“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” – Richard Rohr
Forgiveness is a deeply personal experience. There isn’t one way to forgive. There is no time frame for forgiveness to take place. And we have to be open to the simple fact that forgiveness is a choice … and you can choose not to forgive and that’s OK.
The rise of spirituality along with the new age craze becoming more mainstream has expanded our mindset yet also contributed to many confusing “new agey” myths. One of the greatest myths or misunderstandings lies with the concept of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process, an internal process, a releasing of one’s inner self and energy around a traumatic event or upsetting memory.
Forgiveness cannot be forced or willed away. You can’t fake your way to forgiveness any more than you can fake your way to enlightenment. That would simply be another form of “Spiritual Bypass,” (see related post), one that will most likely come back to haunt you. A Bypass will always be the long way home.
I was sitting in the colorful living room of a gorgeous penthouse apartment overlooking the beautiful Hollywood Hills. I was in the midst of an in-depth conversation and interview for an upcoming episode of Mastering Modern Midlife with my mentor and advisor, and a woman I deeply admire, Loreen Arbus. Loreen is the daughter of Leonard Goldenson, the Founder of ABC. Not one to rest on her father’s laurels, Loreen became the first female head of programming at a national network for both Showtime and Lifetime.
A passionate activist and philanthropist with a tender heart for those who have been marginalized by society, Loreen understands the pain that comes with being marginalized, having grown up with a sister who had a severe case of Cerebral Palsy and a mother who was both schizophrenic and bipolar. She suffered significant trauma and abuse at the hands of her mother while growing up. The pain from the trauma continued throughout her life, a pain she internalized when she was younger.
Loreen had a complicated relationship with her mother. On the one hand, she was a brutal “Mommy Dearest,” leaving scars on her young psyche. Her volatile and unexpected rages left her terrified and alienated from her friends. Yet her mother had another side, an empathetic and compassionate side for those marginalized through disability like her younger daughter. She spent much of her life fighting for the disabled and making a significant impact through her contributions and activism which would eventually lead to a change in the Constitution of the United States and the American Disabilities Act. She also co-founded United Cerebral Palsy. She was a powerful woman and a mother driven to make a difference.
It was toward the end of a long day of filming. I looked at Loreen and said, “Let’s talk about forgiveness. Have you forgiven your Mother?” Loreen looked at me and shared a powerful lesson on forgiveness. She began by saying, “No, I haven’t forgiven her. I have no intention to forgive her.”
Her philosophy on forgiveness was a deeply personal one. She felt no need to forgive her mother for the immense suffering she had caused her while growing up. I wanted to know more. Loreen shared her experience around forgiveness. She could choose not to forgive her mother while also honoring her memory and contributions in the world of disability at the same time. She could honor her mother’s legacy and positive achievements while also choosing to hold onto the feelings and emotions she carried within. Her mother’s mental illness caused her an immense amount of pain. That pain had certainly lessened over time but it was still present. Her mother’s memory was very much alive and held both positive memories and negative emotions. Loreen believed she could honor the positive while also honoring herself by not forgiving the negative memories, trauma, abuse, and suffering.
There’s a misconception that in order to be “spiritual,” you must be all “love and light.” In order to be spiritual, many believe that it’s wrong to hold onto the past, hold grudges, or feel anger. In order to be “spiritually elevated” or raise your vibration, you must let go, forgive all transgressions, and not allow an ounce of negativity to enter your world. I call Bullshit on that!
Evolution is a process and so is forgiveness. You can choose to forgive someone without forgetting what they did. You can also choose to not forgive at all. Forgiveness is a choice. Forgiveness can’t be forced. Forgiveness is an internal letting go. It’s a process of unhooking the negative energy surrounding a memory and, over time, allowing that energy to dissipate or to be transformed through a lot of inner work. The path to enlightenment and evolution is one through the shadows and the dark night of the soul. The shadows and darkness are our greatest teachers.
We can’t hurry the process. We can’t build a positive or happy facade to hide the pain. A facade can only temporarily cover up the pain. A facade cannot transmute, transform or transcend the pain. That’s up to us humans, on our timeframe and no one else’s. Joe Dispenza once said, “Wisdom is a memory without the energy.” I’ll take that a step further. “Forgiveness is a memory without the energy to trigger negative emotions.”
Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves, if and when the time is ready. Forgiveness can only be done through “being” and not through “doing.” It’s not a mental process. Forgiveness is accomplished through living, not thinking. We can’t will it away. We can’t numb it away. We can’t laugh it away. We can’t fake it away. Forgiveness is a powerful teacher yet so is our trauma and our suffering. It’s the process of unwinding the trauma, the letting go of the pain, the negative emotions and memories that lead to healing over time.
Loreen is a woman who lives her life, her way. She’s a woman making a difference in the world. She’s made peace with herself and peace with not forgiving. She rests comfortably in her own power and decisions. She is the essence of Fierce Grace.