Forgiveness: The Sequel

Got a call from a friend the other day who wanted to talk some more about my last blog on forgiveness. During our first conversation, she’d asked if I was sure there was a correlation between the forgiveness work I’d done and some promising and unexpected developments relating to my financial situation.

Well, no, I have no proof of a cause-and-effect relationship. It could be coincidental, since one involved a chance meeting at an art opening, another an off-hand remark to an editor who is willing to pay more than I thought, and another involved a chance email I sent to people in Boston that could prove very fruitful.

But my friend was not persuaded. Not, I think, because she doubted the wisdom of forgiveness so much as she was reluctant to let go of her grudge. One of the first things she said to me was, "Do you have to talk to the person you’re forgiving?"

No. None of the people on my list were told they were being forgiven. In fact, I still can’t say with any certitude that I truly understand how forgiveness works. I find it hard to believe that simply by saying I forgive so-and-so, it actually happens. It seems like there ought to be some deep feeling required.

And yet, as I wrote in the previous blog, something was happening, because it was evident that toxins in my body were being released.

My guess is that forgiveness is cumulative. The more I forgive a person, my attitude toward the person shifts, however grudgingly.  The facts don’t change, but the animosity, the charge I once felt toward that person diminishes. A softening takes place, and in time even kindness and compassion.

John Strickland, the minister at Atlanta Unity, referred to this when he spoke that Sunday morning about forgiveness. The forgiveness is for you, he said, "but it’s also for the other person."

Example: About a year ago, I spent a week in the presence of a person – hereafter to be known as OP for Offending Party – who tends to be obnoxious and even abusive. Since avoiding him was not an option, my normal reaction would be to watch without comment, marveling that someone could be such shmuck and so totally unaware of it.

But this time I tried something different. Cued by a passage I came across in my spiritual study, I realized that while I couldn’t control OP’s behavior, I could control my reaction to his behavior. And I came up with a two-part plan.

First, whenever I was in his presence, I called on what the 12-step folk call Higher Power to protect me from all disturbances. (Being a deeply original thinker, I called that Higher Power "God.")

Second, rather than indulging myself in judgment or critical thoughts, I would gaze at OP and repeat silently that only God was in action in his life, too.

The result was nothing less than amazing. OP was up to his usual antics, but they didn’t bother me nearly as much as they had in the past. Indeed, I found the situation almost laughable. Even more remarkable, after a few days OP became unsure of himself and so insecure as to seem like a frightened teenager.

Again, I have no proof that my new attitude caused him to change, but there is no question that the dynamic was different. Rather than fueling his negative behavior with my own negativity, I invoked the highest and best in both of us, a form of compassion and forgiveness.

In "Power vs. Force," David Hawkins writes that decades of muscle testing have proven that love, compassion and forgiveness are empowering. "If you hold forgiveness in mind," he writes on page 115, "your arm will be very strong…. Revenge, judgmentalism, and condemnation, on the other hand, inevitably make you go weak."

He also explains the power of love, compassion and forgiveness, which he calls "powerful attractors."

"Individuals of great power throughout human history," he writes, "have been those who totally aligned themselves with powerful attractors. Again and again they have stated that the power they manifested was not of themselves. Each has attributed the source of the power to something greater than himself."

I don’t know whether my friend bought my explanation, or whether she’s willing to give up self-righteousness and try forgiveness. I do know that I’ve got more work of my own to do. Delta Airlines somehow managed to lose my suitcase when I returned from an acting job last weekend.

I’ve got scores of baggage handlers in Atlanta and Memphis to forgive.

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