Healing the Wounds of the Heart—an excerpt
By Olivier Clerc
Obstacle 3: Forgiveness Would Mainly Be a Gift to the Other
Could believing that be an obstacle? For many people, yes.
Because if I believe that granting forgiveness to someone who hurt me, and for whom I still hold a grudge, is a gift to that person, an inner voice will immediately arise to say, “NO, no way! I’m not making him or her that gift! I was hurt, I suffered a lot, so don’t count on me to grant forgiveness.” In thinking that way, I’m convinced I’m punishing the other by refusing forgiveness. I believe it’s that person who will suffer now. Is this a fair way to see things? Actually, not really. In fact, not at all.
If I am physically attacked and wounded, not taking care of myself will make me suffer first. If the other person has a change of mind, that person might also be affected. But they may also not care less, or may never know about it. In the same way, if my heart was hurt, if I suffered things that deeply affected me in my emotional integrity (not the physical one), refusing to heal—which means refusing to grant forgiveness since forgiveness is described here as healing the wounds of the heart—is mainly going to make me suffer. I’m the one who will go on poisoning myself with hatred, resentment, and the desire for revenge. I’m the one who will spend months, years, maybe decades, with open and painful wounds in my emotional body. I’m the one who will have a wounded heart, emotional cysts, and an emotional handicap.
Will the person who hurt me suffer from my refusal to grant forgiveness? Not sure. It varies a lot from one person to another. While some would like to be forgiven their wrongs one day, others really don’t care. However, it’s true that from a spiritual point of view, my hatred—which is a negative energy though an invisible one—will do no good to the person to whom I send it. It’s a kind of psychological attack that may sometimes have tangible effects. Except that by going through me first before reaching its goal, I would be the one to have to pay the most for it.
Secondly, it will inevitably have an effect on all of my other relationships, including those I am closest to, who would also, indirectly, pay the highest price. Because yes, the human heart is one, and if it exudes hatred on one side, it cannot box itself off and express pure and unstained love on the other side.
Thirdly, all the negative energy I express—just like everything I sow with my thoughts, my intentions and my feelings—is going to attract similar energies to me, therefore negative ones too, and I risk locking myself into an infernal vicious circle.
Do I really want that? No, obviously not. And most of us fall into that trap out of sheer ignorance of its mechanics and consequences.
FORGIVENESS IS SOMETHING WE DO FOR OURSELVES
The best way to avoid this obstacle is precisely to be aware of the fact that forgiveness is first and foremost something we do for ourselves! We forgive to free ourselves from the poison of hatred, to heal our own wounds, to cure our own heart. We forgive in order not to remain crippled in our heart and unable to love again fully, even those who are closest.
What’s difficult here lies in the fact that resentment is a link. In French, there is in fact the expression, Je t’en veux—unknown in other languages—that I find very expressive. It literally means I use my will on you. It means I have a hold on you through a link of resentment and hatred. I don’t want to let you go because of what you’ve done to me. If I ever for-gave you, I’d relinquish this link, I’d free you . . . No way! So I continue to hold it against you, and the link of resentment I cultivate chains me to you, therefore limits me. To get rid of this link, to be able heal oneself, it’s necessary to make the distinction between two levels, two dimensions within us that we tend to confuse and mix up: our heart and our mind.
As we’ll go deeper into this matter later, implementing forgiveness (healing our heart) does not mean becoming an idiot intellectually and making stupid decisions. I can forgive... and bring a legal charge against someone. “I forgive everything . . . but I leave nothing out!” said one of my spiritual mentors. “I forgive everything” means “I refuse to poison myself with the venom of hatred, so I do what’s necessary to heal my heart.” And “leaving nothing out” means “I also don’t lack judgement and common sense. I know that what you’ve done is unacceptable. So, without hatred, I do what is needed so that you’re confronted with the consequences of your actions.”
I’ll go deeper into this main subject later. What’s important for you to understand, while tackling this specific obstacle, is that you can forgive, you can make this gift to yourself, grant yourself the healing of your emotional wounds, without necessarily freeing the others—those who hurt you—from the legal consequences of their actions. Yes, you free them from your hatred, since you’re the first one to get something out of it. But you don’t necessarily give the others a blank check that would shield them from all responsibility. So, you must make the difference between two important things to protect yourself from this obstacle:
• a first difference between how we act towards ourselves, and towards the others: what do I plan to do for myself, to heal myself, to recover my integrity? And what will I do towards the person who did me wrong? These are two very different things, that you must deal with separately, making the distinction between them. The choice is not between “I suffer to make the other suffer” or “I heal, but in the process I free the other.” There is a third way to deal with this: “I heal, I take care of myself . . . but I keep a free hand on acting towards the other as required by the wrong committed.”
• a second difference between what happens in my heart, and in my mind: instead of the two working together (either negatively “I don’t forget and I condemn”, or positively “I forgive and accept”), I develop their respective autonomy: my heart forgives, heals, and recovers its integrity and flow, while my mind keeps all its ability to judge and makes the fair decisions that are required to protect my heart, and puts the people concerned in front of their responsibility. We shall see that this is the condition for the inner couple “heart/mind” to take their full space instead of alternatively submitting one to the other while our decisions err one way or the other.
Once this third obstacle is put aside, the word forgiveness should automatically mean something that does you good! The centre of gravity of this word would stop being on the same level as the other person, what that person says or does, what that person deserves or not, to reposition it on ourself: how do I want to live? What state do I want to be in? How can I heal? Once I’ve healed myself, the decisions I make concerning the others are not dictated by my hatred or resentment anymore: they can therefore be more objective and fairer, because they come from a space within me that has calmed down.
Bear this in mind: when you forgive, you are first and foremost freeing yourself. The opposite, holding a grudge, is a dangerous form of emotional constipation. Would forgiveness be an emotional laxative? Here is an unexpected metaphor, though very significant, to add to the others!
Olivier Clerc is a writer, translator, editorial consultant, and workshop leader. He is the founder of the international program Circles of Forgiveness, based on his life-changing experiences in Mexico with don Miguel Ruiz. With his wife, he created a yearly conference on forgiveness and founded the Association Pardon International (API). The author of “The Gift of Forgiveness,” lives in Cluny, France. https://www.innertraditions.com/books/healing-the-wounds-of-the-heart