The Power of Forgiveness (Especially When It Feels Impossible)

When someone slights you, throws a cheap shot your way, it can be hard to forgive. When you do something you aren’t proud of, something you know you shouldn’t have done, it can be hard to forgive, too. 

In the world, we walk around with all this harbored guilt, shame, and pain that we bury and bury. It isn’t until someone hits “our stuff” (or as Eckhart Tolle might call it “our pain body”) that we even realize we are harboring anything. 

Any grudge I’ve ever held has everything to do with me and nothing to do with the other person. 

Take for example, growing up I had soccer coaches that I didn’t “like”—who benched me for stupid reasons, overlooked my skill, and talked down at me. For a long time, I blamed them (really just one dude) for destroying my love of the game, for pushing me to the point of quitting.

The truth that I have a difficult time admitting is that my quitting the sport had little if anything to do with him, or what he said and did, and everything to do with the fact that he had reinforced a belief I already had about myself. A belief that I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t compete at the highest levels. 

The people in our lives that we feel the need to blame for our failures, mishaps, and problems are there to teach us things that we couldn’t otherwise learn. This “bad” coach taught me just as much about life and about myself as all the “good” ones (who believed in me) combined.

Primarily, he taught me about the nature of forgiveness. 

The ability to forgive is one of the highest virtues humans can practice because it is evidence of our capacity for higher consciousness, for the higher nature that’s embedded within us. 

By definition, it is void of ego entirely. It is a choice to see the world as far grayer than we want to and to relinquish desire to keep replaying a story of why things haven’t turned out right. 

True forgiveness cannot come from a place of fear. It comes from a place of love, from knowing that no one else knows what on earth they are doing here either. It comes from understanding the human condition, and better yet, understanding your own condition and your role in all that’s unfolding.

We’ve all heard it said that forgiveness isn’t so much for the other person as it is for you. That’s patently true—this old coach of mine doesn’t give a crap if I forgive him or not. I’m the one who’s mind has been shackled by remnants of anger and frustration.

But it’s not just for the freeness we feel in setting a burden free that we are rewarded for forgiveness.

The real power that comes from forgiving (both the largest and smallest of slights) is the moment of insight we get when we let go—the moment we realize how much responsibility we hold over our experience in life. 

Sure, that coach said and did some things he shouldn’t have. But the reality is, I’m the one who let all that affect me. I let someone else determine whether or not I should continue pursuing a dream; I let someone else push me into a place of fear.

And thus, forgiveness for him, by extension, is also forgiveness of self. It’s recognizing the role I played in burrowing in, in quitting, and choosing to own that. To see that the way my life has turned out has almost nothing to do with what other people have said or done, and everything to do with how I’ve responded to those things. It’s to see the people in my life (and what they say and do) as my greatest teachers.

It is about taking back control, stepping into love, and seeing the world for what it is: a complicated mess.

Forgiveness a spiritual quality that’s hard to attain, but I cannot think of a more worthwhile pursuit.

Kate Ward