There are a lot of theories revolving around the term “forgiveness”. The internet is flooded with quotes that scream how forgiving others can be a key to self-liberation from suffering. My thought process around this concept has been pretty interesting. I have been spending a generous amount of time exploring its anatomy asking questions such as:
Is it possible to forgive without any residue of betrayal and mistrust?
Is it possible to forgive yourself? How does one do that?
Do I need to be more stringent or lenient when forgiving myself?
How do I know for sure that I have forgiven myself or someone who had wronged me?
What is the meaning of the quote “forgive, don’t forget”?
How can I separate the incident that hurt me from the resulting emotion? Wouldn’t it arise naturally when I am faced with a similar situation?
As I believe and often say that I don’t know it all yet, I am still learning; but contemplating on these thoughts has given me some valuable insights. What is forgiveness in simple terms? The first thought that comes to one’s mind after hearing the term forgiveness is the definition that they’ve been hard-wired to believe. For me personally, I thought forgiveness was letting go of all the grudges against someone for their “wrongdoings”.
I heard a podcast by Noah Rasheta (Secular Buddhism) where he has beautifully explained how the notion of forgiveness disintegrates if one tries to understand the situation silently and with an open mind. I applied this once when I was on a bike and a speeding vehicle approached, aggressively honking, driving me nuts. My reaction at the time? A series of baseless accusations started flowing in my mind:
He is unethical and arrogant
He is a total loser in life
He should get caught by the traffic officer
He should get a flat tire
Such a jerk!
Later that day, when I did a recap of this whole scenario and started a dialogue with myself to see where the conversation goes, here's what I came to realize:
Why did I get angry? Well, maybe because this guy was being unreasonable! And how do I know that? Have I been in any situation where my reaction initially seemed unreasonable to others but I had my reasons to justify? Sure, umpteen number of times! Could this be a situation where I am jumping the gun without knowing the other side of the story? Did I attempt to know why was he honking so furiously in the first place? Just the way I spent time in concluding the above-mentioned qualities about the guy, can I try to frame some scenarios in his favor now? Sure!
He might be getting late for some urgent work
I may have not heard him the first time he honked requesting to give away some space
Maybe I accidentally left the wrong indicator on
Maybe I was driving at the wrong speed in the wrong lane
Does this help pacify the situation? Yes, it sure does. The most important question of all:
Can I forgive this guy for his behavior?
The answer that I arrived at was actually a question. Is there anything I need to forgive him for?
When I tried to understand the situation from both perspectives and with an open mind, I was able to see that there was nothing to forgive him for. There was no mistake to be forgiven in the first place. The more I try to understand the situation, the easier it gets to not get angry or hold any grudge against anyone.
This one simple exercise has been my only tool to gaining patience in stressful situations triggering anger. It started with analyzing the situation that had already taken place, forgiving myself after realizing I made a mistake, and trying to observe my reactions. Now I have reached a point that I can control my reactions in frivolous situations that do not merit aggression or rudeness. I know it takes enormous effort to try to suppress the emotion arising out when we think about the situation but that is the only way for consciousness to kick in and throw some light on reality.
This was about forgiving others. Now, coming to forgiving myself. I have enough reasons to believe that the burden of holding grudges against ourselves is more hazardous than the ones for others. Every time I failed in doing something, a part of me would get disappointed in myself. The "me" of yesterday made some choices out of the limited knowledge that I possessed. The "me" of today with a little bit of wisdom judging those choices would result in smothering the choices that the "me" of tomorrow would take.
A friendly piece of advice, don't be too hard on yourself! Notice how our tolerance level is different for our loved ones versus people we don't know. My pet cat dropped coffee on me the other day, and my immediate reaction was to check if he was hurt, to comfort him as he got scared. Would I do the same thing if this happens when I am walking in a mall? The boundary that we have created around us that separates us from others can only be removed when we silently observe our reactions and try to expand our thought process.
Currently, the way we let our minds work is similar to a child's play, we imagine and make fictional stories in our mind. For a change try to have a courtroom session where let the judge (your consciousness) share a final verdict about the situation by giving a fair chance to both the defendant and the prosecutor to justify their sides and have the jury (your senses that define YOUR reality) share their inputs. I know how time-consuming that sounds but trust me, it gets interesting once it takes momentum.
Here's a small exercise that can be used to start with this practice. I will share a scenario that may trigger some unpleasant emotion in you, my invitation to you would be to have a detailed brainstorming session with yourself till you arrive at a point when you think "What's there to forgive?"
There is a girl who has filed a complaint with cybercrime for releasing some of her compromising pictures. The accused (her ex-boyfriend) has been threatening her for some time to get married to him which she denied and now she is being tortured by her ex.
Note down all the emotions that you feel after reading this. As much as I understand human behavior, the practitioner will broadly be either in the group of blaming the girl for allowing the man to capture those pictures or in the one that would despise the man’s action. Take note of all the emotions; rage, pity, anger, vengeance, disappointment, etc no matter which group you are from. Let these emotions settle down for a bit as this is the time when all your actions and responses will be tangled to your emotions blocking you from seeing reality.
Once the mud of your emotions in that murky water called your mind settles down, then ask yourself why?
Why did the guy do such a horrendous act if he was in love with the girl?
How could the girl not realize that this man was a ruthless monster?
Where did he get the idea to post them online and threaten her? Oh, wait, maybe because that’s the kind of sh*t people do when they are illiterate!
Why did the girl not report him earlier when he threatened her the first time? Oh, wait, maybe because that’s the kind of sh*t that happens only in movies and with other people!
I have seen this happening in places where people are highly literate so literacy has got nothing to do with it?
Highly intellectual and independent women have faced a similar situation so a woman’s gullibility has nothing to it either?
Then what is it? The deeper I dive into it, the stronger my belief grows that these two people sadly got caught up in the same murky water that lured us into feeling a certain way rather than truly trying to look through the veil of emotional turmoil.
Watch this movie called “Wonder” or read the novel of the same name by R. J. Palacio and you will see how just by hearing every side of the story, you realize how there is no one to be blamed, nobody to be forgiven as there is no mistake to be corrected. If we learn to observe silence in situations that are pressing, we gain a sense of authority over the situation and can deal with them more skillfully rather than reacting impulsively.
PS: Don’t ask me what is right or wrong, I have built a field inspired by Rumi, it expands far beyond the ideas of wrongdoings and rightdoings.
I walk in that field and I just walk, without the need to arrive somewhere.
~ Anila Andezhath