What is Forgiveness Anyway?

Given that this blog has the title Forgiveness Club it occurs to me that it might be useful to give some definition to what forgiveness actually is.  Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote some time ago, as part of a book chapter I had titled “Why Forgive?”

What is forgiveness? Perhaps the most logical place to start in the inquiry of why one should forgive, is to first understand what forgiveness is.  In my own experience and through observing thousands of others go through the forgiveness process, I’ve come to understand a few key things about forgiveness.  I’ll share those with you now.  However, knowing intellectually what forgiveness is doesn’t automatically guarantee that you will forgive.

Forgiveness is a choice The first and I would assert, most important thing to know about forgiveness, is that it is a choice.  An act of forgiveness for another, begins with a choice – a choice to let go of the grudges, pain and resentments of the past.  It requires a decision, and usually a conscious one, to forgive and move from thoughts and emotions rooted in fear to those based in love.  It requires a choice to free ourselves from the bondage of the past and open to vast new possibilities for the future.

Forgiveness is an act of love.  As many teachers and traditions have emphasized, I subscribe to the idea that there are two fundamental emotions available to us as humans – love and fear.  These two basic emotions exist as opposites of one another, yet part of the same unbroken wholeness.  All the positive, life reaffirming, connecting and uniting emotions emerge from love.  All the negative, angry, divisive, non-trusting emotions emerge from fear.  I believe that love is our natural state, while fear is a learned response.  As a form of love, forgiveness is a vehicle for moving from fear to love.

Forgiveness is a surrendering The choice to forgive, is also a choice to surrender and let go of fear and its accompanying thoughts and behaviors.  As a return to our natural state of loving emotions and feelings, forgiveness doesn’t take effort.  It simply requires surrendering and letting go of that which stands between us and the loving, connecting and joyful aspects of ourselves.

Forgiveness is effortless As a surrender, forgiveness is a choice to let go of the effort and resistance of non-forgiveness.  Fearful thoughts, feelings and emotions exist because we hold onto them at some level.  Sometimes the holding on takes the form of resistance to something that has caused us pain, and in other cases the holding on is exhibited through consciously and actively nurturing the ill feelings into larger and larger expressions.  So forgiveness is a simple act of surrender and requires no effort in and of itself.  However preparing our hearts and minds to be ready to forgive, does often take effort and work on our parts.  As such, forgiveness may require a process of deconstructing the internal mechanisms that hold the negative, fear-based thoughts, feelings and behaviors in place.

Forgiveness is an act of reconnection and reconciliation  As described a moment ago, love and the feelings that are related to it, are connecting and unifying in nature.  Holding onto the negative, fearful thoughts and feelings regarding a person or group, cause us to emotionally and often even physically pull away and separate from them.  Non-forgiveness is characterized by distance, suspicion, difficulty in communication.  Forgiveness is characterized by reunion and communion:  It bridges the gulf born of grudges and resentments.  It reliably and inescapably brings us back together with those we have feared, allowing communication to flow easily, doubt and blame to melt away and our hearts to connect once again.

Forgiveness happens through a shift in perspective Most importantly, the choice to forgive and surrender the grudges, resentments, anger and blame of non-forgiveness, allows us to see the people and situations around us through new eyes, from a new perspective.  Non-forgiveness is characterized by an attachment to particular position and to a limited view of circumstances of the past.  True forgiveness can occur when we open to a broader perspective, surrender the positions of the past and come to see a painful event or incident as part of the larger, divinely guided and perfect wholeness of our lives.  Forgiveness comes from seeing ourselves and others through the eyes of love and compassion, rather than through the filters of pain and blame.

Forgiveness is an act of personal responsibility Forgiveness chooses the perspective of 100% responsibility in relation to our lives and circumstances.  It does not tolerate the game of being a victim to events of the past.  Instead, forgiveness allows us to take responsibility for where we are right now.  It enables us reclaim our power in the present, so that we can make the plans and take the actions necessary to create the sort of future that we most desire.  Forgiveness does not allow us to blame others for the eventual conditions and outcomes of our lives.

Forgiveness can happen in an instant As an effortless surrender, a shift in perspective and return to our natural state of love, forgiveness can occur in the blink of an eye.  But forgiveness often requires awareness and a conscious desire to forgive and let go.  As pointed out earlier, time and energy may be needed to do the work necessary to gain the awareness and desire to forgive.  And the desire to forgive comes through the recognition of the benefits available through forgiving and letting go of the grudges of the past. So what is forgiveness to you?  Let us know what you think.  I invite you to leave some perspectives or opinions in the comments section of this post, to further the exploration and conversation of forgiveness.

Thanks for reading. I always want your feedback and opinions about my writings and ramblings. It’s my intent to address and help answer questions like: “What is forgiveness?, How do I forgive?, Is forgiving the same as condoning?”  

If you want some help with forgiveness, you can get access to my “Forgiveness Jump Start Kit” as a free download when you join Forgiveness Club. Just enter your name and email in the form in the right hand side bar, and I’ll send it to you immediately.  Until the next time,

May you live forgiven and free!


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