The Power and Presence of Forgiveness: Letting Go

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Such a big topic, isn’t it? Forgiveness.

I’ve written about it in various contexts before, and it came up again recently. A subscriber wrote about “a family situation where there has been a lot of hurt,” tracing back to growing up without learning how to share feelings or manage conflict well. He asked me for advice on how to practice forgiveness and offer an apology when they might not be reciprocated.

“I know that I’ve hurt them, too,” he said. “But I’m not sure how to forgive when I haven’t received an apology. And I don’t want to appear to be the one giving in, though I know that’s not the most sacred approach.”

I was touched by the writer’s honesty and grabbed once again by the questions surrounding forgiveness. When I think of forgiving my own difficult people, I have similar questions:

  • What’s standing in the way?
  • Who would I have to be to forgive them?
  • What do I need from them to forgive them, and am I likely to get it?
  • If I don’t get what I need, can I forgive them anyway?
  • Where does the power to forgive come from?
  • Is this power dependent on external circumstances? If yes, what are they?

It’s an inner conflict, isn’t it? Like most conflicts, the answers start with a conversation with myself.

My own experience tells me that unless we forgive, we carry a weight around with us that gets heavier with time. If you do an online search for “unforgiveness” you’ll find a lot of hits that also include the words anxiety, poison, toxicity, and burden. According to author Anne Lamott: “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” Others disagree and say that forgiveness is not a choice but dependent on certain conditions.

Personally, I think that waiting and hoping for someone else to say they’re sorry first, and to mean it, is disempowering, as if my happiness depends on an outcome I have no control over. For me it’s a choice, and most of the time I can make it.

And maybe I can forgive without saying I’m sorry. Maybe forgiveness is an inside job. When I change my mindset, I lighten up, and who knows what I might be able to say and do, once I’ve had the conversation with myself.

My dear friend and hugely talented singer/songwriter, Ellen Stapenhorst, says it in her song, One Moment More, also the subject of a former post. You can listen to the song on her website:

And sometimes I have to forgive myself: for doing something I’d like to take back; for creating unintentional harm; and — perhaps — for not being able to completely forgive someone else, just yet, though I’m working on it. I have to tame the inner critic and let go of the conflict, the subject of this Ki Moments post from 2009.

It all comes back to one of my favorite quotes from the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba:

Opponents confront us continually, but actually there is no opponent there.

And one of my own:

You have more power than you think. When you change, everything changes.

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