The Art of Forgiveness

primrose hill

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.

– Paul Boese.

Forgiveness is a powerful way of moving on from unfortunate experiences; it is a way of illumining a darkened past. Without forgiveness we dwell on the negative attitudes of other people and the limitations of our own self. True, it is easier to talk about forgiveness than actually do it; but, if we can forgive, it is a powerful way to let go of negative experiences and make a fresh start.

Why We Need to Forgive

Hatred makes us feel miserable.

If we are unable to forgive and forget the misdeeds of others we will carry a heavy burden around ourselves. It may have some justifications, but, hating others means that we will make our own lives difficult. When we concentrate on the bad action of others, we give too much importance to these negative qualities and invariably they become part of our mindset.

We cannot live in the past forever

Forgiveness is a way to move forward. If we are unable to forgive we will always be thinking of the past. By thinking of past blunders we will not gain illumination. Forgiveness means we allow a new chapter to be written and prevent the old mistakes and difficulties being repeated.

Mistakes are inevitable

We cannot expect ourselves or other people to be perfect. Mistakes are an inevitable part of life. Even if people are trying to do their best, they may often behave with the wrong motives and actions. If we expect anything near perfection from others, then we will always be disappointed. To be forgiving means to be flexible, tolerant and accommodating.

To err is human.
But be careful,
Do not over do it.
If to forgive is divine,
Then rest assured,
You can never over do it.

– Sri Chinmoy

A person is more than certain actions

Often our judgement of a person depends on a particular action of theirs. When someone does something wrong, we inwardly label them as a bad person.This is a mistake; someone may have unfortunate habits or bad actions, but, this is only one aspect of that person. We would not want ourself to be judged on all our mistakes; we have done wrong things, but we know this is not the sum of our person. Forgiveness means we are able to separate a person from a bad action. We are not condoning the bad thing they do; it just means we acknowledge that anybody who does wrong things also has the capacity to do good things as well. Somebody may tell a lie, but that does not mean we have to think only of them as a bad person.

How To Forgive

Self forgiveness

If we cannot forgive ourselves how can we forgive others? If we carry a burden of guilt around, it makes it more likely that we will want to impose judgement on others; guilty people invariably look to see faults in others. To forgive our mistakes should not be seen as weakness. In fact it requires a certain strength to admit our faults, resolve not to do them again and then move on. Self – forgiveness can become a powerful way to our own personal development. If we can forgive ourselves then it becomes easier to forgive others. We realise that forgiveness is essential for being able to move on.

Look to Good qualities

The mind is often drawn to the negative qualities of others. We spend 90% of our time thinking of other people’s transgressions; this gives an unbalanced assessment and we associate that person with the negative qualities. However, if we can only acknowledge their good qualities then it becomes much easier to have a forgiving attitude. Even if a person has done 9 wrong things maybe we can concentrate on the one good thing that they have done. If we sincerely appreciate their good qualities, it is much easier to forgive their mistakes. This is also a powerful way to bring out the best in others. If we concentrate on others failings it won’t bring about any transformation; but if we concentrate on their good qualities we encourage them and bring them to the fore.

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Choose to be happy

Nursing grievances and hatred is a short cut to be unhappy and depressed. If we bitterly resent the actions of others we will never have peace of mind. We should see forgiveness as an easy way to make ourselves happier. By letting go of our grudges and grievances we allow positive thoughts and ideas to come into our mind. If we really want to be happy we need to be able to forgive both ourselves and others.

Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again.

— Dag Hammarskjold.

Forgive and Forget

To really forgive someone, we need to be willing to forget the unfortunate experience. If we say we have forgiven someone, but continue to bring it up then it is not real forgiveness because at some time it will awaken the negative feelings.

Quotes on Forgiveness at Write Spirit

Photo: By Pavitrata, Sri Chinmoy Centre

11 thoughts on “The Art of Forgiveness”

  1. I think this is an incredibly powerful topic… entire books have been written on it, and it could easily be a many-part series of blog articles.

    Two things came to mind while reading this, but I’m only going to talk about one because that is an article-length comment in and of itself. 🙂

    What a lot of people often don’t really understand is that a large part of our actions and responses are at an unconscious level. That is, we don’t always know *why* we did or said something.

    For example, we may believe that we dislike something in particular, but if we look back we see that not only do we dislike it, but so do our parents and siblings.


    Not in the slightest. It’s no mystery how much of our environment conditions us. So how does this relate to forgiveness?

    Well, if many of our actions, likes, and dislikes can actually be traced back to things from our upbringing an experience, then this tells us something valuable:

    – Whatever wrongs are being committed are not intentional.

    It’s so easy to believe people want or try to hurt us when something happens where we do feel pain. A great example is when a spouse cheats on us.

    People who have been cheated on often have a lot of anger and resentment towards their spouses. A lot of thoughts such as “How could he do this to me?” “Why am I not good enough for her?” “She obviously doesn’t have any integrity or she wouldn’t do this.”

    “He this… “She that…”

    Now I’m not saying that anger isn’t an appropriate response to being cheated on, but there’s something deeper here. It’s the “why” that people so rarely look at.

    Why did he cheat?

    Well, perhaps he came from a divorced household where both his parents were cheating on each other for years. To him it’s the norm, and he doesn’t really have an example or model for a committed relationship.

    Or perhaps she developed low self-esteem during her younger years because her peers made fun of her. Boys avoided her, and as a result when she was older she started looking to cheating and/or sleeping around to fill the void… to feel accepted.

    Again, I’m not excusing behaviors. I’m looking at understanding them so we can understand the person.

    If we see that many of peoples’ actions today are actually the effects of things that happened decades ago, it becomes easier to see what Tejvan is talking about –

    That a person’s actions are not who they are.

    Who we are is much deeper than our actions. Who we are is something that few of us rarely touch (myself included), because it’s been covered over by all of those experiences of our past.

    But if we can see that we are not our actions, and that others are not their actions, then it becomes much easier to forgive others…

    Because we then see there is nothing to forgive in the first place. We are all simply are beings on this planet trying to make our best go of things… trying to find joy, happiness, love, companionship…

    But sometimes we get a little misguided because other people have impressed upon us their own ideas and experiences and we adopted those as our own without realizing it.

    In the end, forgiveness is about one thing: Understanding and accepting ourselves and others.

  2. Thanks for comment Chris, I think that is a very thought provoking way to discover the real meaning of forgiveness

  3. The topic of forgiveness comes up a lot on religion and spirituality blogs. Glad I ran into your post – it’s so brief but comprehensive.

    I haven’t posted on this topic before and am doing so just now. I’ve invited commenters to give their thoughts on what forgiveness is, and I plan to do at least one follow-up post based mostly on people’s comments. However, here’s something I haven’t heard discussed before and plan to bring up at some point on my blog if no one else does:

    Most of the time people address this topic, they’re looking at stuff that happened in the past. It still lives because it lives on in their minds.

    What about situations faced by the most vulnerable and powerless – people who are wronged in an ongoing manner? Can forgiveness realistically take place while offenses are ongoing?

    Think, for example, of dependent elderly and disabled persons who are abused or neglected and can’t get out of their situations.

  4. Paul – to answer your question, I highly recommend you read my comment above and really reflect upon it. I think you’ll see that there is an answer to your question within my comment.

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  6. Paul asks “What about …. people who are wronged in an ongoing manner? Can forgiveness take place while abuse is ongoing?”

    I have had a bit of that myself. I am learning that while it is possible to forgive, ie. accept that this person is doing the best they can with regard to their own issues etc, the choice is mine whether I stick around to be the whipping boy.

    It is difficult to get one’s mind around this.

    I no longer hold anger or resentment towards the person concerned, and that is a great relief for me as prolonged “festering” was making me as ugly and twisted inside as she apparently is!

    But, even although I have rationalised the reasons for her behaviour, and forgive her by accepting that she knows no other way, I have cut her out of my life as I know she will harm me unless she changes her habitual responses to her (own) issues. This probably won’t happen anytime soon, but I will be open to looking at this again if it ever does. She is a family member, so this was a real risk for me to take, as it has many ramifications.

    I am trying to remeber the story of the scorpion, who gets a ride on somebody’s ( who was it?) back across a river after promising not to to sting him. When they reach the safety of the other side, the scorpion stings his helpful carrier after all. The moral of the story: the scorpion stung his friend because he couldn’t help himself – that’s what scorpions do.

  7. I have found myself in a rut. My mind, body, and soul are full of anger and hard to admit hate for my daughter. As I type those words my heart breaks, I know I have to forgive in order to feel better.
    My daughter set fire to our home on febuary 9th this year. I was injured and lost everything. She did it while we were sleeping and went back to bed. I can’t help but wonder if she tried to kill my family.

    I have read this information and plan to read it everyday. I am hoping that sharing my pain and reading this will help me find some peace. I am dying inside… I only hope this can help me find a way to let go, to forgive, to love my daughter again.

    Thanks for having a place to say this. Just sharing this with someone helps.

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