“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
Someone wronged you. Maybe they treated you thoughtlessly without your feelings or best interests in mind. Or maybe they hurt you with full awareness in a moment of anger or frustration.
Your pride’s bruised, and your expectations destroyed. Why should you extend compassion to them when they didn’t offer you the same? Why should you reach out to them when you’re not the one who was wrong?
You could easily come up with a laundry list of excuses to stay righteous and unyielding. Unfortunately, no one benefits when we fester in anger, bitterness, or negativity—least of all, ourselves.
It takes tremendous fortitude to acknowledge we all make mistakes and let go of our pain. The alternative is to hold it close to our hearts, where we can feel right and hurt over and over again.
The Buddha said that, “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.”
Put this way, it makes a lot of sense. We can’t possibly feel better if we choose to hurt ourselves. And yet it can still be so hard to forgive and move on.
Psychologists suggest we don’t do anything unless there’s a payoff in doing it. We’re wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain; we’d only cling to a hot coal if we feared a worse pain in dropping it.
But that’s the thing: We can’t possibly know how it will feel to let go until we muster the strength to do it. We can’t even fathom the transformative and healing power of forgiveness until we challenge ourselves to embrace it.
Many times, it will be a challenge—perhaps the greatest we’ve ever known. It might take time, and it might require a sense of compassion we don’t feel someone deserves. Regardless, we deserve that relief.
In giving it to ourselves, we may finally feel the peace to consider that someone else does, as well.
Not all relationships can be healed, but all pain can transform into healing. That means it’s up to us to decide whether it’s time to let go of the person, or let go of the story that keeps us in anger.
It’s only in doing what we need to do to forgive that we’re able to set ourselves free.
*This was originally published on 9/17/09. Photo by mhaller1979