|Picture found on Rebel Thriver|
In my experience there are three types of forgiveness that we have to go through to replenish soul health. The first is the forgiveness of others. This is the one that most people talk about, allowing the expectations and bad behavior of others to influence our lives. The second one is forgiveness of ourselves. I haven't heard many people talk about this. Many of us have self-deprecating behaviors and attitudes. We feel like we aren't good enough for one reason or another and live in guilt and shame. The third type of forgiveness is the forgiveness of The Other (God, Spirit). To my recollection, I have never heard anyone talk about this type of forgiveness. But in my experience, it can be a vital part of the healing process. The same ceremonies and tangible things we do to open ourselves up to healing can be done to forgive others. They provide reminders of the new life we are embracing.
Sometimes when we hold unforgiveness toward others, it comes in the guise of "I'm better than how you treated me, so I'm going to hold it against you," when in reality, at its core, unforgiveness keeps us in a trap of perpetual hurt and despair. It seems to say the opposite of what it appears. If we truly believed that we were valuable enough to NOT be mistreated, we wouldn't continue to harm our emotional and spiritual health by not forgiving. It's a trap that uses confusion and lack of knowledge to ensnare us. However, when we sincerely value ourselves, we begin to see that the only way to provide soul-health is to let go of the things that people have done to harm us. By holding on to those things, we allow the hurt to deepen instead of heal.
We all do things that we either know we shouldn't and later regret, or realize we shouldn't have done after the fact and live in guilt. Regardless of how we come to the knowledge of our own poor choices, the key is to allow ourselves to move on and not live in shame and guilt. I used to live in guilt and shame because I never felt like I measured up to religious expectations. First, I had to realize the fault wasn't with me, I had to accept myself for not being perfect and forgive myself for holding too high of expectations. Once I realized those things, I learned to evaluate the expectations of others, and I had to forgive them for expecting me to be a model of their creation and for saying hurtful things when I didn't measure up. Then I had to forgive myself for being almost 30-years-old and not recognizing the trap I was in. We have to forgive ourselves for our own short-comings and poor choices because the reality is, what's done is done and none of us is perfect. You or I cannot change the past. We can only choose to do better with our present decisions. And our present decisions can come from the root of forgiving ourselves so that we can be free to be the lovely individuals we are at our cores.
Thirdly, forgiveness of The Other. For some, this is going to be a difficult concept to grasp, for others it is going to be something that they have never had to encounter. For others still, there is no belief in The Other. For those who need to hear this, your soul will latch on to it and you will move into it as your path is laid out for you. All in due time. Here is my belief and experience. I was raised in a specific belief system, I refrain from naming it because I DO NOT want this to turn into me speaking against any specific belief system. We each have to find our own path and each path is valid as long as love and light are at its core. In the aforementioned system, I was taught that it is the relationship between The Other (God) and the individual that matters, but then I proceeded to receive teaching that I had to listen to "spiritual authorities" to really know what that relationship should be. (A bit of an oxymoron, right?) While I do not continue to claim that specific belief system, I continue to hold core values that align with it, and I also embrace core values from other belief systems (I'm eclectic that way). I believe there are two universal truths: Love is the Light, and The Other (God, Spirit) is Love; I try to have these two things dictate my life and my spirituality. I still believe that each of us has a relationship with The Other, but it is up to the individual what that relationship looks like. Each of us knows our souls better than any "authority" can. When I received the hurts and betrayal from those within my religious sphere, I also began to be angry at The Other. For a long time I harbored bitterness against The Other because of how "his" people acted toward me. I hadn't seen the light and love from anyone, at that moment I felt alone and in the dark and God was to blame.
Here are some things I learned about that experience. First of all, The Other can handle your anger and bitterness. It isn't a sin to feel emotion, to hurt. If you're angry at The Other, express it. Get alone (I prefer in the wilderness), and yell at the top of your lungs, or be quiet and express it in the solitude of your heart and mind, or write it. Just, don't keep it in. Next, you may not receive an audible answer, but the release of emotions and hurt is an answer within itself. For me, being able to look around me and see beauty in flowers again was an answer. Listening to birdsong and hearing its serenity was an answer. My answer was that life goes on. I could let go because life would continue and I am surrounded by beautiful things, I could be part of it or continue in anger and bitterness. Your answer will be specific to you, but you have to be open to receive, you have to have truly let go of the anger and bitterness.
Finally, I had to forgive The Other. Here's the thing, as an infinite energy/being above our finite understanding, The Other doesn't need our forgiveness. But, WE need to forgive. If for any other reason to be able to look around and receive the beautiful things in life. Regardless of what beauty is to you, you have to make room for it. For me, nature is beautiful, goodness and kindness are beautiful, life at its center is beautiful. I wasn't able to receive any of these things as long as I held unforgiveness. I would look around me and see death and destruction and negativity. Then, I learned to forgive. I learned to realize that The Other created me to be more and receive more than I was allowing. When I opened myself up to the fact that unforgiveness only harmed myself and that in many cases I had to choose to forgive every...single...day...I began to feel the connection again with the Other that fuels my existence.
Life isn't easy. Everyone has hardships. Everyone has hurt and pain. The only person any of us has any power over, the only life we can dictate, is our own. If we choose the things that are lovely and beautiful, the things that spread light and love within ourselves, our lives reflect that. Life won't be easier, but we will be healthier in our souls. Forgiveness is hard, but life is better when we embrace it. I am going to provide some links below to share some books that have helped me in my journey.
Light and Love.
In no particular order:
The Shack by Wm. Paul Young
To Walk a Pagan Path by Alaric Albertsson
Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist by Sharman Apt Russell
Mahabharata retold by William Buck
Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of the Woman's Soul by John and Stasi Eldredge
The Teaching of Buddha by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai