“It is very important for every human being to forgive him or herself because if you live, you will make mistakes- it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, ‘well, if I’d known better I’d have done better,’ that’s all. If we all hold onto the mistake, we can’t see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror, we can’t see what we’re capable of being. The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself. If we don’t have that, we never grow, we never learn, and sure as hell we should never teach.”– Maya Angelou ( http://en.thinkexist.com/quotation/i_don-t_know_if_i_continue-even_today-always/9187.html)
What hasn’t already been said on the topic of forgiveness? It is intricately connected to our deepest heart, our most painful wounds, our most intimate places. We are human, we make mistakes. It is impossible for us not to err while we are in these limited human bodies, using our human minds to muddle through our lives. We know the old adage, ‘to err is human, to forgive divine.’ Actually, though, to truly forgive is precisely what all of us need to learn more about while in human form, as the practice of this art is one of the greatest assignments of the times we are living through.
Nearly every day, it seems, headlines appear of yet another covert scheme which has been uncovered, another wrongdoing exposed, another human being admitting their deception and lies, another scandal unfolding. Whether the mistake or misjudgment was huge, affecting many thousands, or small is simply a matter of scale. The issue remains the same, that of recognizing human frailty and human error, with the same opportunity: to forgive.
This is a tricky business in many ways. A typical human reaction to pain is to want to strike back, usually with anger. Another is to run from it as quickly as possible. We come up with all sorts of ways to continue the fight, with many justifications for our response. No one wants to feel they were wronged or mistreated, so we invent all sorts of reasons why we are right to be angry, to pass harsh judgement on another, perhaps to hurt the other in kind. It truly takes a larger perspective to turn away from wanting some kind of vindication or revenge from our tormentor.
Humans have created a world filled with heartbreak. One small example comes from the local Danish newspaper, which ran a story about a family of refugees from Kosovo, who came to Denmark in 1999, when Serbians began a horribly violent campaign against their neighbors. About 2800 Kosovo-Albanian refugees came to Denmark to escape the violence. Of those, over 500 gained asylum. This particular family stayed in Denmark for a year, and then in 2000, it seemed that things had improved in their homeland, and they were offered a package by the Danish government to return to Kosovo, in the form of some funds and a promise that they could return if things went bad again. So they returned, finding their home destroyed and their city in a shambles. Then they discovered, to their dismay, that it was impossible to get back to the larger city in order to obtain visas and return to Denmark. The mother of the family, Florie, told the reporter that nothing functioned, everything was in chaos, and the officials would not give them permission nor passports so that they could get their Danish visas. They were stuck in Kosovo with nothing and no possibility for more help from Denmark, or the EU.
Now it is twelve years later. The family somehow manages with very little money, and still misses Denmark, longing to return. Even though there is formally peace there again, the Kosovo-Albanians and the Serbians do not live in harmony. There was too much bloodshed and violence. Florie told the reporter that in 12 years, the Serbians have never apologized for harming their children and raping 20,000 of their women, whom will never completely heal and be human again. She said, “We are trapped. Kosovo is a little closed land, that the EU has abandoned.”
How do people forgive each other for such extreme trespasses against them? For raping, harming, hurting one’s family, one’s children? Conversely, how does a person live with himself, ‘look himself in the mirror,’ and forgive oneself for the pain he has wrought upon another? To my mind, there is only one way, that of compassion. Only through coming to a heart awareness and sense of the other’s pain, can a person find the place of forgiveness within. The story of the Kosovo-Albanians and the Serbians is an extreme, though sadly not uncommon, example of how humanity abuses itself through unawareness. It seems an unfortunate fact that humans learn best through experiencing pain. The act of forgiveness is a radical one because, if done completely, it will give total freedom to one’s soul. Yet, complete forgiveness is difficult to achieve for most of us, and it takes practice and patience. Wounds go so deep that one can live for many years without being fully aware that they remain, until one day something happens to reopen the wound. Though painful, this is actually very healing– what was festering for so long can finally be soothed and cared for, much like a physical sore which has been left for too long, enabling it to heal.
A powerful process for healing is to practice looking at yourself in the mirror, without judgment of any kind, just gazing…. and softening as you do, breathing deeply, until you can see yourself for who you truly are: a flawed human being who is nevertheless beautiful and holy. If you practice this, in time you will be able to have much more self-compassion, which in turn will enable you to have more compassion for all others. As Maya Angelou says, ‘If we can’t see our own glory in the mirror, we can’t see what we’re capable of being.’