By John Ashbrook
The importance of a forgiving attitude in the creation of the spiritual life is emphasized in all spiritual teachings. The ability to forgive is a critical element in the capacity of an individual to love and be loved. This is so because love itself is characterized by a person’s willingness to understand and accept the imperfection of the human spirit. This willingness to accept and understand is the essence of spiritual development. To the degree that one has developed their spirituality, there is a corresponding capacity to forgive others and themselves for their mistakes. The spiritually developed person forgives quickly and easily and comes to the point where they fully understand that there is nothing that cannot be forgiven.
Forgiveness is the ability to accept, let go, and move forward in one’s life without harboring an attitude of punishment towards yourself or others. The achievement of such an attitude of forgiving is difficult but entirely possible if one is willing to cultivate patience and gentleness as a way of life. One must develop a discipline of not criticizing in a harsh manner the mistakes made by themselves or others. If you cannot forgive someone for something they have done, then you must fully grasp and accept this fact: there is something somewhere in you that you have not forgiven yourself for. Perhaps you have done something similar to someone else at some time in your life, and you never fully forgave yourself. Perhaps you have allowed the person you are now unwilling to forgive to hurt you too often, so now you cannot forgive yourself for letting them hurt you, or you may have a general lack of self-forgiveness in many areas of your life. If this is so, then you are harboring guilt which creates a self-punishing attitude. Remember, the more willing you are to forgive, the less your life will be ruled by guilt and fear. Where there is forgiveness, there is freedom and enhanced self-esteem. Without forgiveness, there can be no deserving attitude, therefore no trust, no faith in the process of life, only despair.
Forgiving and letting go are the same – you cannot have one without the other. So when you can forgive, you automatically let go of paralyzing negative emotional attachments that prevent the natural and right unfoldment, growth, and joyful expression of your spirit.
When it comes to forgiving, understand that most of the forgiving that you need to do is in the area of what you have done to yourself. If you have held yourself up to being perfect, if you have been hard on yourself for past mistakes, if you continue to be critical of your shortcomings, picking at and criticizing yourself, then you are not loving yourself because you are refusing to accept yourself as you now are. You are being impatient and trying to force yourself to change.
This will never work simply because it is not forgiveness. So how does one truly begin to forgive? The answer to this is simple but challenging. Remember when someone close to you said that they forgave you when you had hurt them and then a week later threw it back in your face again? Did you feel forgiven by them? Of course not! So therein lies the secret to truly forgiving yourself. Forgiving must be an ongoing practice. Mistakes cannot be forgiven if they are revisited in a harsh, critical, self–punishing way. If you say to yourself, “I forgive myself for this imperfection in me, and I love myself as I am,” then you cannot later that day, that week, or that year go back and beat yourself up about it. If you do that, you have not let go, you have not moved forward, and you have not forgiven yourself. This treatment of yourself creates frustration, anger, and rebellion in the soul, and you will find yourself making the same mistakes over and over again!
If you want to really change and dissolve your problems, then you must take a gentler attitude with yourself, not be critical of your shortcomings. If you repeat a mistake after you have forgiven yourself, then you must be gentle with yourself. The conversation with yourself might go this way, “Okay, I did this, I know better, I also know that I am still learning, and therefore I will try a little harder in the future. I love myself, and I am moving forward in my life.” This attitude solicits cooperation in the soul. It does not create rebellion, and over time with patience, progress will be made. You will see that your ability to forgive yourself and others grows slowly at first and then more quickly as you become comfortable in your developing spirituality. You will also see that you are making less mistakes and that the mistakes you are making are smaller, less significant, and they bother you less as well. You will also notice the mistakes of others don’t bother you as much as they once did. In fact, you will not even attract these things as often.
Remember, the development of your soul is a work in progress. Revisiting mistakes in a harsh, critical way is like tearing down the good that you have accomplished. When you accept and love yourself as you are in any given moment, then you are always perfect, always joyful, and always fulfilled. This is the way that God means for everyone to live. We are all here together, learning to love ourselves and others, accepting, forgiving, and evolving.