Forgiveness allows us to let go of the past and make a fresh start. — Pema Chödrön
In the days of repentance, we are instructed to apologize to others for our hurtful actions and seek forgiveness. When others request the same from us we are to grant forgiveness.
On Yom Kippur we seek forgiveness from God as we atone for our sins. God is described as a compassionate and forgiving father.
But even after we apologize and are forgiven by others, we may still harbor guilt and shame over our actions.
And even as we accept apologies from others, we may find ourselves infected with lingering resentment.
Forgiveness — of others and ourselves — can be a challenge.
Why We Resist Forgiveness
Sometimes we may hold onto resentment, shame, and guilt because we use these emotions to drive us.
Resentment can be a powerful fuel to drive action. The desire to prove people wrong is a strong motivator to action.
Some of us are so used to being motivated by guilt and shame that we may rationally believe that without a harsh critic on our backs we won’t get anything done.
These beliefs are not necessarily false.
In the short term, guilt, shame, and resentment can be strong drivers. But they are not sustainable drivers of action.
In the long term, these emotions deplete our energy. They cause a contraction within us that becomes paralysis.
Swallowing a Poison Pill
Pema Chödrön, the American Buddhist nun, writes that when we harden our hearts against anyone, we hurt ourselves.
Many teachers have taught that holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick.
Forgiveness is not a forgetting or a condoning of wrongs. It is a release of the emotion we feel lingering from past actions.
Hold It To Let Go
Forgiveness requires courage: in order to truly forgive, we must be willing to feel the emotions that we most often try to push away: anger, resentment, guilt, shame.
Only by opening our hearts to these emotions can we fully release them.
This is the practice of compassion. The Latin roots of the word compassion means to suffer with. Compassion requires us to feel what is difficult.
This may seem counter intuitive if the ultimate aim is to release these feelings. But it is only by feeling them that we can release them.
You can’t let go of something you’re not holding.
The key is that we must learn to hold these emotions consciously, rather than stuffing them down and pretending they’re not there.
There’s Nothing to Do
In her book The Places that Scare You, Pema Chödrön writes that forgiveness cannot be forced. Rather, when we open our hearts to ourselves, and when we bring our challenging emotions into awareness, forgiveness emerges.
Forgiveness is not a “doing.” It’s a result of our willingness to practice opening our hearts.
to find forgiveness
begin with self-compassion
to unlock your heart