~Thich Nhat Hanh
In an article I recently read about Jaycee Dugard — the victim who was kidnapped at age 11, held captive for 18 years, raped, and gave birth to two daughters — it said that Jaycee had forgiven her captors. My first reaction was indignance: it was unfathomable to me that she would even entertain any kind of forgiveness. After thinking about Jaycee’s ability to forgive, I realized the truth and depth of her perspective, which is that forgiveness was her way of coping with the harrowing tragedy.
While Jaycee is an extreme case of forgiveness, we all harbor issues of forgiveness toward someone out there at some level, even if it’s a small grudge. Forgiveness is one of the hardest emotions to bear because it must be embraced at the expense of being hurt by someone. While it may be painful and difficult to forgive, especially when the harm is so deep, why is it necessary to do so? As food and water nourish our bodies, forgiveness nourishes our spiritual well being. Forgiveness is for YOU — for your own mental, emotional, and spiritual health; it is not for the benefit of the other person. When we realize this, we understand the power of forgiveness. Scientific studies have shown that when you hold onto unhealthy feelings, like anger and resentment, you are only damaging your own health. Physically, you cause your body to have a lot of stress, which raises your blood pressure, causing heart disease, among other physical ailments.
To be clear, forgiveness is not about condoning or releasing the responsibility of bad behavior by others; there should always be consequences for your actions. Forgiveness allows you to free yourself from the shackles of unhealthy feelings, so you can find peace, which allows you to move forward.
How do you then begin to forgive? Thich Nhat Hahn believes that forgiveness stems from compassion, so how do you build compassion? The first step is to recognize that the tragedy is spilled milk and to accept it for what it is. I know this can be hard, but knowing that we can not change the past will help you to accept. The second step is that you are ready to let go of — not forget — the pain memory, which may take some time if your hurt is very deep, but it is important for you to be gentle on yourself at this stage and allow enough time for you to heal. When you are able to let go, then you can start to put yourself in others’ shoes, which is the third and final step toward compassion. You will realize that the cause of bad behavior is out of ignorance and lack of spiritual awareness and path. A disconnection from spirituality plants the seeds for moral bankruptcy and misbehavior. It is when we become connected and tapped into our higher selves can we walk the right path and realize our full potential as individuals and as collective human beings. This is when compassion is born, which can be our greatest strength and source of freedom. Once the compassion seed sprouts, then true forgiveness can flourish, the secret to discovering your true self and realizing it.
We are all capable of compassion and forgiveness if we can just recognize and embrace it. If Jaycee can forgive, we can all surely do so in our own way. Forgiveness is the key to unlock the door to peace and freedom, so open it and walk right through it toward your happiest life!
By Moon Cho, Creator of Ying & Yang Living