On 16th June in the year 2000 I got carjacked at gunpoint by two men while I was unlocking a game fence gate in the middle of the veld about 3 km from my home just north of Johannesburg.
They hit me over the head, tied my hands behind my back and walked me away from the road to what I thought was my death. I was filled with this enormous terror and anxiety and then, out of nowhere, I was suddenly overcome with an incredible sense of Peace.
I had this feeling that if I died it was okay and if I lived it was okay. I had never had such an experience in my life before that moment.
This wasn’t dissociation, which often happens in trauma. When we dissociate, we leave the body, often experienced as watching oneself from above.
I was completely inside the experience.
I don’t want to go into the whole story here, save to say that after threatening to kill me and taking my credit cards they left me, took my vehicle and I ran away to the nearest neighbour to safety.
What’s important about the story is that I had no reference point for this experience of being okay with death. And so I labelled what happened in that moment as forgiveness. It was nothing of the sort.
I did would most people do when we encounter a new experience, we reference what we know and try to explain it in terms of the knowledge we already have.
It’s very conservative.
It’s not open to the new.
I even gave talks about my experience and a technique that I created out of it, which I use in my trauma work and I labelled my experience as forgiveness.
Nobody questioned me.
What I understand about the situation now, through many years of spiritual work, is that Pure Consciousness or Soul or Spirit or God, whatever you want to call it, simply emerged in my being and this energy has no anxiety about death.
It does not die.
Forgiveness is a fascinating topic. It brings up a great deal of controversy, anger, self-righteousness and conflict, which is quite ironic given that it’s all about opening the heart and compassion and the letting go of resentment.
There is a great deal of research which shows how forgiveness is beneficial, physically, mentally, emotionally and of course spiritually.
People disagree as regards what defines forgiveness. Mostly it is seen as the letting go of resentment and judgement and the need for revenge. But it is more than just letting go of the negative. It is an opening of the heart toward one’s persecutor or betrayer.
Which raises an interesting question, should one try to not only let go but experience goodwill towards those who have hurt us betrayed us?
Letting Go Vs Forgiveness
I would like to use an example to illustrate the difference between letting go and forgiveness.
Let’s say your partner has had an affair, a not unusual occurrence. If you let go of your hurt and resentment about it, you’re obviously going to feel a lot better in multiple ways. But forgiving them means opening your heart to them. It means no longer judging them for what they have done.
This has significant implications for the relationship. Letting go tends to have, but does not necessarily include, having positive feelings for the person who has hurt you, whereas forgiveness does.
So I would suggest that one lets go and forgives because that forgiveness involves a deeper opening of the heart and there is no question that the more your heart opens toward your partner the more loving they will feel toward them.
I often make jokes with my partner Suzie when we go to weddings about how I would like to rewrite the wedding vows that are most commonly spoken on these ‘over fantasised’ occasions. And one of the rewritten vows would be:
“I will do my best to forgive you when you do not live up to my expectations.”
Notice, I didn’t say promise.
Make a promise and you will not live up to it.
Promising is an idealisation.
There is really only one reason to forgive anybody for anything and that is if there is a judgement that you have about them in the first place. If there is no judgement then there is no need for forgiveness and so to let go of the judgement makes forgiveness redundant.
Of course only the spiritually awakened are without judgements, the rest of us are all filled with them.
It’s the way the cerebral cortex works.
I remember many years ago sitting down to meditate with some friends. We had a little dog, a mixed breed Scotty, named Huey and he was really bugging us and jumping all over us as we were trying to meditate so I put him into an adjoining room and closed the door.
After about 40 minutes of meditation we let him out and he came rushing towards us tail wagging, delighted to see us.
One of my friends commented, “Look how happy he is to see us, I wonder how one of us would feel if we had been locked out of this room for 45 minutes?”
Animals just don’t seem to make judgements and so there’s no need for forgiveness, they just let everything be as it is, without question or query.
It’s pretty near impossible to will yourself into not judging others. It can take a lot of work to do so. Much of this work involves letting go of the pain that adds to the judgment.
Release the pain and it is easier to forgive.
Loving Our Pain
The problem is, we love our pain. That might sound strange, but let me elaborate.
If we return to the affair issue.
When your partner cheats on you, it is likely that the full force of your self-righteous indignation will be brought to bear on the situation and we love our self-righteousness because feelings of superiority are energising.
Just watch someone who is self-righteously angry. There is a lot of energy there, it feels good!
That’s the upside.
The downside is that you are only angry because of the pain beneath it.
Your anger binds you to your pain.
So now you suffer and the relationship suffers.
I am not saying you should stick around if your partner cheats on you. If you can come to an understanding of why they did it and ascertain if they want to work on the issues then trust can grow and evolve.
If you begin to experience them as different from how they were before the affair, then sticking around might be a good idea. If not, forgive them and leave.
Some people don’t want to forgive, because they think it means they must stay.
It’s not true.
The most unique defintion of forgiveness i have ever heard belongs to a woman with the unusual name of Aba Gayle. Her daughter was murdered by a man named Douglas Mickey. After 8 years of depressive hell, she forgave him for what he did and they became friends, visiting him on death row in San Quentin prison. As of 2015, he was still waiting execution. She says:
“Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past.”
Most people need to re-read this a few times before getting it.
I love it because it points toward our incessant need to re-work the past. We want to change what we did and what was done to us. Our resentment of our mistakes and unkindness toward and at the hands of others haunts us like a miserable spectre, lurking in the darkness.
A Relationship of Forgiveness
To have a great relationship, forgiveness needs to happen around the small things, every day.
Can you forgive your partner for not listening to you?
Can you forgive them for not loving you the way you want it and need it?
Can you forgive them for not putting out the garbage and leaving their clothes in a mess?
Can you forgive them for not taking care of their health and yet complaining about it?
Can you forgive them from complaining about their job and not doing anything about it or resigning?
Can you forgive them for not behaving as though you are the most special being on the planet all the time?
To forgive, is to fall into love.