On Forgiveness

Lynne McTaggart

Several weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking with my good friend James O’Dea.  As co-director of the Social Healing Project and former director of the Washington, D. C. office of Amnesty International, James has spent many years smoothing the way for warring sides to reconcile and forgive. 
For 10 years he has co-hosted “compassion and social healing” dialogues with Dr. Judith Thompson, in which members of very divided social and political groups — Republican and loyalist Northern Irish, Turkish and Greek Cypriots, Israelis and Palestinians — meet in an attempt to heal from their shared experience. 
I thought forgiveness an appropriate meditation for all of us, in the wake of the very fraught and polarized American mid-term election.
In the social-healing dialogues, O’Dea and Thompson move the emphasis away from who is right and who is wrong, and toward who is wounded and how to heal.  And in most cases, they discover that both victim and perpetrator are wounded.
Haunted by legacy
In her work Thompson highlights the work of a German theologian called Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz, so I was compelled to read his extraordinary book The Art of Forgiveness.
Born in 1940, Müller-Fahrenholz was too young to have any memory of the Third Reich or Hitler. 
Nevertheless, like so many second-generation Germans, he grew up haunted by Germany’s terrible legacy and felt deep shame at being a German:  ‘How could a nation that was so respected a part of European civilization succumb to genocidal madness and seemingly unrestrained violence?’ he wrote.
And, more to the point, how could his generation make up for the unspeakable pain their parents had wrought on the Jews and many other cultures?
Müller-Fahrenholz considered emigrating, and then realized that if he and his countrymen were to seek forgiveness it must be not in spite of Auschwitz but because of Auschwitz.
Müller-Fahrenholz began to consider forgiveness from the perspective of both victim and perpetrator.  As a theologian, he has examined forgiveness through the lens of both Christianity and philosophy. 
Mutual bondage
Müller-Fahrenholz considers wrong-doing as a situation of mutual bondage. Any such act — including the most minor of transgressions — establishes a distorted relationship between two people.  The perpetrator has stolen power and the victim has had impotence thrust upon him.
For the victim, hurt is an ‘impairment of the core of our personhood,’ says Müller-Fahrenholz.
Forgiveness can never replace justice, but it goes beyond it. In our punishment culture, he believes, both victim and perpetrator remain in bondage.  The victim’s dignity and personhood (or goods) are not restored, and the perpetrator never fully truly comes to grips with what he has done.
An act of forgiveness, on the other hand, as philosopher Hannah Arendt put it, is a ‘constant mutual release’. 
Both victim and perpetrator learn to recognize each other’s pain or shame and mutually liberate each other from hurt and guilt.
The power of deep truth
O’Dea believes the most powerful of healers is the dismantling or denuding of both perpetrator and victim to an acknowledgment of the deep truth of an experience. 
Full disclosure is, as Müller-Fahrenholz says, an act of disarmament — a willingness to finally confront the truth about oneself. It shines light on the unspeakable aspects of a wrongdoing.  And this, in itself, paves the way for atonement.
To illustrate, Müller-Fahrenholz tells the story of a group of old Germans, who’d fought in Belorussia as part of Hitler’s army during the Second World War.  They’d decided to return to the country in 1994 – fifty years later — in an attempt to make amends for what they’d done as young men. 
It was after the Chernobyl nuclear accident, so they built a home for children affected by the disaster.  Toward the end of their stay, they visited a war memorial at Chatyn.  That evening, full of the memories the visit had brought up, the Germans wanted to share the experience with their Belorussian hosts.
After a round of very personal toasts, one of the Germans, still clearly overcome by his visit to Chatyn, stood up in an attempt to talk about his own history as a young soldier.  He began describing that he’d been in a Russian prison-of-war camp, but then abruptly stopped. 
He excused himself for a moment and then suddenly broke down.  He said how deeply sorry he was for what he personally had done and also apologized for what his country had done to the Russians. 
He tried to say that it must never happen again, but his voice broke, and he had to sit down because he was crying so hard. Even the young people in the room were weeping. 
After a few moments, an old Belorussian woman, roughly his age, got up, crossed the room and kissed him.
Hurt acknowledged
At the moment of a genuine act of full disclosure and confession, the full hurt is acknowledged and dignity of both persons is restored.  For the old woman, the spark of forgiveness was the sudden realization that the pain of others — even the pain of the perpetrator — is also your pain. 
This level of truth and disclosure interrupts the cascade of denial, and, most importantly, it re-establishes the balance in the relationship —far more than does simply saying ‘sorry’ or attempting to make amends.
Such is the power of disclosure or genuine confession that it overcomes the ‘distortions’ in a relationship between human beings, so that both sides are changed by the encounter. 
The story of the German soldier and the Belorussian woman, says Müller-Fahrenholz, shows that the forgiveness ‘releases a corrective and restoring power’.  It corrects the distortion in the relationship and the dignity of both parties, so that they are equals again.  
Untying the knot
According to Judith Thompson, forgiveness in Greek literally means ‘untying a knot’, so both perpetrator and victim are free from hurt or shame – the legacy of the past - to carry on with their lives. There is also a releasing of new options for the future. Both parties are forever changed by the encounter.
Seen in this sense, a disagreement or wrongdoing is an interrupted connection, and forgiveness and restitution a re-establishment of the connection. Transgression is, as Müller-Fahrenholz puts it, a ‘sin against the whole’ and deep truth an end to the ‘war of the world with itself’.
When the humanity of both parties shines through during forgiveness, a plan of restitution usually simply presents itself.
Perhaps the Democrats and Republicans of America will meditate on the possibility of forgiveness. When we create a political ‘Other’ of that magnitude, we are simply at war with ourselves.

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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30 comments on “On Forgiveness”

  1. Once we become willing to forgive every*person* and every*thing*, then the illusory veil falls as we become witness to Truth, reality as it is, has always been, and shall always be.
    Evil, or the opposition to good, is only an illusion, for there is only one Power. That which is perfect and complete can have no opposite. The illusion is merely a projection of subconscious guilt...the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The only other choice is The Tree of Life.
    It's not just a story in the Bible. It's the life you're living right now, in each moment, a choice...
    To love, or to fear.
    One leads to freedom, the other to bondage.
    That's a choice only YOU can make. There are no justifiable resentments, no collective salvation....only YOU and the two trees!

  2. Thank you for inspiring us to remember that there is a part of us observing... and that identification with this inner observer can bring great peace, balance, and harmony. Moving out of old patterns of victim triangles (victim / perpetrator / rescuer) is one of the best things we can do for our quality of life.
    I love how the concept of forgiveness in Greek literally means ‘untying a knot’, so both perpetrator and victim (and rescuers) are free from hurt or shame – the legacy of the past – to carry on with their lives. Such true heart-to-heart connections between people require respect in our inner goodness -- the knowing that universal energies of love exist within each and every one of us.
    Something we can do on a regular basis to become more mindful and compassionate to ourselves and others is to meditate and/or pray every day. Even just a few minutes a day works wonders, and helps establish a much more relaxed, energized and compassionate "set point" (so the lows aren't as low as they used to be, and so we're quicker to notice the patterns and move out of that illusory fear-based state of mind.

  3. The Levels of Forgiveness
    This submission is an attempt to describe different levels of forgiveness and demonstrate a relationship between these levels and the level of awareness of the victim.
    It is my hope that the reader will learn how forgiveness itself can be a potent driver of the process of spiritual growth.
    Level 1 (The call for justice)
    At this level of awareness, the victim views him/herself as a separate entity from the abuser. The victim sees themselves as totally innocent and the abuser as totally guilty with regards to their relationship. The victim experiences the wound very deeply and fully self identifies as victim. There may be an experience of profound loss and deep emotional pain, which extends to mind, body and spirit.
    This wound (emotional trauma) if not integrated becomes as though permanently lodged in the psyche of the victim. This then could constitute a long term wound that if not resolved, ultimately incorporates itself into the D.N.A. (fabric) of that individual.
    Others may term this as a spiritual or soul wound and if so, it could have karmic consequences for that individual or their progeny. Hence the biblical reference "The sins of the fathers are visited onto the future generations", not only refers to the abuser but to the victim as well.
    The victim at this level requires some kind of justice, recognition, reparation in order to help integrate their feelings of loss surrounding the incident. Once the victim gets the recognition they feel they deserve they can then consider entering into their healing process.
    So at this level, the resolution is grounded in the victim getting some form of recognition of their wounding and even some form of reparation.
    Level 2 (I forgive you for my sake)
    At this level those who experience the victimization recognize that there is sometimes more to the story of life than meets the eye. Instead of looking at the incident strictly through the eyes of their victim hood, they begin to step back somewhat and try to gain an understanding of how their own consciousness impacted on how the experienced their feelings of victimization.
    They may reflect that it is not strictly what happened but how they took it that was a mitigating factor on how they view themselves and are impacted by the particular event. They may begin to see what role they play on how deeply they were wounded.
    From this viewpoint the victim may want to begin to let go of the incident for their own sake without necessarily demanding justice. They still recognize that they were innocent and the other party guilty, but they are willing to forgive it for their own sake. They are willing to start to let go because they recognize that they took part in the wounding through how they viewed the incident.
    This level represents a victim who is attempting to apply less judgment to life and more of an attitude of acceptance to the ups and downs which they recognize invariably to be part of the human condition.
    The victim is becoming aware that their feelings arise from their own psyche and that the trigger of those feeling was the event that cast them as victims.
    Knowing this, they can begin to release those feelings, without the absolute need of some form of recognition or justice.
    Level 3 (I forgive you for your sake)
    At this level the victim's viewpoint has again moved further away from simply identifying themselves as victims. At this point the victim is considering the abuser's consciousness. The key point at this level of awareness is the consideration that what the abuser did was a reflection of something within the abuser not the victim. The victim may realize that how they respond determines the degree of how victimized they feel.
    An analogy would be to differentiate between being offended when insulted by a person who is diagnosed with a severe mental illness as opposed to being offended by a supposed mentally healthy person.
    If one is walking through a psych ward and one is verbally attacked by a resident, one can right it off as just a mentally ill person expressing himself and not personalize the attack.
    When one realizes that anyone who would attempt to hurt another (considering karmic law) is acting from a place of sickness, then one less likely to "take it personally".
    One can simply look at attacks as expressions of other people's sicknesses. The more esoteric teachings define attacks as twisted cries for help.
    One can let go more easily and can view the incident as an expression of the abuser's illness rather than as a personal attack.
    Hence, I forgive you for your sake, you must be quite ill to have done this. I have no reason to be hurt by your action, it was not personal, just a reflection of your dis-ease.
    Level 4 (I forgive you for our sake)
    At this level, the victim realizes that the universe has operating principles, one of them broadly referred to as karma. They begin to consider that maybe what appeared to be victimization was actually a karmic balancing. They realize that letting go what happened may end the cycle.
    Even if the incident is not karmic the victim may want to simply let go so that they do not wish to have to play the abuser at some later date in order to balance things out cosmically speaking.
    The event may have occurred for other reasons related to the victim's consciousness.
    Perhaps the victim had agreed to experience this event dharmically (as a springboard to become an advocate) or maybe the event was the result of a subconscious victimization program (consider those individuals who move from one abusive relationship to the next)
    For whatever reason the victim is expressing a broader viewpoint from which to consider the incident. A viewpoint that aids in contextualizing the incident as something other than strictly an innocent victimization.
    Carrying this viewpoint would lessen the wounding experienced by the victim and should make integrating the wound an easier process than the victim who views their life experience at level 1 consciousness.
    Level 5 (I forgive you for God's sake)
    At this level, the victim's awareness is elevated. The victim may not even recognize that they were victims but that they were experiencing an event that others would likely view as an attack at the hands of another person or group.
    At this level, the victim processes situations very quickly at the level of their mind and applies their hearts immediately to the situation and quickly processes the event.
    They do not want to apply too much judgment to the various incidents that they experience but maintain their awareness in an elevated level of consciousness.
    “Bad things happen sometimes, I wish they didn't, that's life. I will decide my emotional response to the events of my life and I acknowledge that I co-create my life experience. Possibly this was an event that was orchestrated for my personal growth? Could characterize this level of awareness
    Level 6 (I forgive you for what never happened)
    This level of forgiveness is expressed in Buddhism and in teachings such as A Course in Miracles.
    In a sense it is the forgiveness of the concept of "self". At this viewpoint there are no victims or abusers. Individuals hold a non separate viewpoint of their existence. The see themselves as part of the one mind of humanity and deeply connected to God. This forgiveness is a "letting go" of judgment and a general allowing of life experience to flow.
    There is the acceptance that the world we live in is somewhat like a dream, and we are all characters in this dream. A dream that one day we will awake from when we are totally aware (enlightened).
    Others are simply viewed as mirrors of ourselves and all actions are forgivable.
    We maintain a high level of awareness at all times and attempt to see all people as holy. Even "bad" people are viewed as a reflection of some un owned aspect of our individual or collective conscious (ego)
    This seems to be the highest level of forgiveness one can attain.
    Life on earth provides a wide variety of experiences, they range from absolute joy to absolutely horrifying.
    That is the nature of the human condition. Overcoming these events is a major challenge and forgiveness has a significant role to play in that process. It is my hope that this submission helps you understand forgiveness and makes your life journey more joyful.

  4. Cynthia and Sue.your messages ring the fundamentals of our world.....even when everthing seems so wrong.......there is a rainbow....there are acts of mercy and grace....amazing,incredible grace!

  5. Thank you so much Rose. Was told a horrific story of violence and brutality this a.m and have been "asking" for answers. Your post got this story into perspective again for me.

  6. I hope that the people of America can use this illustration of forgiveness and realize that we are all truly One people- the polarities that are so painful right now must come to an end. I pray for the power of forgiveness to begin working right now to heal the wounds that we have self-inflicted upon ourselves since the day this country was founded. May peace descend upon all who call America and the World home.

  7. I come from Poland. My grandparents were kept in work-camps Dachau and Sachsenhausen during IInd World War. My grandpa had tatoo-ed arm with serial number on. They were full of pain, so they tgought they deserved to recieve houses left by Germans who were expelled from Szczecin, the town I live now ( before 2nd WW Szczecin belonged to Germans ) . So when I was young boy , some day few Germans arrived to visit their old house in Poland. They stopped their car by our house and I asked my Grandfather to come becouse I did not understand their language. The told my grandfather to keep the house clean becouse some day they will return. My grandpa was shocked and the only thing he was able to do was to show them the tatoo on his arm. I will never forget this scene. Germans stood on the street and my grandpa on the other side of iron fence showing them his arm. They were looking at each other and than Germans had left after few minutes . They have never came back again . My grandfather has shown them he has paid the house with his blood, humilitation and hurt during Dachau. I think it was a kind of forgivness they expierianced that time. Without tears on face, wihtout many words, but with a kind of understanding and justice.
    A lot of things changed since than. Now we are living together with Germans as neighbours in one European Union. My grandfather died before we joined EU. I have nothing against Germans. I know some Poles who buy houses in Germany and Germans are comming here for shopping . There is no hate anymore. We have paid them with our blood looong time ago.

  8. betty,
    You're welcome, and you bring up a key word, "perspective."
    Who is the "I" of such events, the observer? In my opinion, this is exactly where the Truth intersects science and spirituality. We are manifesting the good, the bad, and the ugly collectively through The Field, the Divine Matrix, which is the respecter of no person. Our collective subconsciousness is giving us exactly what we've intending into it...good and evil.
    That's the main reason why forgiveness matters. We need to purge the ideas of war, slavery, genocide, holocaust, trauma, abuse, all resentments...basically victim and oppressor/force/death...from our SUBconscious.
    Atonement comes ONE at a time!

  9. Dear Rose
    I was an Observer of the scene with iron fence. There is no need of iron fences anymore as we are aware of The Field. Forgivness is to be aware, to crush down "iron faces" of our minds.
    best regards to everyone

  10. Tom,
    "paid them with our blood"
    Words escape me...
    Grace... Light...
    Amazing!!! Your story brings the very awareness you speak of. Keep sharing, my friend!
    Many blessings

  11. Thanks Lynn,
    We do not really understand how important forgiveness is. I am a student of A Course in Miracles and that is what it is all about. I appreciated what KB said that in essence nothing has really happened to us. When we awaken from this dream through forgiveness we will fully realize that nothing "really" happened that needs forgiveness. It is quite an intriguing concept, but I have found it an amazing release from the past so that I can better live in the present. If you are looking for a way to view your life in a better light, I highly recommend the Course.

  12. thank you for these sharings about forgiveness;
    i have practised the forgiveness oho pono pono meditation for one year; and it gives heart miracles for you and the other persons
    if only one forgive (victim or perpetrator) with compassion, very good relationship come again within people who were blocked into conflicts;

  13. This message is for Brenda Rowe that we will be intending for on Sun.I had the same problem and spent 3 months and thousands of dollars on Dr's,pain medication and chiropractors and nothing helped.One day I was in so much pain and the thought came to try accupuncture so I went online and found one and got in within a week and after a short history I was pain free within 30 minutes and it never came back.Cost me $85.00.Please try accupuncture.

  14. Lynne,
    I wonder who, in the long run, carries the deeper pain....the perpetrator of the crime or the victim?
    Is it easier to forgive then to release?
    I’ve done a lot of things in my life which I deeply regret. I have also forgiven people who have deeply hurt me.
    There is a certain emotional and spiritual release in both situations. I have found that in either case it often is a one way situation where I decide to release or to forgive.
    The beauty of the story about the Russian soldier was that he was able to release and be forgiven at the same time. This must be a much more powerful experience than going through release or forgiveness as an individual on a path to personal development.
    The duality or forgiveness and release of guilt or pain is at the root of our human drama.
    How much literature, both modern and classical, has been devoted to this duality?
    It is a decision we all must make at some point in our lives...
    The ultimate question is after releasing or forgiving....can we ever truly forget?
    Write On!

  15. If anyone attempted to purchase A New Model of the Universe by Ouspensky on Amazon, I am afraid you may discover what looks like fraud in the inducement by the seller. The look inside shows the full contents but what is being sold is a small excerpt of the book. I first bought and read the book circa 1970, but the copy I just received, having paid $24.95 plus shipping is a tiny portion of the original.
    This is far from being a Holocaust situation, but I'm having trouble being truly forgiving about this swindle. I'm begging your forgiveness for this, and I understand from critical commenters to the Amazon Ouspensky page that there are copies of the whole book available elsewhere via Google. I'm personally offended by this swindle so pardon me while I eat crow for failing to freely forgive and turn the other cheek. Well, it's not THAT serious but Forgiveness fully and completely with honest sincerity is easier said than done even in small matters( the devil's in the details--said someone, Sartre maybe). My apologies for interrupting the flow of the fine comments you've all been penning. Pen on!

  16. Oh so simple, but oh so complicated.
    Forgiveness happens in an instant, but it sometimes takes a lifetime of pain, anger and confusion before we can let go and forgive. And it takes all parties to come to the realisation together to break the cycle. Most people still have an inherent need to be right and will defend their actions, right or wrong. We must all take responsibility and be accountable for ourselves, our words, our actions. We must 'be' and 'live' our own ideal, be authentic. Be a beacon of light in the darkness.
    It would be wonderful if the totality of humanity could have the flash of insight simultaneously to break the cycle! But I believe we must all evolve at our own pace. When a person realises that they are a spiritual being having a human experience they will spontaneously strive to minimise harm, tread lightly and develop compassion and tolerance. Forgiveness starts with the self, and then we may forgive others. But each develops at his/her own pace...the manifest world is a creation resting on duality , every 'thing' containing its opposite. The organising force of the universe will maintain homeostasis. We do well to remember that there is so much more to our existence than we can intellectually understand.

  17. The forgiveness in this case must be between more than the two political parties. The United States is confronted with an ugly divide between a very angry majority and a tiny, self-justifying plutocratic minority; democracy versus oligarchy. This is not a partisan exaggeration. Christ himself drove the money changers out of the temple. It would appear that the the nation must be rescued before these two sides can be induced to seek forgiveness from each other.

  18. This is one of the loveliest blog posts yet. I love that phrase, "cascade of denial." Thanks heartily.

  19. The divide in this country is great and forgiveness is key but, where do we begin? How much of the divide goes back to our slavery days being brought to the surface by the election of a Black president? Our pain is deep and our forgiveness must touch so many generations back. In the case of the Germans we're talking just one or two generations back. In the case of slavery, we need to go back many generations, and, so few White Americans today acknowledge any acceptance of their ancestor's guilt. Reverse racism is considered balance by many. How do we heal as a county?

  20. This is the truth, reconciliation and forgiveness sets you free.
    Indeed, Bishop Tutu brought this into practice. I also had the thought: all the wrongs that have been done during the election time in the US have to be cleared in forgiveness before the next fase in politics goes on with the too familiar lies and hurts. Just one coragious man or woman has to stand up and make a beginning.

  21. I have a dream
    and i done my dream
    so now i make my new dream happend
    hope all wish if you dont whish,it dont happend

  22. Some tremendous posts here. I am reminded of Family Constellations Therapy, which got started in Germany and is (as far as I know) hugely popular. There is a lot of work being done there with the aftermath of the Holocaust and the way our ancestors and families are all tied together and all affecting us, all the time.
    I had a similar thought to Linda Hamilton's regarding Brenda's neck issue. I treat this kind of stuff all the time in my acupuncture practice. It is usually not difficult to get a great deal of improvement, or even a complete cure, with needles, energy work, and gentle manipulation. It's not clear from Brenda's note what all she has tried for her pain. She must have been to PT, at least. Was there any improvement? Did she follow through with it? Has she worked on exercises to correct that problem with core strength, for example? Has she seen a chiropractor or osteopath? (MDs typically are not trained well for dealing with this sort of condition, except by surgery.) Worked on her emotional issues from the inside? Tried "intention therapies" such as EFT herself? Is she without money for treatment, perhaps?
    While I am more than happy to help whenever possible, with the overwhelming number of intractable problems in the world, it seems to me that the group's energy would be better spent on problems that do not seem to have a "regular" physical-world solution, rather than things that might be easily solved with simple measures.
    At any rate, I hope this lady finds effective help.
    Best wishes to all.
    Elene Gusch, DOM
    Doctor of Oriental Medicine

  23. It has been the most valuable blog I've read in a long time. Thank you all for your wise words especially to KB. ~Namaste.

  24. Lynne, thank you so much for this post on this very important weekend for peace and forgiveness. When we remember who we are and what agreements we made before birth (in my opinion), it is much easier to forgive; because we learn to see our life as a perfect learning ground for the lessons we signed up for before coming here. If you all haven't read Neale Donald Walsch's short tale, the Little Soul and the Sun, please do so!! It will bring tears to your eyes and I promise you will never see your nemesis the same way again!!

  25. A noted Dzogchen teacher named Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche is quoted as saying, "Self-existing wakefulness is present within the mindstream of all sentient beings since primordial time." Waking up to this awake presence might be linked to lucid dreaming. Forgiveness could be a gentle process.

  26. Lynne and All,
    I would like to share this from The Infinite Way by Joel Goldsmith....
    "Why do advanced Souls, even practitioners and teachers, still experience ills and other problems? Whatever degree of mortal or material consciousness that still remains in them is expressing itself. There is no unexpressed consciousness, and even a tiny bit of human consciousness remining will express itself in terms of human good or evil.
    This is the law.
    These two remain side by side until, in proportion as spiritual consciousness unfolds, more and more of material sense is uprooted."
    With forgiveness the tree of the knowledge of good and evil eventually disappears and is forgotten.
    Be brave....LOVE!
    Rose Garman
    Springfield, IL

  27. punch in CORE VALUES EXEMPLARY into google search--
    and read the section about " compassion "

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