I’ve thought a lot about forgiveness since my husband left me last year. It wasn’t the fact that he went. It was the manner in which it was done. I felt as if my soul was being stamped on with concrete boots.
To begin with I was in such a state of shock that it was all I could do to survive. It’s only recently, as the first anniversary of him leaving passes by, that I have begun to feel normal again (whatever normal is, by the way). But after any profound grief and loss, life cannot be and will never be the same again.
My attitude to life has certainly changed, and continues to do so, as I face up to what the experience has taught me.
The first lesson I learnt was that, even though I was in bits, this crisis was not going to kill me. Life continued regardless. The second was how amazingly supportive my friends were, and still are. It was as if I needed this experience to deepen my relationships and to find out what friendship really means. If that was the only gift I gained, I would have been very happy.
But, it wasn’t.
The pain I felt ripped open something deep inside. At times I was so raw I felt I was walking on the very edge of life and I became hyper-sensitive to an energy or presence greater than me.
I felt this energy was holding me in a kind of metaphysical cradle, which manifested in strange ways, such as being led to buy the right house in a rush, being offered a job out of the blue that gave a structure to the chaos I was going through, and meeting someone who ran silent retreats, and had one room left just when I needed a sanctuary.
These coincidences, or synchronicities, had a magical quality to them, and this made me want to learn more about the mysteries of life. I began to voraciously read spiritual and religious books about the ordeals of the human spirit and what Thomas Moore, a Jungian therapist and author of Care for the Soul, describes as ‘the dark night of the soul.’
Thomas Moore believes that then we are confronted by loss and grief and are thrown into the dark night of the soul, it is an opportunity for us to meet who we really are and to find healing and meaning in our lives.
As I am now sixty-one, I found this particularly inspiring. I feel that life is getting very short these days, and, no matter what happens to me, I want to make the most of the time I have left.
All the religious and spiritual teachings I read had the same message: to find peace you need to find forgiveness for yourself and others.
That’s when I fell flat on my face. It’s all very well reading about forgiving those who have hurt you, even to intellectualise about it. But to actually feel it and mean it? When I think of what happened during my divorce I can feel my righteous indignation brace its shoulders and jut out its jaw.
Jesus said, ‘Physician, heal thyself’, meaning that only when you take responsibility for your own healing can you begin to help others in any depth.
I think that’s the same with forgiveness.
Right now I am conscious that I need to forgive myself for the numerous mistakes and hurts I have caused other people while I stomped along my path with my own pair of concrete boots.
But I particularly like how Jack Kornfield, a renowned Buddhist teacher and author of A Path With Heart, says that forgiveness does not justify or condone harmful actions. Nor does forgiveness mean you have to seek out or speak to those who cause you harm. In fact, you may choose never to see that person or people again.
Rather, he believes forgiveness is an easing of the heart. It’s the acknowledgement he says, that ‘no matter how strongly you may condemn and have suffered from evil deeds of another, you will not put another human being out of your heart. We have all been harmed, just as we have all at times, harmed ourselves and others.’
It dawned on me while reading this that forgiveness is not an act. It’s a process. So, I’ve come to realise that engaging with forgiveness is a journey within the journey of life itself. As with the potential for any growth, you can only step forward when you are truly ready.
‘You’ll know when you’re ready,’ says Lewis Swedes, author of Forgive and Forget, ‘because when you recall those who have hurt you, you can feel the power to wish them well.’
I am heartened by that.