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What is Forgiving?

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Many of us, from our earliest childhood, are told that a good person forgives others. What we don't learn, though, is what true forgiveness means, and when we see forgiveness in practice, it often looks like this: "You're wrong, but I will tolerate you, because I'm right."

Come free of the net of right and wrong.
Into the Twilight,W. B. Yeats

The net of right and wrong often entangles me. Sometimes I recognize this. I think of someone with whom I'm having difficulty, and I warm myself in the fire of self-righteousness. I am so right; the other person is so wrong.

When Iêm comfortable in my protective net, I don't have to be afraid. I don't have to investigate other ways to look at the condition of a relationship. I don't have to take risks. I don't have to be uncertain. I don't have to worry about making mistakes. I don't have to change.

Right and wrong can also be a game, one I call the ping-pong game from hell. You will often see it being played in relationships, especially those which aren't in the best possible shape. Here's an example.

X: You always blame me for the smallest things. So what if I forgot to take out one bag of garbage? Does that mean I don't love you?

Y: It means you don't care about the things that are important to me.

X: Because the things that are important to you are stupid.

Y: Oh, really? And what's important to you? Who even knows? You only bother to speak to me when you get angry.

These two are skilled players. They can bounce the ball of right and wrong back and forth indefinitely.

Sometimes, though, one player wins. This can lead to a new game called forgiveness, in which one person is perpetually right, the other eternally wrong.

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Being Right About Being Forgiving

Fred and Simon are business partners. Their company has lost money because of an unfortunate business decision Fred made. Simon, furious, threatens to dissolve the partnership.

Fred, who already feels like crawling beneath the nearest log and turning into mold, says he has learned from the mistake and will never make it again. In the future, he won't make that level of decision again without consulting with Simon.

This satisfies Simon, not so much because of Fred's promise, but because Fred has admitted he was wrong. This makes Simon feel even more right. He says he forgives Fred, but from time to time, whenever Fred contemplates a risky decision, Simon reminds him of his grave error in the past.

Ron and Sylvia are married. Ron, who was an active alcoholic for many years, has joined Alcoholics Anonymous and has been sober for six months. Sylvia has said she forgives him for the nights he didn't come home or came home drunk and broke and for his mental and sometimes physical abuse of her.

Secretly, though, she holds herself as a very good person to forgive someone who doesn't deserve it. Maybe she can forgive, but she can't forget how much she suffered. Ron was wrong, and she'll make sure he never forgets it, either.

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The Forgiveness Trap

Too often, our practice of forgiveness masks an attitude of judgment. We only forgive those whose behavior we've already judged to be wrong. That judgment establishes us as being better. In most cases the forgiven person is feeling somehow condemned and the forgiver feels superior.

Often people believe they escape judgment by finding reasons for "forgiving" the other person. They may say, "Well, he had such an unhappy childhood," or "she's not spiritually evolved" (unlike guess-who?). This is a disguised way to say, "They will always be wrong."

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The Judgment Boomerang

Judgment disguised as forgiveness clearly hurts those who are its recipients. It also hurts those who bestow it.

When we become caught in the net of right and wrong, we see the world in those terms. We see every situation and relationship in terms of who's right and who's wrong. With such a perspective, there is little room for appreciation and love.

In addition, when we don't see others clearly, we are equally unable to see ourselves clearly. The real judgment boomerang is that the characteristics or behavior we judge in others are those we resist in ourselves, sometimes to the point that we don't consciously realize we may have the attributes for which we judge and appear to forgive others.

Simon has made his own mistakes regarding the business. By focusing on Fred's error, he avoids taking responsibility for his own.

Judgment veiled as forgiveness may also hide our unwillingness for the other person to change. During Ron's alcoholic years, Sylvia played the role of long-suffering martyr. Not only did she get to be right; people felt sorry for her, and she felt no need to see how she may have enabled Ron to continue his habit --or do any other form of self-examination.

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No One's Perfect

When we hold on to the injuries which others have caused us, we may wisely suspect that there are deeper injuries which we've caused to ourselves for others or which we do not forgive ourselves. Our inability to truly forgive another may stem from our own feelings of being unforgiven. In that knowledge lies the potential for true understanding and true release.

Thus, I choose to keep the word forgiveness in my vocabulary, but I redefine it as release. My commitment is that when I forgive someone, it's over. Forgiveness means means there is no lingering resentment or anger, and no attempt to re-ignite guilt in the other person. It means the release of whatever energetic blockage was preventing the expression of unconditional love.

It means I recognize I have my own shortcomings and limitations, and in releasing my judgment of another, I have the opportunity to release self-judgment and to forgive myself.

St. Francis of Assisi put it this way in this line from his well-known prayer:

"It is in giving that we receive/It is in pardoning that we are pardoned."

A genuine act of forgiveness is an act of generosity, an act of giving, both towards another person and to ourselves. When we free ourselves from the net of right and wrong, we discover the possibility of unconditional love.

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Crystals for Forgiveness

To be able to forgive, you will probably need to take the first step of calming your anger. Some excellent stones for this are green calcite, celestite, and sugilite. Hold the stone of your choice and breathe in and out deeply. Ask yourself which is more important: the relationship or the anger.

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Beech (Bach) is the primary flower essence for releasing judgment. This essence helps us realize all judgment is self-judgment, so in taking it we do not only the world but ourselves a favor.

Resentment, the smoldering emotional fire, often keeps judgment hot. Willow helps one to douse the flames.

Guilt can also provide fuel for judgment, especially if one is trying to avoid the feeling of self-judgment by passing it on to others. Pine helps to release guilt and feelings of imperfection.

While resentment is often described as a passive form of anger, Holly helps to treat active forms of the emotion.

Beyond the Rainbow
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