When we forgive we turn painful lesions into useful lessons.
Do we want to stay wounded or do we want to be wise? We only gain in wisdom if we actually learn from our experiences. Yet, we are unlikely to gain any wisdom, or helpful insights, from an experience if we are too wounded to feel anything other than bitterness and resentment about it.
We need to be willing to release painful feelings around an event to fully gain the benefits, which are available from it. We may wonder what possible benefit we can obtain from a particularly painful event; however, we could turn this around and decide that the more painful the event the more important it is to derive some benefit out of it. A benefit is good, no matter how small. The ability to find a benefit, or derive meaning, from an event can have a profound effect on our healing process, as it reconnects us with what is good in life and what is good in ourselves.
If we hold onto our wounds in an area of life then we hold back the growth of wisdom in that area too. If we stay wounded, and do not engage with the forgiveness process, we are less likely to have the necessary wisdom to avoid or prevent similar types of painful events. Even if a painful sense of aversion stops us from creating exactly the same type of situation with the same person, we may stumble into similar experiences, as we will be running blind.
When we hold on tightly to a painful experience we are holding ourselves hostage to that pain. Have you ever met a person who is so embittered by something that it is hard to reach them? Bitterness is not exactly passive is it? It spills out all over the place and can affect the people around the embittered person. People who get locked into, “They did this to me,” and who do not get past that, then go on to do similar things to others. Bitterness makes people abusive, and it make them assume that their abusiveness is justified as they feel that they are the “victim”. Alternatively it makes them so withdrawn that they are unavailable to connect with in a healthy way. If we had a parent, teacher, or carer like this, it can be very damaging. If we feel bitter it is important to know that bitterness is an active and harmful process of thinking and feeling. Bitter and resentful people as parents are unable to give their children the love they need. Bitter and resentful bosses are unable to support their staff. Bitter people go after “the money” and do not care about much else, as they feel uncared for and can only connect with others who are the same. Most of us tend to avoid a bitter person – which gives them something else to be bitter about. It is vital to release bitter wounds and step into the wisdom, which is awakened through forgiveness. If we want to have a happy and healthy life then forgiveness is essential; it is not optional. Forgiveness is not something separate and distinct from such things as wisdom, insight or emotional intelligence. Forgiveness particularly has a lot to do with developing wisdom. A more forgiving attitude makes it easier to develop wisdom, as we are more able to look beyond our own initial reactions and look deeper. We may then see that what was going on with the other person was nothing to do with us and was them acting out some pain or fear of their own. Likewise a deeper capacity for wisdom makes it easier to forgive. It makes us more understanding of other people and their motive and less likely that we will take things personally. Wisdom is, in part, our capacity to extract meaning and value from our experiences. The more capacity we have to extract meaning from an experience the more likely that we see ways in which good will come out of it. This makes it easier to forgive. Wisdom is not an abstract quality as it brings very practical benefits in handling even very tricky situations.
Situations in our life which may seem like complex mazes, and difficult or impossible to get out of when we are stuck in them, can be easily handled when we have a view from above. When we see a maze from above it is easy to see the way out. Wisdom lets us see the mazes we confront in our lives from above and lets us see the simple answer, which may have been right in front of us. When I was about ten years old I lived in a rough area in Glasgow, Scotland where there were many street gangs. Some of the gangs were loyal to two soccer teams, Celtic and Rangers, and there was fierce and extreme rivalry between them. The Celtic and Rangers fans very often had violent clashes that were reported in the local news. As I was walking home from school one day I was suddenly surrounded by a gang who demanded to know, “What team do you support, Celtic or Rangers!” I saw no clue as to the right answer as none of them were wearing team colours, so at first I did not know what to say. I did know that it would not be a good idea to give the wrong answer, as I would probably get beat up. Then I suddenly knew what to answer and how to say it. I loudly proclaimed, “I support Scotland!” As that was the name of our national team, they cheered enthusiastically and I walked away before they could think of something else to make trouble about. This kind of resolution to a situation comes from the natural wisdom of our forgiving mind. The forgiving mind thinks “outside of the box” and is not constrained by the limits placed on it by others. It naturally looks for win/win solutions no matter what the problem. It looks to ennoble and enhance, and to help and to heal. Therefore the development of forgiveness, which leads to the development of our natural wisdom, not only helps us handle our wounds, it helps us prevent further wounds happening in the first place. It helps us handle crises, make better choices and create better relationships.
We have the capacity to transform what could have turned out to be ugly and painful experiences into something much more positive for all concerned, or at least get through them relatively unscathed. When we listen to the part of us that wants to offer forgiveness and accept forgiveness, such transformation becomes more accessible to us. We become more the author of our experience.
If we have not forgiven, other things masquerading as wisdom may take its place. Attitudes like, “People can’t be trusted,” “Men are just impossible,” and the like, fill the void and set us up for more difficulty in the future. Such attitudes are lesions not lessons: they are wounds not wisdom. Our true lessons bring a sense of freedom and lightness not a sense of restriction and heaviness.
Unforgiveness is the regular and ongoing maintenance of an old pain. If someone hits us with a stick and we then pick up the same stick and strike ourselves with it ten times, who has hurt us the most? It is obviously our own action that is hurting us the most. Yet that is what we do when we stay in a state of unforgiveness; we are hitting ourselves with our assailant’s stick – many times, often for years.
Imagine we had a meter that clocked up how much pain we were in and for how long (like an electric meter for pain), let’s call it the Painometer. Whereas an electric meter measures kilowatt-hours, the Painometer measures pain-I-got hours.
The original event may be, say, one pain-I-got hour. How many units of pain do we clock up every time we have angry or upset thoughts about the event? Over months and years we could clock up many times more pain than caused by the original event. We could be turning an event that caused us only one pain-I-got hour into ten or a hundred pain-I-got hours. If the other person intended to hurt us we are helping them by doing a better job than they did! If they did not intend to hurt us there is even less reason to be hurting ourselves needlessly. When we plaintively cry, “Why did this happen?” what we might really mean is, “Why did this happen to me?” Life is a package deal, we get hard times and we get easy times. If we cling to the hard times even during the easy times we only have ourselves to blame for the resulting misery. It may be that we are holding onto the pain as a reminder (as if it were some kind of fridge magnet) so that we can prevent the same painful thing happening again, but totally the opposite is true.
It is by forgiving we ensure it is less likely to happen again, because as we get above the maze and can better recognize and avoid similar situations. Besides, holding onto a pain so that we will not create that pain again makes no sense. It would be the same as if an unwelcome visitor comes to our house and we refuse to let them leave so that they won’t come again!
We have all had situations that would have turned out better if we had handled them more wisely. These situations may seem to have nothing to do with the situations we have not yet forgiven, but they are actually closely linked. Any forgiveness process we engage in improves our relationships with all the people in our life. By forgiving anyone we get better relationships with everyone. Each step in the path of forgiveness helps us tap more readily into our innate wisdom and helps us make the most out of our relationships with the people we meet and the situations we experience. At the very least being more forgiving will help us become a more happy and pleasant person to be around. We will be less prone to the moods and attitudes that have a negative or annoying effect on others. By forgiving we become less wounded and wiser.
1. Can you see situations where you can turn wounds into wisdom or lesions into lessons?
2. Have a look as the definitions below of both unforgiveness and of forgiveness. If one of these definitions appeals to you maybe make a note of it and put it on your fridge, bathroom mirror, or somewhere private where you can see it regularly.
Unforgiveness is hooking myself into a painful experience.
Unforgiveness is holding on to the pain from the past.
Unforgiveness is being unkind to myself.
Unforgiveness is saying “No” to life.
Unforgiveness is not trusting myself and not trusting the deeper processes of life.
Unforgiveness is not allowing myself to be bigger than life’s events. Unforgiveness is not allowing myself to grow from the events of my life.
Forgiveness is unhooking myself from a painful experience.
Forgiveness is letting go of the pain from the past.
Forgiveness is being kind to myself.
Forgiveness is saying “Yes” to life.
Forgiveness is trusting myself and trusting the process of life.
Forgiveness is allowing myself to be bigger than life’s events.
Forgiveness is allowing myself to grow from the events of my life. Forgiveness: the act of transforming wounds into wisdom.