Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Giving Up Hope

For A Better Past

There is an old saying that I first heard from Jack Kornfield: "Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past." Forgiveness and reconciliation can be extraordinarily powerful practices. 

Recently, a friend of mine forgave and was able to reconcile with an old friend of his who had acted very unskillfully many years ago. For all this time, my friend had been carrying the weight of his hurt, anger, and resentment in his heart. He began to feel blocked, and may have developed more than one psychosomatic illness as a result of this impeded flow of energy.

The more he became connected with his feelings as they are now, rather than dwelling in the his memories of the past, the more he felt he could get beyond his resentments. He contacted his friend, and they met for dinner at one of their favorite hangouts from happier times. They sat together for more than six hours, eventually moving to the parking lot when the place closed around them. My friend later described the experience as being liberating and joyful. He had a peace and ease that I had not seen in a couple of years, and he was now able to move on in his life.

He told me, "It was really about being conscious and present with my current thoughts about my friend that enabled me to start noticing that I was missing him and that my thoughts about him were more about the good things that we used to have, rather than about the bad things he had done.  The key thing is to be aware of the present moment -- which, for me, shifted from feelings I had had two years ago that never felt like they were going to go away."

When we are unable to forgive, that part of us that holds the pain is locked up and is rendered unusable. Nothing can flow into that part of us, and nothing is allowed to flow out. In essence, we lose a piece of who we are. In addition, being unable to release attachment to our pain in this way causes us more suffering. 

Forgiveness and reconciliation are not synonymous with condoning harmful behavior on the part of others. It does not mean we become a doormat that can be trampled upon and taken advantage of. Forgiveness and reconciliation merely mean that we will no longer close our hearts off to anyone.

I heard a story once about a group of Americans held prisoner by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Many years after the conflict had ended, they been allowed to visit their old prison and to meet with their former captors. It was, by all accounts, an extremely emotional experience for both sides. Later, two of the former P.O.W.'s were discussing the reunion, and one said, "I'm so grateful that I've been able to forgive them. It really takes a load off my mind." The other one, however, said, "You know, I don't think I'll ever be able for forgive them for what they did." To which the first man replied, "Then it sounds like you're still in prison."


P.S. For more information on the power of forgiveness and reconciliation, see my blogs from 11/3 & 11/4/09 and 4/30/10.


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