Tower of Forgiveness at Burning Man Festival

Holding any past event in our heart and mind that doesn’t sit well with us is a design flaw meant to drive us crazy. How else to explain our unique ability to pull out yet again what happened in a long-lost childhood and relive the pain as if it were happening now. Scientists have even proven that the brain doesn’t know the difference between what is actually happening and what we have chosen to drum up and it suffers the same chemical wash the first time as the 130th time we yank it back out again.

No other living creature has the ability to do that. Dogs and cats may learn to mistrust and growl at the sight of you or to come running when you get to the door but as far as we know they aren’t sitting there in the living room all alone stewing over that time you cut the walk short. That’s our talent and we love to do it. We know the harm it causes and we still do it.

If we could get back the hours we’ve used up retelling the past we would probably just watch more television but at least we’d be sparing each other the trauma of listening to some ordeal where we weren’t even present. That element always startles me. Not only do we drag out our own stories but we will also listen to others and add to the catalogue in our brain. Then we’ll pay to go to movies that show even more kinds of emotional and physical suffering and watch that too. We are a race of drama queens. It has to be a mistake like an evolutionary spit-up. It would be so much better if we could stop the fascination with the parts that don’t turn out the way we would have liked.

But then, we would never have the opportunity to learn to forgive. That is our greatest blessing in disguise because the ability to forgive is at the root of our humanity. Every time we choose to turn away from the rut and let go out of compassion for someone else we suddenly find compassion for ourselves and everything becomes easier. We find out we are enough, just as we are. That’s our greatest fear, another odd little human twist, that we are just not enough for this life.

This is where forgiveness steps in to teach us how to love. Real forgiveness is love in disguise, the blessing, because it requires us to hand it over without conditions. If you had to start listing how it’s going to be before you can forgive you need to start over because that’s not forgiveness, that’s control, maybe even revenge depending on the list of demands.

Forgiveness remains illusory for so many but there is an easier path to the bliss and it starts with a change in focus.

Therapists and theologians of every ilk tackle forgiveness from the starting point of what caused the anguish and describe everything in terms of how to neutralize the pain and stop our suffering. The benefits are taught to us as problem first, forgiveness second. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Forgiveness first, then drop the problem. That’s it, there is no more. Any looking back at the problem for pieces that might be worthy of holding on to for just a little longer means letting go is not occurring. It doesn’t matter how harsh the incident was and some are beyond the pale but in those moments when we can give redemption to someone else who may not be asking for it and may not even welcome it in, we release ourselves. Try it, you’ll find out you are enough right where you stand and then you’ll set out to create what’s in your heart. Maybe we wouldn’t watch so much TV after all. More adventures to follow.

Q: What could you use help with finding forgiveness or forgiving someone else?

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