In the course of your life there will be incidents where certain people will act in ways that are hurtful or injurious to you. Whether a single incident or repeated offenses, these upsetting actions can be experienced as so offensive that a powerful grievance builds up. Accompanying feelings of resentment or the desire for retaliation might dominate your consciousness and devitalize your spirit.
Often it is only the act of forgiveness that can revitalize you. Forgiveness can unblock the channels of your aliveness, freeing your positive life energy. But, what does it really mean to forgive? The dictionary defines forgiveness as: 1. To give up resentment against or the desire to punish; to stop being angry with; 2. To give up all claim to punish or exact penalty for an offense.
How do you actually forgive?
It is usually only possible to forgive after you finally tire of carrying around the burden of grievance and its drain on your aliveness and vitality. You choose not to suffer anymore and let go of all gripes against the designated party once and for all. You do this for yourself so that you can enter into the fullness and vibrancy of your life whole-heartedly once again. Forgiveness is not for the benefit of the transgressor. The transgressor will have to live with the consequences of his or her actions whether forgiven or not.
It is important to understand that forgiveness doesn’t necessarily dispel the negative effects of a wrongdoing. Hurtful feelings may still remain. Rather, choosing to forgive frees you from the deadening effects of the resentment or rage that are exhausting your life energy. It is therefore possible for you to forgive someone who hurt you and still choose to sever your relationship with him or her.
Moving beyond forgiveness
There is a spiritual perspective called non-duality that transcends the notion of forgiveness. The non-dualist conception of forgiveness may at first seem far-fetched, but if it is seriously contemplated and the inquiries are diligently investigated, it is possible to arrive at a profound and revolutionary experience of reality. This post only presents a non-dual perspective on forgiveness. For an in-depth understanding and experience of non-dual teachings, I refer you to any of the works of Joan Tollifson, Darryl Bailey, Tony Parson, Leo Hartong or Jeff Foster, who are all profound non-dual speakers and writers.
From a classical, non-dual spiritual perspective, the nature of forgiveness is superfluous. From this perspective, the idea that there are individuals who can choose to act or not not act in a hurtful or harmful manner is illusory. From a non-dual perspective, any of one’s apparent actions or non-actions is an impersonal movement of life, or the universe being expressed in the only way possible at that particular moment. As spiritual teacher Darryl Bailey states in his book Essence Revisited, “Each of us must live according to the physical and mental capacities that nature presents centered only on the needs, interests and concerns that mysteriously arise in any moment.” A corollary of this idea is that there are no actual autonomous individuals who exist and function separate from each other and this impersonal movement of energy.
All of our apparent successes, failures, or harmful or caring acts are only expressions of this impersonal, inexplicable dynamic, which on the surface appears to be the behavior or actions of individuals. However, if any action, even if harmful, is deeply understood to be an inevitable—and therefore unavoidable—occurrence, forgiveness becomes irrelevant.
This doesn’t mean that one can’t apologize for his or her harmful or hurtful actions or words. There can be a natural arising of remorse even with the realization that one’s actions could not have been otherwise. But this response is not automatic nor is the desire to change one’s actions, which also may arise. Both responses are not personal choices. They, too, are expressions of nature and if they don’t present themselves to an apparent individual, they will not be expressed and neither will any consequential acts of expiation or reform.
Even with a sincere expression of apology and the understanding of the inevitability of the hurtful behavior, the effects of that action can still remain. Here is where the non-dual perspective can be of great help. Just as it states that there is no actual individual doer of actions, it also asserts that there is no actual individual experiencer or of those actions. Teacher and writer Ramesh Balsekar says, “The Buddha’s teachings can be summed up in these words, ‘Events happen, deeds are done and there is no individual doer thereof.’” The Buddha’s teachings are also said to include that while suffering exists, there is no individual sufferer. Along these lines, non-duality instructs us to de-label the hurt or pain and to experience sensations that we are feeling somatically, meaning within and through the body. As much as this defies our natural inclination to think and respond emotionally, allowing feelings to be experienced through the body can dissipate the intensity of the original emotions. Emotions somatically experienced also prevent the fueling and linking of thoughts that create and perpetuate the story of being “the victim” and its accompanying resentment. With no actual self to be attached to and be energized by, the intensity of the emotions may more easily subside. Through this understanding, resentment never rises to level of grievance where forgiveness is necessary to feel free and vibrant.
In an important final note: Even if you realize that no one is to blame for actions and there is no “you” actually experiencing them, it doesn’t mean that certain behaviors should be excused or tolerated. If negative patterns of behavior occur or are likely to, there will likely be a natural response of distance or avoidance. But, with the understanding of personal blamelessness and the absence of individual personhood, hateful condemnation of another can be avoided, even if the inevitable parting of ways may take place.