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In my experience there are two types of forgiving – the forgiving you do with your words and the forgiving you do with your heart. The second type is infinitely better and more elusive.
Most of us have something or someone we need to forgive, something we’d like to let go of. But wanting to forgive and being able to forgive are very different things.
I have forgiven with my words multiple times. I have forgiven with my heart only twice but I believe this is the forgiveness that makes a lasting difference. The best way I can describe forgiving with my heart is that it feels like I have pulled the plug out and allowed the vat of boiling anger to drain away. Forgiving with my words is speaking the words “I forgive…” either out loud or in my head. But without emptying the vat of my anger, resentment, blame, hatred, self-righteousness and justification can still be bubbling away inside me, irrespective of the words I’ve used.
I believe forgiving with the heart can only happen when the time is right. This is probably what makes it such a powerful form of forgiveness because our heart and soul has reached a place of readiness to let go. The first time I experienced heart forgiveness, I had been pondering for months what to do about a situation with a family member. This particular relationship had been fraught with difficulties for decades and an issue had arisen that had shone a spotlight on all of the problems. The relationship had broken down, seemingly beyond repair.
At the time, I was completely caught up in my self-righteousness and anger about what had occurred; the word forgiveness wasn’t even on my radar. Then I saw a powerful performance by a lady called Katheryn Trenshaw who is the founder of The Passionate Presence Centre. She spoke of meeting a homeless man with AIDS in her home town in America. He had been repeatedly raped from a young age by a man who had infected him with the disease. As part of a project called In Your Own Skin, Katheryn had been asking people to write on a part of their body something that the casual observer might not immediately know about them. She then photographed them. The homeless man wrote “I forgive the man who gave me AIDS”.
I was powerfully affected by this exceptional example of forgiveness and it prompted me to wonder why I was holding onto something that had had far less serious consequences for me than this man’s experience. I thought about the other people who have forgiven other things far bigger and more harmful than the harm that had been done to me – like the female Auschwitz survivor, Eva Kor who famously forgave the Nazis for murdering her family. She famously explained that she forgave them “not because they deserve it but because I deserve it.”
When I woke the following morning, it was as though all of the anger and resentment I had carried inside me for decades had evaporated overnight. I wrote a letter to the family member and posted an item that had been the catalyst for the latest upset. It felt liberating. It didn’t matter to me how the letter was received, whether I got a response, or whether the forgiveness was reciprocated. This was something I was doing for me, a letting go for the sake of my own sanity, it came totally from my heart. And that feeling has stayed with me. I no longer feel boiling anger when I think of this person or this situation. It hasn’t transmuted into love, I simply don’t feel anything.
By contrast, recently I uttered the words “I forgive…” both out loud and in my head to someone else who I had experienced a difficult relationship with for most of my life. But, in this instance, I did it because I felt that I should do it. Or, more accurately, I did it because someone told me repeatedly that I should. The words came out of my mouth but forgiveness didn’t come from my heart. My words were reasonably well-received but there was none of the powerful relief that I felt when I forgave from my heart. Any relief was short-lived, the impact minimal. We are working through our problems in a different way. I’m not saying that this type of forgiving makes no difference, but it is not the transformational forgiveness that lightens the heart and soothes the soul.
I had been wondering recently whether this type of heart forgiveness was a one-off, a once in a lifetime experience that was never to be repeated. It is difficult to replicate, you see. But recently I had the same experience, albeit via a different catalyst. You can read about the experience here. The sense of relief is the same as the first time I forgave with my heart. The righteous rage, the justification, the sense of being wronged… it has all gone. It doesn’t mean I condone the actions of the other, or believe that what happened was OK, but it means I am no longer carrying the whole experience inside me like a vat of boiling oil.
If you have something to forgive, I hope you too can find the liberation of true forgiveness from the heart. It can be hard to find, it comes when it’s ready but it is worth the wait.
I always thought brown was a boring colour until I saw a work colleague in a brown jacket. She looked the picture of elegance and, in the intervening years, I have come to love brown. It has all of the classic style of black but without its harshness. Today’s outfit features one of my favourite bargains from the rag pile on Totnes market. It is a brown suede Jaeger jacket, in a classic peplum style with tiny brass buttons. It cost me all of £2.50. I am wearing it over a vintage Per Una skirt that I have had for 10 years or more. It has gone into the charity bag several times as I keep thinking I’m tired of it and then I dig it out and put it on and fall in love with it all over again. I am wearing it with lace-up boots by J Shoes and a knitted hat that I found in a secondhand shop.
Today’s photos were taken outside Dutch Flowers in Totnes and a shop selling gorgeous Moroccan bits and pieces, hence the Moroccan door.
Boots: J Shoes