by Michael Woodnick 

During a spirited lunch conversation after the Sacred Threads Forgiveness Reflection on March 10, I opened my fortune cookie at the end of the meal and the fortune read, “It is more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others.”  I couldn’t believe how appropriate it was! It made me think about how much more difficult it is to forgive oneself than to forgive others, a theme that came up over and over again earlier that day, and it got me thinking.
When we talk about forgiveness, we usually talk about forgiving someone else. There surely are terrible acts that people perpetrate on each other and most of the time forgiveness involves acknowledging those acts and “saying” we forgive them. But, do we really? It’s been my experience that most of the time we still hold on to at least some of our grievances, albeit they may be buried in some rarely explored place in our consciousness, and that part we haven’t forgiven festers within, even though we may be completely unaware of it. It doesn’t matter how large or small the supposedly egregious act is either. No matter the severity of the act, harboring the grievance has the same impact on me. My peace is disturbed.
I’ve held on to grievances long after the “act” that required my forgiveness has taken place. Here’s a perfect example.
When our daughter was three years old, we went to a local restaurant for dinner. To keep her amused while waiting for our food (you know  3 year olds) we played a game with the sugar packets that were on the table, taking them out and putting them back in the holder while counting each one and quietly cheering a job well done. After a few minutes of this innocent activity, the restaurant owner came to our table in a huff, grabbed the packets and holder out of her hands and said in a loud and angry voice, “These are not for playing with!” He stormed away, leaving us shocked, and our daughter in tears. We vowed NEVER to go back to that restaurant again, and we were good to our word, avoiding it for ten years. TEN YEARS! Not only that, every time we passed that restaurant, we brought up that old grievance we held toward the owner. It’s hard to believe that we carried that grievance into our daughter’s teen years until we finally realized that we had to let it go and forgive it.
What was it this restaurant owner had triggered in us?  For me, I now realize it was his imposing nature, acting without asking, and his ripping the sugar packs out of my daughter’s hand was, without my immediate awareness, re-living my family of origin dynamic.  After harboring that grievance for so many years, I came to realize that this was not a personal attack on my daughter or our family, but likely his own frustration or anger about something, probably totally unrelated, that was projected onto that situation with us.
Over time I have come to see forgiveness as a process, much like a ladder one slowly and carefully climbs.  On the first rung, are the “acts” of forgiveness, i.e. my daily dealings in the world, the moment to moment grievances in which I forgive others for what I perceive they have done to me, or forgive them for what they have not done to meet my expectations.
The second rung of the forgiveness ladder is a bit more difficult. It’s when I’ve begun to realize that I’m never upset for the reason I think. At this point, I’m coming to understand that my forgiveness may have little to do with someone else and more to do with what is in my mind and my perceptions.  For “true” forgiveness to occur, I need a perceptual shift, which moves me from the act of forgiveness to an attitude of forgiveness.
Ultimately, the attitude of forgiveness takes us to the third rung of the forgiveness ladder, which is a change of mind or a shift in perception. Do I see the restaurant owner’s behavior as an attack on me, or my child, or was it a cry for help? Changing your mind is not an easy thing to do when you’re in the midst of the battle, that’s why it takes time to work up to it. I have discovered that most of the hurts I feel from others are by-products of their own suffering; however I choose to interpret their actions, my actions are sure to follow based on my own perception of those actions.
In his book, Beyond the Dream, Dr. Thomas Hora, founder of Existential Metapsychiatry, discusses that a healthy response to a misdeed (our grievances) is comprised of a three step process: RECOGNIZE, REGRET, REORIENT.  The process is a helpful way to deal with  grievances, helping to free us from them and more consistently have an attitude of forgiveness.
Our unconscious grievances “own” us and bring the past into our present until we bring them to light. Before we can forget or let go of something, we have to remember it. Recognition entails bringing the darkness to light and understanding the meaning of our suffering, not why we are suffering.
Once we bring the darkness to light and recognize the problem, we can then regret our words, thoughts or actions. In this step, we see those actions or thoughts not as a sin to be punished, but a mistake to be corrected.
Now, we can choose to look at the situation differently and stop blaming ourselves, and others. We can look at the situation without blame or guilt and face future similar situations with the understanding we have gained from this process.
Three simple steps, but our human tendencies make it difficult, not only to follow them and forgive others, but particularly to forgive ourselves.  As the fortune cookie reminded me, “It is more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others.” We ARE much harder on ourselves than we are on others. Carl Jung said, “Acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life.” He reminds us that we stand in “need of the alms of our own kindness” and that we ourselves are “the enemy who must be loved.” We can find that love, if we remember that we are spiritual beings, connected to a Divine Reality, and that forgiveness has already been given us. Then, perhaps we can be gentler with ourselves, so we may see how forgiveness leads us to the highest form of Love. 

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