Last week I said that there are two parts to forgiveness. The first is understanding why you need to forgive others; the second is understanding the motives and intentions involved in any action that requires forgiveness. Now in two blogs we went over why we need to forgive others, mainly because it releases us from carrying a burden of not forgiving them more than forgiving them itself. Now we come to the second part, understanding why people do things that would require forgiveness (and in a roundabout way why we should forgive ourselves for all the things we regret).
So why do people do the things they do? Well, the short answer is of course that “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” That phrase pretty much covers every action in the history of human existence. But it’s not very helpful in understanding people and why they sometimes do stupid and terrible things. Now I could go back to those blogs on people being stupid and not thinking long term, and that is a factor, but it’s not the entire story. As this is one of the more spiritual blogs I feel no reason to not bring up the concept of the ego. In the New Age sense the ego is part of your mind (or at least it wants you to think it is). For whatever reason that it came into existence, the ego is the part of yourself that believes God does not love you. In other words the ego is that part of your mind that is, quite frankly, insane. It believes something that is antithetical to nature, but while insane it’s not stupid. The ego knows the minute you fully realize and know that God loves you it will cease to exist…and generally speaking even the insane have a drive to continue to exist. So the ego has created a web of layers and deceits to try and keep you from realizing it is driving you insane. The first level of this deceit is convincing you that it is you. That this voice telling you to give into your worst desires, to put off what you know you should do, to ignore thinking to hold radically contradictory desires and thoughts. It is listening to this voice that causes us to do stupid things, things we regret, things we need to feel forgiveness for.
(In case you’re wondering the next levels of deceit are convincing you that you are being pulled by a force for good and a force for evil—think of the cartoon devil and angel on your shoulder—which makes you not look for the evil hiding within your own mind and also makes you think that your nature as a perfectly good creation of God is not true and that you yourself are not the force for telling you to ignore the ego. The ego then creates in your mind the idea of the devil which puts the ego well out of your range and makes it seem far more powerful than you could ever oppose, when all you really need to do is ignore it. And in a final Kyser Söze move the ego convinces you that the devil it created doesn’t exist…thus you don’t even have a foe to defeat and no one to blame but yourself for everything that is wrong, and never think to look for the ego.)
But let’s deal with that first level (if you can defeat the ego there is no reason to worry about the other levels). You listen to the ego and you do something you regret. You feel despair, guilt, regret, self-reproachment, and a whole host of other negative emotions. You feel worthless because of the mistakes you’ve made, and the ego will constantly remind you how worthless and beyond forgiveness you are, because it knows that if you do forgive yourself you will realize you have no need for it, you will see that its’ belief system is insane and must be discarded. So the ego has a vested interest in not only pushing you to do things that you will regret but also making sure that you constantly regret them and live within that guilt. The ego is a clever little bastard, it whispers to do things you will regret then condemns you for doing them, and it wants to keep you going round and round like that so you never have time to recognize what it’s doing to you. Or you go around and around trying to earn your forgiveness and trying to redeem yourself.
Why do we do the things we do? Because we listen to our lowest nature (our ego). All of us are better than our lowest natures (even though some of us choose to never rise above them). All of us can move past our ego and our worst inclinations. But the first step to that is forgiving ourselves.
How can I be forgiven you say? I’ve done terrible things. I’ve hurt people. No matter how I try I keep doing what’s wrong. How can I be forgiven? Well there is trying to reprieve through good works and making the situation that you feel guilty about better and mending whatever hurt was made. And this works sometimes. But it’s not exactly forgiveness. I remember hearing or reading once that “if someone was worthy of forgiveness then no forgiveness would be needed” (if you know the source and exact wording for where I’m taking this from, please tell me) and working to make up for what you did can sometimes work. The problem is that so often the small slights to the great pains we cause aren’t just physical things that can be mended and the emotional and psychological trauma we cause can never be undone in the sense of making it as if it never happened. That is why we need forgiveness…so yes if you can actually make up for what you’ve done, make up for it…but otherwise we are still left with the question of how can I be forgiven?
And the answer is you already have. God forgave you the moment you did whatever you did that you think you need forgiveness for. Last week I began this discussion of forgiveness with a quote from one of my favorite TV shows “Forgiveness is an act of compassion […] It is done because someone needs it not because they deserve it.” If it is an act of compassion, then a being of infinite love can do nothing but forgive you for everything you do, whether you ask for it or not, God already forgave you. Keep in mind from God’s perspective this is only a dream from which his Son will one day wake up from, there is no need to forgive what is done in a dream. A couple nights ago I woke up from a dream in which I had killed someone…for a couple of seconds of cognitive dissonance before I fully realized it was a dream I thought I had actually killed someone…but it was a dream. I didn’t need to be prosecuted; I didn’t need to feel guilt or self-loathing (which I had for those first few moments upon waking). Felt the guilt but didn’t need to be forgiven. And this is where we are with most of our regrets. We feel we need to be forgiven, we feel the guilt, we need to forgive ourselves even though we probably don’t need to be forgiven. So how do we forgive ourselves? Well there is trying to always listen to the best in us, which acts as a wonderful defense against the guilt. There is learning to forgive others because this teaches us that everything can be forgiven and allows us to forgive ourselves (yes, there is a deep level of psychological understanding of the phrase “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others their trespasses against us”), and there is telling ourselves we have already been forgiven that we do not need to carry around the guilt. This is not a call for amorality, because it’s no good if you again go and do something you’re going to regret, but you do need to forgive yourself for everything you have done that you regret. That was in the past and so long as it stays in the past there is no need to carry the guilt any longer, just remember to always strive for the best within you and you can forgive yourself your lapses (which you will have). But each time you truly forgive yourself you give your ego less and less control over you and thus will do fewer and fewer things you will regret.
In the end you and everyone else did something regrettable because you made a mistake and listened to the ego. No need to continue that mistake and cart around the guilt and let it destroy you. You need to forgive yourself and others so long as you have a true desire to not do it again.
So for this week you only need forgive yourself every time you feel regret or guilt. If you need to do something to try and make up for what you have done, but most of all forgive yourself.