Be willing to lose the battle to win the war.
I forgave someone yesterday. For more than a year, a woman I used to love has behaved harshly and unfairly towards me.
For the vast majority of that time, I’ve been taking it personally, and wanting the situation to be different. Every effort I’ve made to bring about a resolution has backfired on me, to the extent that she and I are now totally estranged.
At times during the course of the past few months, I’ve been pretty cynical about life. I’ve wondered how I found myself in this situation, and become frustrated at my inability to discern whatever lesson would enable me to stop feeling the pain of both the estrangement, and the defamation being directed towards me. I’ve even attempted to force myself to forgive, in the hopes of finding a closure that has proven extremely elusive.
Then, quite suddenly, lying in bed following a long and fruitful conversation with dear friends, I forgave her.
Pinpointing exactly what created the shift is beyond me; I can only describe it as an experience of grace. I understood deep in my bones that whatever motivates her behavior, it’s not a reflection upon me. In that moment, I glimpsed something of the nature of true forgiveness.
All that time I’d been reluctant to forgive—I’d been convinced that doing so was an act of weakness. In my mind, allowing her to treat me with callousness and disrespect was tantamount to admitting that I deserved such treatment. Much as I wanted to bring the endless cycle of pain to a close, I couldn’t bring myself to—as I saw it—admit defeat.
By fighting her perceptions of me, I unwittingly fueled them. The more energy I directed toward combating her distorted perspective, the more powerful it became.
What I discovered, in that unguarded moment in which forgiveness swept through me like a broom before I could prepare my defenses against it, is that I had the whole deal bass-ackwards.
Fighting with her (even if only in my own mind) wasn’t a way of avoiding defeat. It was the defeat. It was condemning me to the mental turmoil of being at war, even as I sought constantly for ways of securing a ceasefire.
When I finally did forgive, I learned this: forgiveness is not an act of weakness. It’s an act of strength.
I forgave only when I was willing to accept that someone else’s opinions of me are beyond my control. I forgave only when I was strong enough to sincerely prefer peace, at the risk that my former adversary would continue to wage war regardless, than the certainty of a continuing downward spiral.
By finally refusing to play tit-for-tat I reclaimed the power I’d given away when I subconsciously succumbed to the game in the first place.
Of course, I could have extrapolated all this from any number of inspirational quotes. If I’d been a bit more on the ball, I could have remembered that what I resist persists, or that I need to be the change I wish to see in the world. Had I done so, perhaps I’d have shortened the time I spent in purgatory considerably.
On the other hand, I also learned that seeking to force-feed myself the lesson before I was ready to hear it was counter-productive, like skipping to the last chapter of a novel, or spending an entire journey thinking of the destination.
All of which leaves me without a neat way of wrapping up this piece, or an easy moral to proffer. Perhaps that’s for the best. After all, if this process of learning to forgive has brought me anywhere, it’s well, here.
Editor: Jennifer Cusano
Robert Wolf is a yogi, writer, and largely hammock-based activist. Currently travelling in South East Asia, his favourite ways of spending time generally involve learning, laughing, loving, or any combination of the three. Read his journal, follow him on Twitter, or connect with him on Facebook.
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