgiveness? Tell us in the comments what it means to you.

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