My earliest memories of the word forgiveness was at school, I was six and we were preparing for our first confession. Raised a Catholic it became part of the religious rite of passage alongside weekly mass until I left home and went to university. It was once a month and we would be taken to church to confess our sins, be forgiven by the local priest (who was God's stand in) and given the penance of a few Hail Mary’s and maybe a promise to help Mum with housework. It felt like I was saying the same sins every month, however the physical feelings in my body included sweaty palms, knots in my stomach and a racing heart. Was there a sin I wouldn’t be forgiven for? Would there be one that the priest would not be able to take away the shame or guilt from with his dutiful blessing and penance?
Reflecting on forgiveness over recent weeks there was a freedom that came with attending confession. There was a relief that when I admitted I fought with my brother and sister or didn't do the housework, it was forgiven and forgotten about in that confessional box. These days it isn’t so easy. As an adult, I see forgiveness as more about being in tune with my values and being aware of how I react or act in certain situations. Recognising that if I didn't respond as I would have liked I can forgive myself first and foremost and admit that things could have been better handled.
I don't know about you but I am more harsher on myself than my local priest was to me in confessions. I judge what I said, how I said it, I replay the situation in my head over and over again wondering how I could have done it differently. Then it moves into justification of why I did/said what I did/said, shirking the responsibility of admitting that I wasn't okay with how I was in that moment. Taking time to talk it through with a confidant and journalling is how I process situations and I am able to get a bigger picture view of what the reality is. This awareness brings responsibility and accountability that can facilitate forgiveness.
This year letting go of people & possessions had increased tenfold. The transition of leaving full-time work and of being more of a nomad has seen a lot of my relationships transform. And it's not always in the way I have wanted or expected. The job, the house, the material things I can let go of, it’s the shift of relationship that really affects me. I blame myself for failing them and for not being able to be there or to keep them as they have always been. I question who I am and what I could have done differently. In focusing on what I have "lost", I have missed out on being grateful for the wonderful new abundance coming in - the new relationships, the rediscovering of old friends, the suggestions of collaboration, the offer of a new job, workshops and retreats over across the world amongst others.
The only relationship I need to heal right now is the one I have with myself. I believe that when we experience compassion and love for ourselves we are able to embrace forgiving ourselves in those moments we aren’t so proud of. We also gift others the ability to do the same. In that moment of forgiveness we come to a new sense of accountability and we release the expectation we have of ourselves and our relationships. By letting go and forgiving we walk into an arena full of new possibilities.
I love this reflection on forgiveness from the Irish writer, John O’Donohue:
“When personal guilt in relation to a past event becomes a continuous cloud over your life, you are locked in a mental prison. You have become your own jailer. Although you should not erase your responsibility for the past, when you make the past your jailer, you destroy your future. It is such a great moment of liberation when you learn to forgive yourself, let the burden go, and walk out into a new path of promise and possibility. Self-compassion is a wonderful gift to give yourself.”
What can you forgive yourself for today & how can you embrace self-compassion?
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