With Maya Angelou’s recent passing, the flurry of posts highlighting her incredible contribution to society and her words of wisdom continued for several days. The newsfeed offered many jewels of inspiration, but one in particular comes to mind:
“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”
This wise woman suggested that forgiveness is something we do for ourselves. But she also said, “You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.’”
These are beautiful words. But can we really forgive everybody for everything? I think what Maya Angelou is saying is that when we have the courage to love those who have caused us pain in some way, we allow ourselves to release that pain from our hearts, little by little, which makes more room for love. And with ever-expanding love, anything is possible—even letting go of that anger and resentment once and for all.
Without the burden of anger and resentment, our load in life becomes lighter. We are no longer bound by agitating memories that make our hearts race or our “blood boil.” We breathe easier and can focus our attention on more constructive thoughts and activities. With this new perspective, we have the freedom to make certain changes in our lives or to take an important action if necessary. This truly is a gift to ourselves, isn’t it?
Forgiveness doesn’t mean we will never be angry or resentful again. Of course not. These are human emotions, and they will certainly crop up again and again over the course of a lifetime. But the same is true for forgiveness. We can continue to practice forgiveness as many times as it takes to ease our burden, free ourselves, and open our hearts to love.
How we go about forgiving is a personal matter, and we all need to figure out what works best for us. Here is how I practice forgiveness:
- When I am hurt by something someone has said or done, I express my feelings. Depending on the situation and/or person involved, sometimes I acknowledge my feelings only to myself or to a trusted confidant. Other times, I speak to the person with whom I’m upset.
- I always make an effort to communicate how I feel as lovingly as possible. This way, I am not covering up my anger. I am gently putting it out in the open so that it can be dealt with and diffused. If a conversation resolves the issue or helps me to see what happened in a different light, that’s great. But not all cases of forgiveness will be so simple.
- If the hurt is very deep, I consciously send loving thoughts to heal the situation. I don’t think about retaliation or hope the other party will come to their senses and make amends. I put my trust in my heart that I will find peace in this situation. Likewise, I trust that they, too, will find peace and resolution.
- To me, finding peace doesn’t mean forgetting what happened. Rather, it means that I no longer feel an intense emotional charge when reminders crop up. Without the charge, I am clear enough to take whatever action is necessary and resonates with the greatest good for all concerned.
- To send loving thoughts to heal a situation, I often say or write my sacred mantra. Sometimes this is the only action I am able to take. It is a simple task that calms my mind by slowing down my thoughts. With each mantra repetition, I begin to feel my burden weaken and my courage to love strengthen. (For more on the Sacred Mantra, click here.)
We have a tendency to wear our anger and resentment like protective armor. Without it, we might feel vulnerable and weak. So, as Maya Angelou suggested, forgiveness is a courageous act. As we remove these pieces of armor through consistent practice, we begin to feel lighter and lighter. Our whole countenance softens, and forgiveness envelops us with its precious gift of freedom.