It is Yogic to Forgive

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

Gandhi

This past month, I have been working on forgiveness, which yoga philosophy embraces. Yet forgiveness is hard work, so much so that we sometimes carry a grudge for a long long time. Yet, we ourselves are most hurt by a failure to forgive.

In the wonderful book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path, meditation teacher Jack Kornfield describes a story in which soldiers rescue a man who was held in captivity during a war for decades by war criminals. The rescuers asked him “have you forgiven your captors?” and he said “no, never.” The rescuers then said to him “so they still have you imprisoned then.” Nelson Mandela said the same thing when, after his release from prison, Bill Clinton asked Mandela if he hated his captors. Mandela said ‘”I felt hatred and fear but I said to myself, if you hate them when you get in that car, you will still be their prisoner. I wanted to be free so I let it go.”

Family situations are often the last ones we forgive. How many times have you heard people blame troublesome attributes of their adult self on their parents? Kornfield describes another situation in which a mindfulness teacher in an Indian ashram recalls his stepfather harshness growing up. The teacher became aware that his stepfather’s death was imminent and thankfully realized this about his stepfather:

I realized that for all these years, he had tried to love me, but because of his own harsh father he could never let his feelings show; he was too afraid. In his own awkward way he had raised me as his boy. And in my own awkward way I forgave him. I went back to visit him. So much in my own life lightened up after that. Thank God for forgiveness.

Some acts may be so awful that they do not seem to deserve our forgiveness, but recall that the one hurt by the failure to forgive is not the enemy, it is the self. It is us who is hurt, drinking poison and hoping our nemesis will die. Only we are hurt. Consider this last story and I think you’ll see what I mean.