“Forgiveness releases you from mental anguish and pain, and all the horrible negative feelings an unforgiving mind experiences. When you learn to forgive, you see with clarity the ignorance and the innocence of those who trespass against you.”
That passage in Sydney Banks’ The Missing Link, from the Chapter “Love and Forgiveness,” means a lot to me.
At a time when we celebrate good will, consider the power of forgiveness. Many of us have lived with the self-defeating notion that forgiving someone for a past hurt or a past deed suggests that we approve of what they did or lets them off the hook. We carry around resentment or anger or ill-will because we think it is a way to hold the unforgiven person accountable. It is not. It is a way to keep ourselves in psychological distress and keep our own comfort and peace at bay.
Can we truly find peace if we can’t love the person, even while rejecting the deed? How much does our peace of mind mean to us? What would resolve the situation and allow the unforgiven person to see something new?
Forgiveness emerges from a deeper realization of the innocence of thought without understanding. For those who understand that our thoughts look different to us in different states of mind, and who understand that every thought appears to be reality but is actually our own imagination come to life, it is all-too-easy to assume that surely everyone must “know” that. Everyone does not know that. Even those who do know that can lose sight of what they know in moments of upset. The vast majority of people in the world act on their most compelling negative thoughts when they have no awareness that they are the thinkers creating those thoughts. At that moment, they do not realize that they could allow distressing thoughts to pass and look within to quietude to find higher-quality thinking. Most people don’t realize that urgency to act is a warning sign that our thinking is coming from increasing insecurity, not from a calm and wise state.
In a peaceful state of mind, people do no harm. A quiet mind in a calm feeling state produces no malice or vengeance or self-interest or greed or judgment, or pressure to act. When we are in that state of mind, we are naturally aware that we and others can only do things that occur to us from the level of thinking that generates our reality at the time. We see the fundamental connective tissue of all mankind: the fact that we think and our thoughts look real to us as they pass through our minds, just as an old fashioned movie looked real to us as the frames moved past the light.
Forgiveness flourishes when we see innocence as a human quality, something we all share no matter what. Innocence refers to recognition that we move in and out of being awake to the facts that the only navigational tools we have to move through life are our ever-changing thinking, the attention we give it, and the actions that make sense to us as a result.
Seeing innocence is seeing that all negative, hurtful behaviors arise from insecure thoughts taken seriously in a low state of mind. Attacking or punishing an insecure person exacerbates their insecurity and fosters our own. When we approach others with love and understanding and reach out from that deeper connection, we can address a problem without assaulting the person. Inviting the person into a calmer state, we speak from the knowledge that all of us have done things we regret when we got caught up in insecurity without realizing it. This is the bridge to forgiveness and resolution.
Once we see the Principles at work behind life we are freed from following the urge to act on dysfunctional thinking. We know we are in charge of our thoughts; our thoughts are not in charge of us. If by chance we do act on angry thoughts before we realize it, we can apologize, or make things right, because we know where the action started. It started within our own minds.
The difference between forgiveness and unforgiveness is knowing that the judgments we have about others come directly from our thinking. That allows us the humility to see our own feelings as non-contingent, unrelated to the actions of others, strictly a product of how we are holding and using our thoughts. That allows us the ease of compassion for people who don’t know that, and thus feel driven to act by the most distressing thoughts they have. Forgiveness flows from knowing that those who act with no recognition of the source of that action do not, at that moment, feel accountable. They feel justified because they believe that what they “saw” outside of themselves was the reason for the action. They are unaware that what they “saw” was what they made up within their own mind.
The beauty of forgiveness is not only that it sets us free to enjoy a deeper peace, but also that it allows love to wash over the unforgiven and, perhaps, provide an opening for a quiet moment in which an insight can help them turn in the direction of peace, as well.