I've been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately.
The pain of betrayal runs deep. It keeps you stuck in the past, unable to live in the present. You replay moments of hurt, over and over again, thinking that the more you feel it, the quicker you can get over it. The slightest wrongdoing and breach of trust easily compounds, with pain growing cumulatively over time. It can be hard to recover from such a slippery slope.
After my own recent heartbreak, I've been searching for ways to forgive not only the person who I thought did me wrong, but also myself: for being unforgiving, for being judgmental, for not accepting my own mistakes that contributed to any fear, rejection and isolation I felt.
I found a passage in "A Return to Love" by spiritual leader Marianne Williamson that helps me let go of the past, and stay focused on the present.
"Forgiveness is the choice to see people as they are now. When we are angry at people, we are angry because of something they said or did before this moment. But what people said or did is not who they are....
Only love is real. Nothing else actually exists....
If a person behaves unlovingly, then, that means that, regardless of their negativity–anger or whatever–their behavior was derived from fear and doesn’t actually exist. They’re hallucinating. You forgive them, then, because there’s nothing to forgive. Forgiveness is a discernment between what is real and what is not real."
What is real, then? My own suffering - a dramatic case of lovesickness - pales in comparison to trauma experienced by others, though. I remind myself to be gentle on myself, to not compare myself to others, to validate my own experience. But still. I'm human.
Storytelling, as an art form, can bring relief to all forms of suffering and be a vehicle for forgiveness. "Restorative Justice," as a principle and practice, is gaining ground in the criminal justice reform movement.
You can see lots of examples of storytelling as a way to create dialogue between victims, offenders, and their families and communities, as a path to reconciliation. For example:
- Harvard University offers a course in "Storytelling and Global Justice."
- The nonprofit Listening for a Change has a "Neighborhood Listening Project" to help eliminate bullying and violence.
- Photographer Lekha Singh created the film “Beyond Right and Wrong" to show people seeking forgiveness to end a cycle of violence.
- Nonprofit ivoh teaches the principles of "restorative narratives."
- The FYOU Project leads workshops and a social media campaign for youth on how to forgive.
I recently came across this other project, which gives me hope that I, too, will be able to fully let go of the past. Not to forget or excuse hurtful behavior, but to move on. And forgive myself for taking so long to do so.
The Forgiveness Project "collects and shares real stories of forgiveness to build understanding, encourage reflection and enable people to reconcile with the pain and move forward from the trauma in their own lives." The stories are rooted in many difficult subjects, like childhood sexual abuse, painful relationships with parents, kidnapping and murder, or racism. The founder, former journalist Marina Cantacuzino, believes that healing comes from understanding.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu said of her work:
"Victims can find healing in choosing to forgive rather than demanding retribution. Forgiveness is not weak. It takes courage to face and overcome powerful emotions. The depth of love is often revealed by the extent of anger. Through sharing the stories of people who are victims and perpetrators, and sometimes both, the Forgiveness Project shows that forgiveness is often difficult, painful and costly. But potentially transforming."
This is my seventh blog post in a series for #The100DayProject, a project by Elle Luna. I'm naming it the #100Days ofBenevolent: an attempt to kickstart my daily blogging habit, which has been idle for years.