Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How to Forgive Someone When You're Still Mad

All those spiritual gurus tell us that forgiveness is the answer to everything. 

When I first began to hear this I was in my 20s.  It irritated me.  I thought that the idea was nice for highly evolved spiritual people but I knew I wasn't one of them so it didn't apply to me.  I had no desire to be a highly evolved spiritual person.  I wanted to love and be loved, have enough money to be able to buy what I needed and some of what I wanted, and to have my children be happy.

In my 30s I was deeply devoted to being angry about all the injustices in the world - those done to me and those done to anyone.  I was in fight mode.  Forgiveness was not of interest to me at all.  In fact, if you mentioned it, I exploded and sent you somewhere else.  I was shocked at the suffering in the world.  People seemed to be bent on being cruel to each other.  Sometimes people seemed to be cruel to me.  I had no idea what to do about any of it except be angry and complain incessantly.  My life had become very, very difficult and as time went on I just wanted someone to help me.

In my 40s I began to have a crack in my closed mind, but only because I had made myself so miserable with being furious all the time that I was almost willing to listen.  I was desperate enough to concede that being so angry had not made my life better in any way and that maybe I would be better off with another way of living.  Kind of against my will I had accepted a spiritual teacher.  She was kind and sweet which were the only reasons I could tolerate her at all.   She kept saying things that I thought meant she was telling me my miserable life was all my fault.  But what she was really telling me was that I had the power to change my life and just didn't realize it.  But then she brought up the forgiveness thing.  I thought I was surely lost because I was not going to be able to do that - not even to get out of the misery I was in.

She dished out cliches like "When you stay angry with someone, you give them free rent in your head."  And "Staying angry with someone is like taking poison and hoping the person you're mad at will die."  I had no idea what she was talking about.  What finally got my mind open a bit was when we talked about the very real fact that I had made a lot of mistakes in my life that hurt other people.  I had to concede that that was right.  I knew I was very, very imperfect and one of the people I was maddest at was myself.  She pointed out that I could take action to make those mistakes as right as I possibly could and then let myself off the hook - but for it to work, I had to let everyone else off the hook.  I still resisted.  I was willing to do my best to make my mistakes right, but I didn't see why I had to forgive anybody but myself.

Finally, she brought out the big guns.  We talked about specific incidences where I felt victimized and helpless.  We prayed about what I could have done had I had the information and help that was available to me now.  I was totally amazed!  There were all kinds of solutions that I hadn't been able to see through my anger.  With her help I began to see that my fury kept me from seeing the solutions that were actually within my power.  Little by little I saw that it was a delusion that I was helpless, and I realized that all that anger was really coming from fear because I thought I was helpless.

She pointed out that I had always had a God that was looking out for me and that always would look out for me - not by making my life easy but by presenting me with ways to learn how to live in the world in peace.  She said I was angry all the time because I had the delusion that by being angry, I was doing what I could to protect myself, but that was a delusion too.   Since I didn't have to protect myself in that way, that I could let go of my condemnation of the people I was angry at even though I still thought they were wrong, I was willling to forgive them and let it go.  Of course, my anger disappeared as I realized that I was not helpless in the world.  But I was able to forgive and still be angry for awhile.

I still get angry when someone mistreats me - in my opinion.  I still get angry about injustice.  The difference is that I no longer feel helpless.  Slowly over time I've begun to realize that those people are probably angry because they are afraid just like I was.  That new perspective lets me look for solutions that positive and unjudgmental.  Not, of course, that I'm always able to do it, but most of the time, with prayerful thought, I can get there.

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