Forgiveness Tai Chi

Toy, Miniature, and Standard Poodles. My rant was a little smaller than the dog on the left.

I had a toy rant about forgiveness the other day. You may wonder, “Is it possible to have a rant — of any size (toy, miniature, or standard) — about forgiveness and be taken seriously?” I’ll make my case, and then you can decide for yourselves.

My nephew-in-law’s Facebook page exploded into a debate Tuesday after he posted a comment, “4 out of 5 dogs agree, Michael Vick’s performance [on Monday Night Football] doesn’t make him any less of a horrid human being.”

A relatively respectful (by Internet standards) argument unfolded beneath his comment, between several people who said they could never forgive Michael Vick for what he did to his dogs, and a vegetarian who essentially said that anyone who eats mass-produced meat products is participating in a factory farming system that is far worse, in scope and in practice, than anything Michael Vick did.

Back and forth it went, and I read along without commenting until one too many people said something to the effect of, “I can forgive a factory farmer because he’s contributing to our food supply, but I can never forgive Michael Vick because he was torturing his dogs for sport.”

I think it was the friction of having the words “can” and “forgive” that sparked my rant and made it burst into a toy flame. Most everyone ignored me, probably because I never really indicated which side I was on.

I am on a side, though. I am on the side of understanding that forgiveness is complicated and difficult. More often than not, whenever I have forgiven people, it’s NOT because I got to some point where it was comfortable to do so, some point where I thought, “Okay, I can do this.”

What I know about forgiveness is that it occurs most often when people need a way out of no way. The conditions that bring about forgiveness, in my experience, are when you reach a point where a future without forgiveness is unimaginable, and the present without forgiveness is unbearable.

My comment in the Facebook thread was: “Forgiveness isn’t supposed to be easy, cheap, or something you do because you CAN. Forgiveness involves stretching yourself into incredibly uncomfortable – even unfathomable – positions, and then staying there. People don’t earn our forgiveness. Forgiveness is something we decide to Give FOR people, whether they deserve it or not.”

I bet each of us has at least one person that we just can’t seem to forgive. Maybe we’ve even tried, but we just couldn’t make it out of the pit of unforgiveness. I know I have at least one person I haven’t forgiven. I suspect there are more than just the one, but my particular unforgiven person looms so large and casts such a huge shadow that I can’t actually see any of the other people I haven’t forgiven. They are eclipsed by this one, singular, unforgiven person.

As I typed out my four sentence toy rant on forgiveness yesterday, to a bunch of people I don’t know (except for my nephew-in-law), my unforgiven person leaped to the front of my mind. The massive inland property that this person takes up in my life was suddenly beachfront real estate. In that moment, it became really clear to me what I have to do to forgive this person: I have to be willing to give up carrying around the loss of my relationship with this person, to stop wearing it like some sort of Supersized Emotional Purple Heart Medal of Valor Blindfold.

The refusal to forgive creates a kind of blindness, doesn’t it? By focusing so relentlessly and exclusively on the damage done to me, I’m blinded to the ongoing corrosion and erosion that characterize unforgiveness. I also rob myself of any vision of a future that only forgiveness can offer. Forgiveness doesn’t guarantee that I’ll have a better future with my currently unforgiven person. But at the very least, forgiveness will give me a future that’s roomier, with better views, more counter space, and maybe even a window seat.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I spent this past Saturday at a “Beijing Circles” workshop. At the workshop, we watched a video by a woman named Margaret Wheatley. She does a lot of leadership training around the world. In the video, she had this whole riff on “following the energy of Yes!”

She talked about how change happens when people start taking action instead of thinking about taking action and wondering how. We often get immobilized because an issue seems so big that we don’t know where to start. To that, Wheatley says, “Start anywhere, with a Yes!, and follow the energy of Yes! everywhere. We learn what works by doing the work.” Follow the energy of Yes! Start anywhere. Follow it everywhere. Learn what works by doing the work. When I went back and read my workshop notes yesterday, they seemed like instructions.

So. It is with no small amount of bewilderment that I am saying “Yes” to beginning the work of forgiving my unforgiven person. All right, it’s probably more of a “Sure. Okay, I’m in.” Maybe I’ll get to “Yes!” if I give an exotic and goofy Tai Chi posture name to whatever unfathomably uncomfortable position I’ll have to assume to pull this off. I know, how about Repulse Broken Heart Blindfold in Verdant Valley Of Laughing Monkey?!

If you hear sounds of discomfort, it’s just me working on my new posture.


9 responses to “Forgiveness Tai Chi

  1. Ah, but what of the repentance required on the part of the perpetrator in order truly to forgive? I believe there is a qualitative difference between release and forgiveness. We can release, and just not care, but truly to forgive seems to me relational.

    I could be wrong (I sometimes am!), but I know I can choose to release the two truly evil people who have been unfortunately close in my life so that they aren’t consuming me, but forgiveness? I don’t think so. If, however, you find the key, let me know, because I am not adverse to uncomfortable postures ;-)

  2. I believe we can come to a place where forgiveness becomes a way of life. that doesn’t mean we won’t ever be hurt or angry or feel betrayed or wounded, but it means that I recognize that forgiveness is freedom. When I think of a person I don’t want to forgive–and it is choice–then if I refuse to do so I give them space in me that is painful. Since I want to be able to breathe deeply, to rejoice in being alive, to love waking up each morning to a brand new day, I don’t want that space occupied with the unforgiveness that makes breathing shallow, waking up to the hurtful memory unpleasant and finding my day clouded. The person I forgive may never change, may be unaware that I’ve let the hurt go, but I make my choice to live free of the hurt. I love breathing deeply. When I was struggling mightily with an issue that required letting go and forgiving, I seldom felt the incredible joy that forgiveness brought. Forgiveness offers deep breathing into deep joy. I don’t think release brings this. There’s a shadow in unforgiveness. If the person doesn’t repent, that’s their issue. Forgiveness is my choice.. I forgive for myself. Jill Bolte Taylor says that we store every thing that’s ever happened to us in our left brain. Forgiveness is a right brain activity. It frees me to use what wounded me in creative ways, to understand that I, too,have wounded others–accidentally and by choice–and therefore I take what has wounded me, learn from it, and use it. This is part of the freedom of forgiveness. What the one who wounded me does is their responsibility.
    My freedom depends on my ability to forgive.

    • Hi Barbara (and Joy),

      I do so miss you all…

      Anyway, if you are willing, I would love to continue this “discussion” with you off-line because I cannot wrap my mind around it, and I know you did not come to this place cheaply or easily–Joy has my email address.


  3. Thanks for the subject, Joy. Good to look at it and find out where I am now.

    Most of the hurts I’ve experienced don’t qualify for the big word, “forgive.” Life happens. I move on, sometimes wiser, mostly not. But the posture image is a good one for those hurts that have stayed in my way eating up space. After I have been able to look hard at what hurt and make a conscious choice to let it go, I open my fist and stumble in time upon the open space and breathe better. The space does not fill up again, so far.

  4. Like so many things, this one reminds me of Theodore Roethke. Read “I wake to sleep,” in which he repeats the phrase, “I learn by going where I have to go.” I think it’s as close as he gets to following the energy of yes. I’ve always loved that the emphasis is ambiguous: learn by [going where I have to go] or learn, by going, [where I have to go]. We either learn by following some guidelines about our forward trajectory or we go forward and learn by that very motion. Either way, it’s worked for me as a way of thinking about breaking inertia in my life, and unforgiveness is all about inertia. Unforgiveness casts only as large a shadow as we allow, and,while forgiving may not dispel the shadow entirely, it can recast it as a big white fluffy cloud that enhances rather than obscuring the horizon. Now, about that old “forgiving and forgetting” thing…maybe the one, but no way, no how the other.

  5. Forgiveness was very hard for me to do for someone I thought I hated. Then I realized, with some help from your mom and others, that it was taking up too much space in me, it was taking up too much of my energy and it was hurting my mind and spirit. I decided to let go of it. I did not have to twist my body into knots to do it. I simply released it. I am so glad that I did because that was when I began to heal from old hurts. That was when I started on my journey towards freedom.

  6. These are truths along the lines of “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” (Mr. Google says that’s Malachy McCourt, but it must be older than that…)
    I have found it, nonetheless, hard to turn off some anger and resentment just because (and even when) I know I’d feel better if I did. I want something that feels like justice, even when it’s going to be dry and bitter as rawhide when I get it.
    It mostly does get better–one thing I’m enjoying about getting older.

  7. Oh man, I so needed to see this. Thank you Joy, Barb, Marlene, and Carolyn. I’ll keep your wisdom in my heart as I move through this day and on into Thanksgiving next week. Know that you’ve helped me immeasurably and probably other readers as well.

  8. I have read this post now a couple of times. You have tackled a subject whith which many of us struggle. I know I do! When you wrote, ” Forgiveness is something we decide to Give FOR people, whether they deserve it or not” I was struck by how connected grace is to forgiveness. I had simply never made that connection before. Thanks for the added insight!

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