The Exquisite, Frustrating Simplicity of Forgiveness

forgiveness-Sandy AtheyI was sitting at breakfast with my love checking in. We’d been through a bit of a rough patch. She was making a bid for connection. I shared that I was protecting my heart. I was still in a bit of shock. Feeling hurt. I could feel pressure around my heart. But I could also feel that the pressure could be and wanted to be released.

I had the painful realization that I could press the reset button at any moment, wipe the hard drive clean, and simply and purely decide to open my heart to the presence of unconditional love. Painful because my rational, egoic brain wants it to be more difficult. I want to play the it’s unfair, it’s unjust, it’s your fault card. And you must do something to regain my trust.

Implicit in playing this card is a habit of victimhood. I say “habit” because my habitual set of thoughts, feelings, and actions, in response to a perceived slight, were formed early in life. It’s good to know one’s habitual default setting. We all do our best at surviving when we perceive that our lives are in some way under threat. We can be compassionate with ourselves, without indulging our habits. And it’s good to know that it’s a habit that rarely belongs to the present moment.

My style: you hurt me; I don’t deserve it; it’s unfair; I don’t understand; I can’t live with your rejection of me, your not seeing me,  fuck you. Enter willpower; I deny you access to my heart in the attempt to defend my own—two birds with one stone; heart closes; pretend my heart isn’t closed; can’t live with you, can’t live without you; double-bind locked in; life goes on; it looks normal but it’s not; I’m living as a human with a closed heart. Nobody notices because most humans live this way.

So, my style is the offspring of my adapted child, one of my intricate compensation patterns. As I’ve said, it was the best I could come up with at the time. But that was then, and when I enact it as an adult, it’s foolish and destructive.

Enter forgiveness: but not forgiveness as reaching a conclusion that you actually did something to hurt me. I hurt pretty easily it turns out, and a lot of what hurts me is caused not by the facts, not by what you’ve actually done, not by what’s actually been said or not said, but my interpretation of the facts—my Big Pathetic Story. (Again, it wasn’t pathetic when I created it. It was a legitimate way of holding my experience. Actually, it’s pretty ingenious. So is yours I bet.)

Caveat: there are some times when one or the other has clearly acted like a dork for which a heartfelt “I’m sorry” is the appropriate medicine. Forgiveness then is simply accepting the apology and moving on. But as soon as I write these words, I want to say, “I mean actually moving on”. Not pretending to move on, but leaving a little protective film over your heart. Not secretly allowing the Big Pathetic Story to be running in the background. (You know the difference because you’ll feel your heart warm if you actually released the old story).

The thing about this Big Story is that it’s actively creating my reality. It’s not just passively waiting to be triggered (although it is also always waiting in the wings to ambush the proceedings). It’s always on a mission. It goes in search of data to support The Habit. It’s quick to turn any gesture, word, into data that legitimizes the Story. The ego loves this shit, loves to sink into the story of how I’m Okay and You Are Not Okay. But it’s crap.

Forgiveness, in my understanding, is primarily releasing ourselves from whatever is binding us to the past. It’s a choice to release Forgivemyself from all the habitual ways of being that serve to keep me re-enacting the past.When we’re re-enacting the past we’re not evolving, we’re not creating new futures. It’s a choice to experience the hurt cleanly, without interpretation, share your hurt with your partner, and then move one, minus the story.

It doesn’t matter if I’ve actually been slighted. It doesn’t really matter if you are willing to tell me that you are sorry. You may be, but we both may realize that when our soul paths converged, we brought with us so much complexity that it’s damned near impossible to get to some kind of objective truth.

(That “truth” is that what we are working out, yes, belongs to our respective personal histories, and the trauma from which we are seeking liberation, but…we’re probably also working out the unresolved trauma from the energetic fields of our ancestors, and certainly in the case of heterosexual relationships, we are working out the trauma of gender socialization, and the roles and rules that restrict our freedom and our love. So, we can give up trying to “get to the bottom” of who is in the wrong. Or not. But if that is your game, don’t expect you or the the relationship to evolve. This can be a show-stopper for life.) Terrance Real, a marriage therapist put it pithily: “You can either be right or married.”

Look at it this way, the universe is exquisitely set up to bring up before our eyes and our heart all the crap that is keeping us from being free and fully alive. We can be grateful when our Big Story and the Great Habit rears its pathetic head once again, because obviously there’s something that needs to be healed.  Take what there is to learn from the occasion that brought it up again, and then forgive, as in release yourself from it. It’s about the only way to keep the heart open. It’s the only way for relational and emotional intelligence to evolve.


1. What’s your style, or your Big Habit, when you are hurt?

2. Ever had the awareness that you could just press the restart button at any moment? What keeps you from doing so?

3. How committed are you to living with an open heart?


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