Do as the heavens have done, forget your evil;
With them forgive yourself. – Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale, Act V, Scene 1
“Unforgiveable, what he did!” My friend Marlena sits across the table from me in the Little Bakery, her bowl of soup half-finished. Outside are mountainous piles of snow, the residue from the third blizzard this winter – some are still digging out. A deep furrow splits her brow; she flares her nostrils.
“Who did?” I say. “What? To whom?”
“Gus!” she spits out. “Gus, my cousin. To Nancy, my other cousin.” The furrow deepens; her eyes glare straight ahead. “His own sister!”
I wait as Marlena sits there seething; I count slowly to sixty. “What did Gus do to Nancy?” I finally ask.
“Oh, just screwed her out of their father’s house, that’s all. Her share of it, and whatever money was left. Gus claims Robert was broke, but nobody believes that. Robert was a stingy old cuss, well-off. He rarely spent any money.”
“Robert – their father?”
“Yes,” she replies. “He died a couple years ago. Fell and smacked his head, in the gym, of all places. Refused to go to the hospital; died of a blood clot, in his sleep. He was 89.”
“Ah,” I say, “Yes, I remember you telling me about it. What a shame.” I shake my head. “So what’s this thing now, with Gus and Nancy?”
“Well,” she says finally looking at me and relaxing the scowl a bit, “Gus was the Executor of the will. And he just put it in a drawer. He never probated it. Just sat on it, for two years. So whatever was in that will – well, we don’t know what was in that will, only Gus does. If he himself even read it.”
“But he’s the Executor. Doesn’t he have to probate it?”
“Apparently not, in that State. I don’t know the legalities, but it seems there’s nothing anyone can do about it. The time for probate ran out, and there’s no legal way to punish him. Raymond and his family are living in the house – Raymond is Gus’ son. Gus says Raymond was taking care of Robert before he died and Robert gave him the house. But that’s a lie – Robert didn’t need any taking care of; he was fine. Robert let them live there, in the basement, because Raymond was out of work.
“But that’s not right,” I say. “Can’t Nancy do something about it?”
“Well, she’s got a lawyer – finally. But it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere. She should have done something right after Robert died. She was counting on the money from that house, and her share of what her father left, for her retirement. But she trusted Gus; she trusted her brother. Too much of her mother in her!
“I could kill him. I hope he chokes on his own vomit and goes straight to hell. And Annie, his wife, too. No way she’s innocent – I’m sure she knows exactly what’s gone on. Maybe even she even put him up to it. Both of them – unforgiveable! ”
Gus – and Annie too – deserve it. All of it, and more. Don’t they? No shred of human decency, no honor, to say nothing of caring or love for his own flesh and blood.
And Marlena? She is furious with Gus. She seethes, she fumes, she knits her brow, flares her nostrils; her heart beats fast, her blood pressure rises, her body floods with stress hormones. She dreams about Gus and Annie at night – what she’d like to do to them, what she’d like to happen to him. Revenge, something really horrible.
Wait a minute. Whom is this all affecting? Not Gus or Annie, or barely. Sure, Marlena will probably not have anything to do with either of them – not speak to them, not invite them to family events. She will perhaps do some things she hopes might hurt Gus: smear his name wherever she can, try to isolate him. (There are cultures and places in the world where unforgiveness is institutionalized, in blood feuds of mutual retribution that can last for generations. In our society, unforgiveness resides in individuals or at the most, in families.)
But mainly and mostly, the person affected is Marlena. Emotions live, and not just in the mind. They course throughout brain and body in the guise of chemicals called neuro-peptides. Anger, hate, disgust, and fear profoundly affect us, modifying our outlook and physiology, distorting our thinking and judgment, causing stress, even disease (sometimes spelled dis-ease), disturbing our rest, and aging us.
When we experience these emotions [anger, fear, frustration], we cause restrictions in our physical and emotional self which limits our abilities and drains our energies. – Dan Cleary, in Changing Pain
Holding onto unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for that guy over there to fall over. – The Buddha
What Forgiveness Is, and Is Not
Forgiveness is a releasing. You let go of the anger, fear, the disgust and hate, of your own volition, of your own will. You don’t have to tell anyone you have done this; you don’t need to do anything, except in you own mind.
Forgiveness is not approval. You do not need to become best buddies, or even like the person you are forgiving (though in some cases forgiving someone might open you up to these possibilities). But Gus remains Gus – Marlena, even if she forgives him, will probably not like him very much: she knows what kind of person he is; she will probably steer clear of him and Annie.
Forgive for your own sake; not for the benefit or comfort of the other person. The emotions of unforgiveness hurt only the bearer, never the intended target.
Forgiveness: I don’t believe it – and it is necessary. – Dan Cleary (in a teleclass)
When you are angry at someone, you give that person power over you. Through your own anger, he or she can influence and manipulate, not just your mind, but your body too, changing your very physiology. By forgiving, you cut that off and take back your own power.
Forgiveness is a powerful healing force. When we let go of the toxic emotions tied up in unforgiveness, we unblock the dam that holds back our own healing; we free ourselves and in doing so, become stronger.
"… visualize any individuals, events, or situations in your life in which forgiveness is desirable or necessary. See yourself surrounded by the bright lights of forgiveness while you quietly shout in your mind, over and over again: “I forgive you. I forgive me. From now on I’ll be all I can be.” – Getting Unstuck Workbook, by Michael Ellner and Alan Barsky
How do I Forgive?
Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past. – Jerry Jampolsky in Love is Letting Go of Fear
Forgiving is not a light thing, nor is it easy. Sometimes you have to go at it piecemeal – ask yourself, “Is there one, any aspect in there, that I am willing to forgive?” Or try it out for a period of time, at the end of which you reevaluate.
Changing the way you picture the person can help: shrink him down to a size that is comfortable to you; see her as a child; put the person at whatever distance is comfortable and safe for you.
Again, you don’t have to justify or accept the person’s behavior in order to forgive him – you can forgive him “for being a mean bastard.”
The Most Important One – Yourself
We have to cut ourselves a break just as you would someone else. If you can, take a moment and look at yourself in the mirror, and say “I forgive you.” I hope this is easy for you, but if you find hurt rising to the surface, wrap your arms around you or find something or someone that gives you comfort, and let the feelings flow. Crying is a sign of grief and is very healing. Let the tears flow…and know you are releasing and letting go of the past. – Laura West, Hypnosis Maryland Newsletter, February, 2010
Of all people for you to forgive, you are the most important, and often the most difficult. Perhaps this is because you know yourself so intimately – your motives, your perceived flaws, your mistakes, the things you would like to have done over.
You cannot change the past; you can only learn from it. You always did the best you could have done at the time, knowing what you knew then, having the skills and capabilities you had then, seeing what you were able to see then, and being who you were then. Learn to cultivate a sense of loving compassion for yourself, past, present, and future, as a beloved child, a dear brother or sister, a lover.
When you forgive yourself, completely and unconditionally, you dissolve the icy barrier that has blocked your healing, your learning, and your growth. You give yourself a new perspective and a fresh start, light and free of those heavy bags you have been carrying around all this time – to take on life anew.
ALL THAT HAS EVER OFFENDED ME,
WHATEVER HAS MADE ME
BITTER RESENTFUL, UNHAPPY,
WITHIN AND WITHOUT
I FORGIVE EVERYBODY AND
EVERYTHING WHO CAN POSSIBLY NEED
FORGIVENESS IN MY
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE.
I FORGIVE POSITIVELY EVERYONE.
I AM FREE AND THEY ARE FREE TOO.
ALL THINGS ARE CLEARED BETWEEN US
NOW AND FOREVER.
MOST OF ALL,
I FORGIVE MYSELF FOR ANY MISTAKES
I MAY FEEL I HAVE MADE
THEY WERE VALUABLE LESSONS.
— Dan Cleary, in Changing Pain