Thinking about forgiveness…


Forgiveness is not popular these days – we see so little of forgiveness in our world and we delegate “forgiveness” to the religious among us – it seems to me that forgiveness may be one of the most potent forces in the world, in the universe, and certainly, in our own lives.

Forgiveness cannot be commanded.  In other words, we cannot be expected to forgive simply because we have heard we are “supposed” to forgive.  Maybe we don’t want to forgive.  Maybe we can’t forgive.  Maybe we are uncertain about who or what we are to forgive.  We are not perfect creatures, nor are we perfect in our desire to forgive, as often as we may command ourselves – or others – to forgive.

Forgiveness is not a matter of the mind.  We can’t “think” our way into forgiveness.  We can think about forgiveness, certainly, and we can demand of ourselves that we forgive.  But our minds will not change until we face what it is we need to forgive, and forgive from some other place in ourselves than our mind.  When we forgive, what we think may change, but we cannot demand of our thinking mind that it forgive.

Forgiveness is a process.  Forgiveness may take a life time.  Maybe there are things that cannot ever be forgiven, you think.  Maybe someone has committed the inconceivable offense, you think.  Maybe what I have done cannot be forgiven – by me – you think.  These things are what we say to ourselves, often deeply, beneath the conscious thoughts of our minds.  We may not be aware of these thoughts at all, but they are our guiding principles, unless we choose to forgive.

Forgiveness is a choice.  We choose to forgive.  We decide to forgive.  We do the work that forgiveness requires of us, and that is difficult work, a challenge not often taken.  We decide that we do not want to be burdened any more by the roiling thoughts that will not go away.  We choose to be free.  Forgiveness is a choice, a choice not made by many.

Forgiveness is the willingness to let go of what we have held on to – often, dearly, and with our lives and identities – in order to be free.  Freedom is the gift we receive when we forgive.  Freedom is what is blocked by the cloud of what is unforgiven, by the story we tell ourselves, again and again.  Freedom is the background, the sky, the clear place that does not have a story to tell.  If we have many stories in ourselves, stories of those who have hurt us, and stories of what we have done that cannot be forgiven, by us, then the sky, the clear place, the breath and body at ease are blocked by the frantic memory of how we have been wronged, or how we have wronged ourselves.

Forgiveness does not mean that someone has not done something hurtful.  Maybe someone has hurt you, harmed you in some way.  That is true.  Your freedom lies in your forgiveness.  The freedom of “the other” does not lie in forgiveness.  That is work “the other” must do, for themselves.  You cannot do the work of forgiveness for someone else. That’s up to them.  And truly, we each have enough work of our own to do.  Forgiveness is work.

Forgiveness is the work of letting go.  Forgiveness is the letting go of the story that has stifled our breath, clouded our places of light, and kept us in our places.  When we forgive, we become bigger, we take up the space we are meant to take up in the world.  Forgiveness is the letting go of the anger, the letting go of the sad, sad story we have told ourselves, again and again.  Unless we are ready, we don’t want to let go of that sad, sad story.  After all, our anger, our story of how we have been wronged may we what holds us together.  We can’t forgive before it is time, our time, and we choose the time.

Forgiveness is the letting go into simply being ourselves, as we are, here, now.  Forgiveness is the letting go into the reality that we have only been ourselves, and that we are flawed and humbled – and magnificent – creatures who have not been perfect, and will not be perfect.  We have simply and wonderfully been, simply ourselves.  We have tried and we have failed.  Or maybe we have tried and we have succeeded.  Either way, we have been ourselves, and we let go into that truth, that reality.

Forgiveness is the letting go into this moment, this solid, passing, complete moment.  Forgiveness is the complete acceptance of ourselves, and of the other.  Ahh, we say, here I am, who I have been all along, and free!  Maybe, until I have forgiven, I do not think I deserve this freedom, this fullness, this wonder, this acceptance.  Maybe that is exactly why we do not choose to forgive.

“And now, here is my secret, a very simple secret:  It is only with the heart one can see rightly.  What is essential is invisible to the mind.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince.


Holding space as practice.


When I was leading a faith community, I often considered my work to be “holding a space” for whatever was present, for whatever what was in the life of that community. When I thought of myself as “holding a space,” I was accepting of what I saw in the life of the community. When action was needed, I took action, always aware of the space of which that action was a part. When conflict arose, I turned my attention toward the conflict. When someone cried out for help, I heard the cry and moved to that place in the space.

I wish I could say I did it perfectly. I did not. Many days, I found it difficult to hold space even for myself, for whatever came to be in my life – inner and outer life – that day. But the awareness that my role was to “hold space” allowed a certain spaciousness in me as I acted, or did not act.

Had I been able to hold space perfectly, I am sure I would have calmly arrived at each place of discomfort. I am sure I would have been perfectly present to what was, in each moment.

The idea/concept/image of holding a space is an energetic reality. When I intend to hold space, I am making space. When I intend to hold space, I make space within myself and outside of myself. I can do this by using my imagination, by seeing myself as part of the larger whole, however far I intend that whole to be. If I am courageous enough, I can use my imagination to see my space extending outward and outward and outward and outward, to encompass the whole of reality.

When I am able to hold space, for myself or for another, I experience myself as being more accepting. I know that each one of is filled with all things: with darkness/light, open/closed, healed/hurt, good/bad, right/wrong, love/hate. I am all of those things, also, and when I hold space, all of those things are in my space. When I hold space for another, I am present to them when they are sad, when they are confused, when they are depressed, when they are happy, when they are angry. I do not try to change them. I do not try to talk them out of the place in which they find themselves. To do so is an act of violence.

When I am able to hold space, I accept myself and The Other in that moment, as they are. It is from that moment/this moment that we move into – are already moving into – the next moment.

Some of my most joyful times of teaching have been the times when I have reminded others how to hold space. I say “reminded” because each one of us, in our selves, knows what it is to hold space. When we are reminded, we can easily return to that place of acceptance and wholeness. We remember.

Writing this today, I am reminded that it is my spiritual practice to hold space, to simply and profoundly hold space. I hold space for myself: for my feelings, my thoughts, my actions, my memories, my awareness. I am present to myself. I hold space for you: for your feelings, your thoughts, your actions, your awareness. When I hold space for you, I offer you the great gift of complete acceptance. I don’t do this perfectly, and this, too, is in the space I hold.


Be joyful always, pray at all times, give thanks in all circumstances…


A way to live…

Many times, I am certainly less than grateful.  My busy and agitated mind – that is the work of the mind, after all, to flit about, to search for connections, to argue, to consider – does not want to be grateful.  What?  Be grateful?  It will ask.  What is there to be grateful about?  From there, the litany of horrors begins.

Life is hard, to be sure.  Life is hard for all human beings, it seems.  Even for those of us who have the privilege of food and shelter and an education – those things we take for granted, or those things we take credit for achieving (I would argue this) – life is hard.  We lose loved ones.  Our hopes are not achieved.  A child is addicted.  Our life partner is not faithful.  We don’t get the work we want.  We are not making as much as we would like.  We are ill with a chronic condition.

So even those of us who do have the privilege of food and shelter and education will at some time be the victim of the precarious-ness of life.  We are human beings.  We live on a planet that has sustained human-kind – so far, that is – and yet we, too, will die.  Life is uncertain.

We find it hard to be grateful.

It is good and solid practice simply to be grateful.  It is easy to be grateful for the things that go well – the “positive” things, or so we name them.  It is easy to be grateful for the times when the tides of life seem to go our way, and the sun is shining on us.  It is harder to be grateful when we are being dealt a hand we would not have chosen for ourselves.

To me, the deeper spiritual practice, the practice that brings us to our most faithful, most human selves, is the spiritual practice of giving “thanks in all circumstances.”  I take that literally.  I take that to mean that I can give thanks even for those things I would not have chosen, for those things that do not make me happy, for those things that seem to be at odds with what I want.

My work, then, is simply to be thankful, grateful, accepting of whatever is.

When I give thanks for all things, when I give thanks for whatever this day brings – the dark mood, the wave of grief, the relationship that is not going smoothly, the call that does not come – I am swept to a deeper place, a place of wisdom, a place of acceptance, a place, even, of comfort.