The other day I was trying to explain forgiveness to my 6-year-old. His younger, 3-year-old brother was being particularly naughty which triggered his anger. It was an interesting process that everyone experiences. Since then, I have talked about forgiveness with both of them together when we have all been cool, calm and collected.
We talked about how being angry at someone actually feels pretty horrid. Just consider what anger does to us physiologically. The adrenal glands go straight into fight or flight mode flooding the body with adrenaline and cortisol, our stress hormones; the brain responds by redirecting blood from the gut towards the muscles that have become tense; heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and body temperature increase; and attention narrows and becomes locked on the target of the anger. It is not a pleasant feeling to have or to receive.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that when you become angry you lose your intelligence and you can no longer discern the situation, you are no longer able to tell what is right and what is wrong. Losing this perception is extremely dangerous and can hinder your soul’s progression.
So I then asked the boys, 'what are nice feelings?' Both agreed that Love is the best. Essentially, forgiving is replacing that anger with Love. It really is that simple. Forgiving is so simple yet we find it incredibly difficult. It all comes down to the mind.
By not forgiving the mind thinks it has the upper hand, that it is in control, as if somehow this grasping onto a grudge, resentment, or anger towards someone gives us more power and hold on the situation. However, this Buddhist quote shows us the reality of the situation:
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
Forgiving is imperative because when you forgive you feel free, there is no longer this burden weighing you down however with forgiving one must also forget.
In a Satsang about forgiving Paramahamsa Vishwananda said that, 'forgiveness without forgetting is not forgiving.' He explained that the reason for this is because the grudge you have inside of you will always play on your mind. But when you truly forgive, true Love will be there. When you do not forgive because of the hurt, or because you have hurt somebody, you develop karma with that person. The best thing to do is to forgive and move forward otherwise you will have a certain debt towards them, meaning you will have to come back again in another lifetime to deal with this issue. Forgiving reduces the karmic effect and the best way to forgive is to direct it at that person.
Once trust is broken there will always be a mark, stain or deep sense of heaviness impeding you until you truly forgive from the heart. Unfortunately, the mind has this morbid attraction to negativity so it will conjure up reasons why forgiving is not appropriate and it will make up reasons to hold onto this grudge, this hurt, this pain, this anger, this illusionary power that we may have over the person. We may think that the other person at fault is not worthy of forgiveness but in reality, this foolish thought is the mind holding us back from evolving and being truly happy. Once we connect to the heart we will truly know that the only way forward is to forgive; otherwise, the same situation will come again.
With regards to asking for forgiveness, start with forgiving yourself. If you have hurt somebody with words or thoughts, firstly forgive yourself for that. Regret is a step towards self-forgiveness. From there it is easy to forgive yourself or ask for forgiveness from somebody else.
In another Satsang on forgiveness, Paramahamsa Vishwananda explained that in order to forgive someone you must forgive yourself. That is to say, forgive your role in the story, forgive your negativity, and then you will find forgiving others very easy. He ended by saying that we are the ones who cause our own misery and in truth, nobody can impact us the way we think they can. We need to come to terms with and solve our own feelings, from there forgiveness will naturally flow.