A few years ago, whilst attending my first retreat, I sat listening to one of Adrian’s talks and I remember him asking us all “Is anyone here holding onto resentments?” Quite a few people raised their hand (I’ll come back to whether I did or not in a moment). With hands raised and resentments being called to the surface he then asked “and who do these resentments hurt?”. The answer was unanimous – us.
So we harbour these resentments, often in retaliation to someone else’s behaviour that has hurt us, but in doing so we are just holding onto that pain causing us to suffer – often long after a particular event or even after that person is no longer a part of our lives. I remember one year we had a lady on our retreat who held on to a resentment of her mother even though her mother had long since passed away. But to her mind, if she was to let go of her resentment and forgive her mother, she would somehow be letting her mother off the hook. I remember Adrian saying “it’s time you let yourself of the hook – do it for you!” The power of this realisation could be witnessed in that moment, and it’s one that stuck with me.
But there a many subtle levels of forgiveness and the art of letting go of resentments. In my own personal journey I’ve seen how they can work and the impact they can have.
So, back to when I was first on that retreat, I didn’t raise my hand that day. For me my ‘back story’ was one heavily laden with guilt, so how could I hold on to resentments when my mind told me that everything was my fault. Even the few people I maybe thought had done wrong to me I would tell myself I had forgiven them… after all it was my fault! This was the beginning of me starting to get glimpses of my conditioning and the trap it was holding me in. The first layer I guess was one of turning those resentments on myself – I resented myself. I could see that now and that gave me the basis to start work on myself, which I did, I worked through some painful stuff and with a lot of courage (and support) I no longer resented myself (most of the time!)
It was then that I started to realise that I had been kidding myself, I had resentments alright! They’d just been hidden, hidden deep to protect my guilty story. So whenever I heard that question on retreat again my hand always went up. But this was fantastic; now that I could see these things I had a real chance to grow. So it was time to start forgiving and letting go… oh how easy that sounds – but how bloody hard in reality; let’s face it we’ve all had those moments when a good friend says ‘just let go of it’ and you feel like punching them! Forgiveness goes against pretty much everything our heads will tell us, the ego will kick and scream to defend itself against the injustice. So step one has to be more about letting go first – this is when we have to return to the realisation that all we are doing is hurting ourselves; we have to forget about the other and focus solely on ourselves at the beginning of this process. We have to give ourselves all the love, empathy and compassion; we have to be brave, honest and open as we delve into the emotional depth of the pain attached to the resentment. It’s by no way easy, however what it does is helps to expand your empathy and compassion. And as you work through the layers you will begin to be able to let go of that resentment and the process can then start to include forgiving the other person. This is where you will see if you have really dug deep enough, if you have really started to let go… it’s easy to get caught out by our minds understanding the theory. It’s important to really use your body in this work… to feel deeply and be so vigilant with how and what you are feeling and not get dragged into the old drama.
The power of forgiveness is truly beautiful. I have witnessed people being transformed by forgiving and not only transforming the person who is doing the forgiving but also the one who is receiving that forgiveness. Personally I had to do a lot of work forgiving someone – they were blissfully unaware of this and the relationship I have with this person isn’t one that meant I would discuss what I was doing. But as I began to truly forgive them I have watched our relationship change dramatically. We can now talk freely and I am not left with old pain surfacing after every interaction. And I can’t put into words how freeing that is for me and how bloody good it feels.
As empathy and compassion grows it allows us to accept people for who they are and sometimes gives us the ability to put the shoe on the other foot and get a glimpse of why they maybe acted or act the way they do. Day to day this helps me forgive people on a regular basis, from the driver that pulled out in front of me to my son who played up! And if there’s one thing this world could do with it’s a whole lot of forgiveness. It’s not a ‘turn the other cheek’ ‘let them of the hook’ kind of forgiveness, it’s a true deep forgiveness that can kick start a process where by people have the love and strength they need to look at themselves – it can be like a ripple effect that slowly opens us up and let’s us see the veils we hide behind so we can start to make a real difference to the people and world around us.
So be brave, be honest, be open and go within, as it all starts with ourselves.
Lots of love