We’ve all heard some variation of the idea that holding a grudge is hurting ourselves rather than the person we’re angry at, right? We understand, logically, that getting ourselves worked up does not make the offender feel bad (especially since most of the time they’re unaware that we’re worked up, or why), and having an internal dialogue full of “GRRR!” and “RAWR!” not only does nothing to solve the problem, but doesn’t even make us feel better – usually it just serves to inflate our anger. So those of us that are on this path and trying to better ourselves are usually working on forgiving those that have hurt us, and letting go of grudges. Sounds like a great idea!
But there’s a key point: we’re working on it. Now I don’t mean to say that if you haven’t achieved total forgiveness of everyone who has wronged you, you’re doing it wrong. On the contrary. I think we’re working too hard. Let me explain.
If you’re working on something, you’re thinking about it, right? Whether that thing is a project, dinner, or A Book, you have to be actively thinking about it in order to work on it. So… in working on forgiveness, we’re… dwelling on the thing that hurt us.
And that is just about exactly what we don’t want to do.
Law of attraction time! What you think about is what you attract, right? So why the hell are we thinking so hard about things that have hurt us, in an effort to let those things go? That’s not letting them go, that’s letting them take up residence in our minds.
But Wren! I hear you say. We need to process the hurt in order to let it go!
Yeah, yeah, okay. At a certain point, you do. As I’ve said, I do not advocate plastering on a fake smile and pretending that nothing is wrong when your insides are doing their finest impersonation of paper in a cross-cut shredder. But eventually, you’ll have all the insights you’re going to have on the subject, and dwelling on it further is just rubbing salt in the wound. Or lemon juice. Or anti-bacterial gel. Because holy hell does that stuff sting when you’ve got a cut on your hand, no?
Nor does this apply necessarily to hurts in order. Sometimes the most recent hurts are the easiest to let go; sometimes the old ones are. Sometimes you can say, yeah, that was a long time ago, and it can’t hurt me anymore. Goodbye! And sometimes those are the ones that thirty years later will whack you upside the head so hard cartoon birds will be singing in your ears from the sudden shock. I’m not saying there are hard-and-fast rules, here. But we shouldn’t be defining ourselves by our hurts; we shouldn’t be labeling ourselves a victim; we shouldn’t play over and over again past tragedies on repeat in our minds. Nor, for that matter, should we wish to make ourselves martyrs. I think God’s got enough of those, don’t you? He is not asking you to suffer needlessly for some Greater Good. What greater purpose could be served by you living a life of fear and anguish?
So… if you discover some old, heretofore unexplored specimen that reveals some insight into Why You Are The Way You Are, great. Self-realization is a fabulous thing. But then I don’t want you to make it Your Project to study the hell out of it like a scholar with the Dead Sea Scrolls – see what it had to teach you, appreciate it, and keep the lesson, not the hurt (and by “lesson,” I don’t mean keep the lesson that your mom calling you fat when you were ten means that you have to obsess over your weight now and for the rest of your life – I mean, keep the lesson that sometimes things we didn’t realize the origins of (obsession with weight) have a very discoverable source, and don’t define us. We can let them go, because our mother’s judgement all those years ago was hers, not ours). Let the hurt evaporate like morning dew under the bright sun.
And don’t, for the love of God, go around patting yourself on the back about What A Big Person You Are for no longer being angry at whoever the perpetrator of that past hurt was; that’s making yourself a martyr. Don’t believe me? You’re thinking of yourself as saintly for enduring cruelty at the hands of the unenlightened from your place of Spiritual Greatness – isn’t that, essentially, martyrdom?
OK, you say, I got it. I’ll just let go all those times someone hurt me, and not think on it anymore. I’m done!
But wait, there’s more!
I was thinking on this very subject the other day in response to a friend on some message boards online, and her comments made me have a realization of my own: there is no finish line to forgiveness.
Yup. It’s unlikely that you’re going to forgive someone for something, and then cross them off your list, like a to-do for inner peace. Maybe you forgive your mom for calling you fat when you were ten. You let go the notions you carried all these years about weight. You think you’re done forgiving Mom. You cross her off your list. But then – shock! – a year later, you remember some other comment of hers that altered your world, and you find her square in your “working on” area again.
I do not then want you going through your mental catalog of Mom Comments, searching for any and all instances of How She Messed You Up, so you can thoroughly and completely forgive her, and be done with it. You’re not going to find them all! And then you’ve spent all that time (and perhaps therapy) rehashing every not-so-nice comment she ever made, essentially re-flogging yourself, in pursuit of some “finish line” that doesn’t exist.
We’re humans. We’re messy. We don’t stay within the lines.
I have a person (who shall remain nameless) that I’ve got a catalog of instances like the Mom Comments in my example above, who I’ve been “working on” forgiving. I felt like I was “making progress,” and was going through the catalog, page by page, banishing those “lessons” from my psyche that no longer served me. It’s great that I let those things go. But was I serving myself by examining things that didn’t need to be examined? Do you enjoy unnecessary, invasive medical examinations? Didn’t think so.
It wasn’t until I gained the perspective of that person as just a human – a weak human, sure, but a human – instead of some large, looming monster lurking in my closet at night, waiting to pounce – that a much larger shift began to take place. I turned on the proverbial light, and saw that this person was just a shadow, not a monster.
When you’ve got someone that has made such an impact on your life such that they are a huge, powerful creature in your head – it’s a bit of a different animal to forgive. It’s unlikely you’re dealing with one issue, which you can forgive and forget. You’re likely dealing with patterns and behaviors – theirs and yours. But when you realize they’re just a messed up human, and can see all those individual instances of pain add up to a pattern of behavior because they’re messed up too, suddenly they don’t loom so large. They shrink in your psyche. They become… spirit.
Because we’re all spirits! We’re all spirits having an in-body experience. Sometimes we mess up in this grand experiment called life, but I just can’t bring myself to believe that a person’s spirit, their essence, is “evil”. I don’t care what they’ve done. They could be the most evil SOB ever to grace the planet – something made them that way. Maybe it was ignorance, their own hurt, delusions, or some combination thereof. I don’t think when they die, they’ll still be the same. I don’t think, in spirit, racists will be racists, or there will be religious intolerance. Because when we’re all spirit, there is no race – and I seriously doubt there is a Protestant/Catholic, Jewish/Palestinian line in the sand in the afterlife. Do you?
When you look at the people that hurt you as just little spirits, same as you, they are no longer big scary monsters out to get you. They are just humans who messed up. Maybe you don’t think they are just awesome now, but what they did no longer looms so large. Thinking of them does not produce the same anger or hurt that it once did. You are no longer punishing yourself for once being hurt.
And that, my friend, is pretty darn good work.