Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heal that has crushed it.
We have all read that we should love our neighbor, that is, whoever we encounter. All the great spiritual traditions agree on this. However, we see in Christianity, Buddhism and Jainism an even higher principle at work. We are to love people who appear to be our enemies. We are to bless them, do good to them and pray for them, even when they seem out to do us in.
Nothing seems more counterintuitive. No matter what our admiration for Jesus, Siddhartha and Mahavira may be, this seems a very risky strategy. Even if we want to try this, how can we muster the grace to actually forgive our enemy?
You are related to every human being who walks upon the face of the world merely by the fact that you chose to be born on this planet. Every person, past, present or future, is contained within your consciousness. You are “your brother’s keeper,” whether you like it or not.
The word for “forgive” in Greek means to loosen up, let go, allow to freely flow again. It means to restore your relationship with the perceived offender as it was before he or she ever offended you. It is not to temporarily forgive, only hoping he gets clobbered, or her karma punishes her. Forgive means to consistently wish only the very best for someone, no matter what they say or do.
An enemy is someone whom you see as opposing you, interfering with your agenda, actually wishing you ill. In reality, he or she could merely be your opponent in a game, or a business relationship. You are already in relationship with everyone in your life. Whether you choose to see him as friend or foe is entirely up to you.
You don’t have to forgive anyone. You are a free agent. You can love or hate anyone you choose. It is up to you how you perceive and respond to others. However, the consequences are yours. By hating someone, you lock yourself into a low energy state and limit what you can do in life.
Both religious and humanistic mentors alike advise us to forgive whenever and wherever possible. Hatred is a very twisted form of love that saps all your energy. It impacts you subconsciously and contaminates all your relationships, even with the very people closest to you.
Hatred is a very twisted form of love that saps all your energy.
You can live another way. You can realize your life is more than your ego and finite agenda. Instead of trying to play God, you can BE GOD by loving people unconditionally. Your forgiveness can be unilateral and all encompassing. You have dropped out of the blame game FOREVER.
A human being is your “enemy” by consideration alone. You have set them up in a role that is against your immediate interests. You have decided that they will hurt you, injure you or even kill you. You feel the need to protect yourself, even counterattack. If you don’t stand up for your rights, they will walk all over you.
In reality, the majority of homicides in the U.S. are within families, not acts of terror or drive by shootings, as counterintuitive as this may be. Husband and wife kill each other. Parents kill children, and children kill parents. Substance abuse, financial strain and child molestation all have their hand.
This is not to discount the danger of groups like the Taliban and ISIS, as well as civil war, revolutions and organized military action around the world. What causes all this? People suffer, persecutors, as well as villains. “Bad” people hurt “good” people because of a fundamental imbalance.
They suffer physical or emotional pain, and want to even things out by forcing others to share that same experience.
Alan Watts used to laughingly point out to his Jewish audiences that, according to the Bible, we are all born with a wayward spirit, a “yetzer hara.” We all are endowed with a spirit of perversity and are riddled with inconsistencies that make us truly human. We all have an impulse to get ours before anyone else beats us to the punch.
While we all can be selfish, some of us have a much more polished act than others. Our “enemies” are those people in our life who are more crude or overt about their interests. We have a tendency to project onto others those inclinations that we repress. You can see that you are as much of a scamp to some of your enemies as they are to you.
As Gandhi put it, “We are all such sinners that it is up to God who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.” When we grow into such humility, we learn compassion, and stop judging. When we realize that we are as accountable as anyone else for this global mess, we discover the power to forgive and truly change the world.
When you take responsibility for your life, for your own actions and others’ responses to you, you begin to have a sense of mastery. By being willing to come into your daily experience from the point of view that you continuously create it, you begin to see why things are set up the way that they are.
Can you have a hero without a villain? Can you have resolution without conflict? Can you have up without down? Can you have light without darkness? Can you have love without hate? Can you have friends without enemies?
You begin to see how life is a magnificent spectacle with overwhelming dimensions. You quickly forget how God is in everyone and everything that you see. God is our only true and ultimate Self. However, playing on this vast game board initially requires you identify with your own particular nametag, body and mind.
It is all about waking up from appearances to realize who you are… that you are even your worst enemy!
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Nobel-prize-winning Zen monk who did the utmost to end the interminable War in Vietnam, uses deep listening to heal people’s wounds. This process requires an open heart and mind, the willingness to shut up and listen to whatever your enemy has to say.
Communication absolutely works. In situations of conflict, opposing sides almost never see or hear each other. People are in their head about all the images they associate with their enemy. War as an institution requires systematic dehumanization of the other side. When you open up and realize that the man on the other side of the trenches is a human being just like you, everything changes.
We are all children with grown-up acts. Most of us never come to realize this until it is too late. Love is the motivation at the core of our being. We will do very strange things when we are separated from it. When we recognize and appreciate others, when we hear them out, enemies can break down into friends literally overnight.
Many of us blame God for not hearing our prayers, as if He took a permanent vacation playing golf in the Swiss Alps! You will never have a problem with forgiveness. As evangelists proclaim, “Nothing so bears the interest of the Son of God as forgiveness.” Christ with His life and death drove that point home like no other human being.
With His “Sermon on the Mount,” He challenged His students to live out a whole new order of possibility.
Love your enemies, bless them that curse you,
do good to them that hate you,
and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
When you go beyond “business as usual,” when you decide to go all out to be the “light of the world,” forgiveness for your enemy becomes a priority.
You can then channel the presence of God through whatever form resonates most with you: meditation, prayer, a silent walk or a process of reconciliation. When you invoke the very Presence of God, He always comes, in whatever form you are ready to receive. Forgiveness is always for the asking. No need to ever put anyone out of your heart.
Forgiveness is a continuous process of letting go.
You are inherently divine, at the core of your being, beneath your phony social mask and petty shadow self. As Dr. Deepak Chopra put it, God is hard-wired into our nervous system. Many people have forgiven the worst possible enemies: men who raped them and killed their husband, women whom a man maimed for life, a mother who threw her newborn girl in a garbage can.
All you need to do is get going. Forgive little by little, day by day. Take your shit list, the one you cherish “for your eyes only.” Call out the person at the top of that list and simply say, “I forgive you. God bless you. You are an infinitely precious child of the Most High.” Not only will he begin to change, you will be utterly transformed, and the whole wide world along with you. Then you will realize our greater destiny, regardless of how perilous our planet looks at this hour, God will bring the world back together again in eternal love… no matter what it takes!