Posted by: Inside-Out Peace | October 18, 2010

Forgiving Others Relieves Your Own Suffering

This is a follow-up to Making Buddies Out Of Bullies.  I did contact my former elementary school “bully”, and then one from junior high as well.  Our conversations were private and shall remain so, but I will say that both of them are clearly very lovely people.  Both were, sincerely, very sorry for all the hurtful comments they ever made to me.  It was very healing to me to learn that. 

The one thing I really, really wanted to know was, “why?”  The answer in both cases came as a complete surprise to me, as I was totally unaware of it at the time.  Although both (entirely independently) acknowledged that it was not an excuse, they both wrote of having been unhappy too.  I learned that, as is so often the case, they both were bullied as well.  They were harrassed, not just by students but even by teachers(!), on account of their nationalities and religion.  The instant I read that, all the antipathy I’d carried for all these years just melted away and was replaced by compassion for the suffering it turned out we’d all shared.  I told them both “I forgive you”, and apologized for not having been able to see their unhappiness at the time.  I wish we could all have been a solace to each other then, when we needed it most.  What prevented that from happening?

I have had so many analogies go through my mind to describe how wonderful it felt to have finally forgiven them.  Interestingly, most of them involve water.  I’ll limit myself to two of them.

The first that came to mind comes from Letters to a Buddhist Jew, by Rabbi Akiva Tatz.  R. Tatz was born in South Africa.   At the end of the book he talks about the water barrels there.  At the end of the dry season, the water left in them is stagnant and foul, but the barrels are too heavy for anyone to be able to overturn them to pour it out.  When the rains come, the people just have to direct conduits into the barrels and the new water is so plentiful that when the rains are done, the whole barrel is full of good fresh water!

The longer we carry our old hurts, the more foul and stagnant they become, and we can’t just pour them out.  They have to be replaced by forgiveness.  We poison only ourselves by holding on to them, and we free ourselves when we forgive those who caused them.  It in no way “punishes” those who hurt us, for us to continue to suffer.  By forgiving them, we benefit ourselves by ending our own suffering.  Forgiveness doesn’t “reward” their past behavior in any way, and doesn’t require that we tolerate or condone it.  Forgiving others is the rain that washes out the stagnant hurts in our souls, and leaves us refreshed.

My second analogy is that I’ve been swimming for a very long time, and still have a very long way to go.  I’ve got an anchor tied to my waist that drags me down every time I let up even a little.  I don’t know how I’m ever going to make it there.

Then, I realize: I can untie the rope.  The anchor falls away and suddenly I feel incredibly bouyant.  Swimming is so easy now, I feel I am flying through the water. 

Forgiving is like untying the rope.  I felt overwhelmingly free and light in spirit, finally able to bring the part of myself that was still tied to the long ago past, fully into the present.  I feel whole.  I can move forward.

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