Marc Oromaner believes that the strongest men are those who have the strength to forgive someone who did them wrong.
The first time I was given advice about the importance of forgiveness was at the most unlikely of places: an advertising school I was attending in Atlanta. The school had brought in speaker Joey Reiman—a very successful advertising executive who ran his own agency. Almost immediately, I could tell this man had a lot of wisdom, but it was towards the end of his presentation when something he said really resonated with me.
He asked how many of us had someone in our life—from our past or present—that still made us angry sometimes. Nearly everyone had a hand raised. Joey then shouted, “Evict them! They are living in your mind rent free!” It gave me chills. I’d thought about all the people, some from years and years before, that still made me bitter. Joey was right! Why was I still holding onto these negative emotions? Surely, they weren’t thinking about me!
Years later, I saw T. Harv Ecker, author of Secrets of The Millionaire Mind speak in New York. He said something similar to Reiman’s quote, which resonated just as deeply: “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.” Wow, such a simple message and yet, so true and impactful! Taking both messages to heart, combined with what I had learned from various spiritual teachings and the myths in the media, I decided then and there to forgive anyone who I ever felt had done me wrong. At that moment, it all clicked: You can’t control the actions of others, but you can decide whether you suffer for them. I chose to no longer suffer.
Since then, I’ve become even more conscious of the power of forgiveness. One thing that makes it easier for me is my belief that we are all connected. When I workout, do my muscles get angry at my brain for making them stress and strain? Similarly, perhaps a reason others cause us pain or sorrow to begin with is to give us an opportunity to grow. Maybe all the seemingly negative experiences we go through in life, no matter how horrendous, allow us to step up and make some good come out of them.
Whenever I experience something or someone which causes me pain or anger, I do my best to stop and think about the bigger picture: “What is the possible opportunity or lesson here?” Even when I hear devastating stories that have happened to others or in the news, I still think about the possible blessings. I don’t mean to belittle the anguish and devastation that may come out of these situations, and I think everyone has a right to feel angry or depressed about whatever travesty they may have undergone. The issue, however, is when you hold onto the pain and let it control your thoughts, decisions, and actions. Such a situation doesn’t do anyone any good, especially you.
I believe that one of the greatest, yet underappreciated, healing forces in our world is the power of stories. Consciously and subconsciously we learn so much wisdom from the myths in the media and the forgiveness motif shows up frequently, particularly in the Star Wars saga.
During its sixth episode, Return of the Jedi*, Luke Skywalker is battling his own father, Darth Vader, to the death. In a powerful scene, Luke’s hatred fuels his strength to the point where he knocks Vader to the ground, slices off his robotic hand, and is ready to finish him off. But then, Luke looks at his own robotic hand—a hand he’d lost to his father in an earlier battle. If he were to finish him off, he would start to become everything he had hated about him.
Luke tosses away his light saber and refuses to fight. That decision nearly costs him his life as Darth Vader’s master, Emperor Palpatine, shoots bolts of electricity into Luke. Just as it seems as though Luke is finished, his father rises up and tosses his electrically charged master to his doom. The electric shock destroys Vader’s life-supporting robotic body, which he cannot live without. Luke tries to help his dying father and promises, “I must save you.” His father shakes his head and says, “You already have.”
I always get teary-eyed watching that scene, as I do with the forgiveness scenes in movies such as Field of Dreams where Kevin Costner’s character must forgive his dad for never being there for him. On TV, there has probably been no better example of a show focusing on the forgiveness theme than Lost, where nearly every character had to forgive a parent, a friend, or themselves for atrocities that they’d carried around with them like burdens that weighed down their souls.
Regardless of your perspective as to why life presents us with people and events that we can chose to forgive, the benefits of doing so definitely outweigh the benefits of not forgiving—of which, there really aren’t any. Holding onto anger gives us an excuse for being miserable instead of the power we need to do something about it. It affects our decisions, such as deciding not to have kids so there’s no chance of you becoming the kind of parent your father or mother was to you. In fact, holding in anger creates a filter through which we see all of life, and act accordingly. The forgiveness filter however, makes everything so much brighter.
Besides allowing us to psychologically lighten our burden, studies show that forgiving brings about physical health benefits as well such as lowering our levels of stress and blood pressure. Forgiving may even benefit those who we feel are responsible for our pain, even if we only forgive them in our mind (David Wilcock’s book The Source Field Investigations explores evidence that showering love and forgiveness in our minds to our perceived enemies may actually help them to reduce any guilt they may be holding on to.)
Even knowing and believing these benefits, forgiving can be quite a challenge, especially when it comes to something someone did that has devastated our life. Gary Weinstein is someone who has known such a travesty. His entire family—wife and two young boys—were killed when struck by a drunk driver. Even the biggest proponents of forgiveness could understand Gary not forgiving the man who committed such an atrocity. Yet after much anger, grieving, and soul-searching, Gary did.
His story inspired a friend of his, filmmaker Shawne Duperon who herself had found the strength to forgive the perpetrator of sexual abuse she’d undergone as a child. As fate would have it, Shawne was also a family friend of the driver who had killed Gary’s family, and knew firsthand how completely devastated and guilty he was for the pain he’d caused. Touched by both stories, Shawne has been working on a film about forgiveness that she hopes will help heal the world.
As an explanation for the pain and suffering that occurs in this world, some believe that there is no explanation for it while others feel we bring it upon ourselves in a karmic fashion or as a punishment from a vengeful God. Personally, I feel that the deeper the challenge, the more good that has the potential to come out of it. What possible reason could there be for a young girl to be sexually abused or a caring, good man to lose his entire family in a senseless, avoidable act? While Shawne and Gary have made tremendous sacrifices, the strength they developed from those experiences has enabled them to help many, many others. It is the Messiah myth: the strong soul who sacrifices itself in order to save us all.
In my heart, I believe that the concept of the Messiah isn’t actually a person, but an energy that comes when we tip the scale in favor of love, harmony, and acceptance. Taking the first step in that direction begins with forgiveness.
Before you click away from this article and push its message to the nether regions of your mind, take a moment to do a mental check of the people from your past that still evoke a reaction of pain or anger. Do you think that these people acted as they did to purposely anger you? Did they get joy out of the hurt they caused? Or, were they acting from their own pain and suffering and could be forgiven because they knew not what they were doing?
Even if they did enjoy causing you pain, can you find it in your heart to forgive them anyway? Can you let it go? Could you send them a letter of forgiveness? Even if you don’t send it, could you at least write it? Perhaps the person you need to forgive the most is yourself. Write that letter and mail it to yourself. Know that whatever you’re angry about, you, or the people who’ve angered you, were most likely doing the best they could, with the tools they had at the time. Yes, the tools were likely faulty, but maybe thinking about it that way makes forgiveness a little bit easier.
So purge yourself of your inner poison! Evict the pain that is living in your mind rent-free! More likely than not, you’ll find that the tenant that moves in to take its place is much more cheerful and inspiring. And by hearing that voice in your head, instead of the angry, bitter one, chances are, you’ll find yourself feeling more cheerful and inspiring too. I know I do.
* The original name for this film was Revenge of the Jedi. Lucus decided to change it since the concept of revenge doesn’t fit into the enlightened code of the Jedi. The message for us is to not hold onto anger or fear since it leads to the Dark Side.
Photo by JD Hancock/Flickr