27: Forgiveness and Tolerance

As we have seen, sustained resentment is one of the most destructive ways we harm ourself. Many of us waste enormous amounts of energy in chronic recriminations and irritation focused on those who have harmed us. The wheels of anger go round and round as if we could achieve vengeance by grinding our enemies to dust. By repeatedly reliving our anguish, however, we spin our misery magnets at reckless speeds, stirring up more intense self-pity and frustration.

Unless we learn to reduce this anger, we risk causing serious internal damage to the content and function of our character. No matter how justified we believe our rage to be, there is a limit to how much we can generate before this energy turns inward, corrupts our world view, and becomes a cancer in our character. Anger toward a few people can turn into bitterness about everything we see. Distrust creeps into all our relationships. Our joy and peace disappear into a cloud of discontent, and the dark shadows of our past blight who we are and what we do. The burden of chronic resentment can cause irreparable damage to our relationships with people, our work, and our humanity.

No matter how bad things have become, our distress will not be relieved until we take action to change major beliefs. This transformation will require a new vision of who we are, a shift in what is most important to us, and more enlightened motives.

These changes begin with the practices of self-reliance and self-determination. The first step, therefore, is to understand that our self-respect and dignity do not depend on vilifying others or receiving apologies and reparations from them. As long as we continue to identify with the feeble state of being a wounded victim, we will keep recreating the mood of anger and deprivation.

The second thing we must do is to shift our priorities so that our welfare and mental health are more important than any urge to extract vengeance, punish others, or demand recompense. This change in our motivation occurs as we realize that we are continually adding a burden of hostility to the emotional wounds others have inflicted on us. We do not need to continue acting as an enemy to our well-being. We can learn take charge of our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Our forgiveness will help us unload the huge burden of accumulated hatred and recriminations.

Our bodyguards for anger will resist this move, but we will find the power to overcome them as we commit ourself to honoring our long-term well-being. This process is aided by understanding that justice is never aborted when we forgive those who have harmed or abused us. We are merely forgiving the harmful deeds done to us. Those who are malicious, arrogant, or ignorant will still be required by higher power to learn all the lessons they need and make all the reforms in their thinking and habits. We can safely release them to their karma and the order of the universe to experience the consequences of their bad behavior and teach them to reform their ways.

The road to forgiveness is a bumpy path that is littered with many painful memories and dark sentiments about how we have been neglected and abused. As long as we view these events and the issues behind them as a debt owed to us, we will be locked in permanent hostility and suffering. We have to cancel the debt or face continual frustration. Our umbrage will have to be eliminated in the same manner that business and professional people cancel financial bad debts they can never collect.

We cancel bad emotional debts by giving up our right to apologies and compensation for the harm done to us, opportunities denied, and the emotional suffering we have endured. At first, we will resist this move, but our resolve to forgive will be strengthened by considering the cost of demanding vengeance against the benefits of getting rid of continual hostility. As long as we make our recovery dependent on our enemies apologizing, we will never sever the bond of anger that unites us with our worst enemies and memories.

Throughout our work of forgiveness we must be determined and steadfast. The call of our emotional wounds can be very strong and demanding—meaning we must have powerful motives and methods to support our efforts. The use of simple nostrums— such as the denial of our problems or imagining an instant miracle—will not be effective! Merely declaring our intent to forgive will likewise accomplish little, unless we are ready to follow through with the hard work of developing and expressing forgiveness to our adversaries.

Our best efforts to forgive are assisted by the repeated attempt to impose logic and common sense on ourself. This will help us to override the urge to return to blaming others and resenting our experiences. One way to accomplish this is by applying the mantra of recovery. The generic formula is: “Although I am still very angry about (name the adversary or adversity), I sincerely want to turn away from hostile thoughts and feelings so that I may be at peace. I know I can be active in many constructive ways today in spite of these irritations, and this is what I choose to do. I know I have the power to do this, and I trust that higher power will support me in this intention.” For long-standing or severe resentments, going all the way to forgiveness may seem impossible at first. For these situations, a declaration of truce is a useful intermediate step. A truce is a vacation from hostili- ties—not a peacemaking activity. We are merely resting up and letting our wounds heal for a bit until we return to our work of repair and renewal. We will still have our wounds and the internal conflict, but we are setting them aside for a while so we can refrain from launching any more angry thoughts and stop brooding on our misery.

Working up to total forgiveness begins with small steps. We can start by flexing our “muscles of forgive- ness.” This is accomplished by recalling many little things that we have already forgiven. These are small events such as a friend who had a lapse of good manners or a child who did something foolish. Perhaps our pet dog or cat had an accident on the living room floor, or maybe someone forgot to tell us something that was very important. Since there was no malice associated with these events, we forgave them long ago.

By using our memories to awaken our capacity for forgiveness, we can energize our ability to forgive both small and larger injuries. This also strengthens our motivation to forgive as we recognize that our acts of tolerance reward us with a greater feeling of contentment and the freedom from hostility.

The process of forgiveness is also hastened as we practice selected acts of forgiving ourself. One of the side effects of our hostility about our enemies and the adversities we have suffered is a progressive decline in our self-respect and self-worth. The infectious presence of hostility subtly suffuses us with layers of discontent about who we are and disappointment with our life. This dark belief is rarely accurate or valid, because it is the product of our poisoned attitudes—not reality.

It is, therefore, appropriate and useful to reflect on how often we fail to appreciate our strengths, knowledge, skills, and accomplishments. When we are chronically unhappy and disgusted, we are no longer capable of being nourished by our achievements and successes. When good things happen to us we either ignore or deny them, as if they are insignificant interruptions in our almost continuous distress. Our ability to enjoy and embrace the good elements of our life has been crippled.

The work of self-forgiveness begins by remembering that we have done surprisingly well in recent times—especially considering the hardships we have experienced and the conflicts we have endured. Many recovering angry people need to realize their life has been more successful than they have assumed. It is vital to appreciate that we have stalwart friends who are far more important to us than our enemies. We must likewise appreciate that we have demonstrated the strength and courage to survive and thrive in spite of outer difficulties.

These are the methods that awaken the qualities and abilities we need for healing and repairing the damage of psychic self-destruction.

Once we begin the work of forgiveness, we can move on to strengthening the beliefs we need to sustain goodwill and patience in dealing with our painful memories. As the wounds to our self-respect heal, we begin to see ourself more as a product of our strengths and achievements than our injuries and losses. This reformulation enables us to find the power and dignity to see the smallness of those who have injured us—and our own hostile reactions to them. At some point we will recognize that we have made a mistake in being so closely identified with the destructive memories of our past—usually at the expense of neglecting our humanity and capacity to move on with courage and dignity. As we dwell on these insights, we add new mental insulation that protects us from returning to old hostile attitudes.

As the process of forgiveness moves toward completion, we will notice it becomes easier to tolerate small annoyances—and, eventually, great irritations. This renews our ability to “be our own person”— one who is self-reliant and self-directed, rather than a slave to our anger. Certain experiences may still disappoint us, but we no longer feel the need to blast waves of anger at people or circumstances. At last, we come to recognize our old style of angry reactions as childish and unworthy of us.

Forgiveness of people, experiences, situations and even of poor health of mind or body is an essential ingredient to the repair and healing of psychic self- destruction. The power of tolerance and forgiveness cannot be overestimated.

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