A powerful turnaround

The Gift of Forgiveness :
A powerful turnaround

   I had just finished translating The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, and had it barely published in France, when I was offered the possibility to meet this now world-famous Toltec Wisdom teacher for a week-long workshop in Mexico, in September 1999, starting on the very day of my 38th birthday. Wanting to meet the man behind the book (“I publish authors, not books”, I like to say), I happily signed for this workshop.

   Little did I know, then, that this would be a life-changing experience for me. So powerful, indeed, that it took me years to fully measure its impact on my life and ten years later – as Don Miguel had openly invited me to do – to share it more widely in my book The Gift of Forgiveness: a magical encounter with Don Miguel Ruiz.

   On the second night we spent with Don Miguel in Teotihuacan, the ancient Toltec city, he had me unexpectedly go through a unique ritual of forgiveness, in front of our whole group of about 20 people from France and Switzerland. I wasn’t asked to forgive anyone that might have hurt me or done me wrong, during my life. I was asked to ask forgiveness, instead, in four increasingly challenging steps, leading to the most difficult one : forgiving myself everything I was judging myself for.

   By the time I had completed the full process of forgiveness Don Miguel had me follow, I was having a fantastic peak experience: my heart opened wide, at last free of all the resentment, grief, anger and hatred that had kept it half-closed for so long. I felt born again, energy surging freely through my heart and my body.

   It’s only a couple weeks later, once back in France, that I was able to analyze what had happened to me and why this simple tool – which, as Miguel Ruiz told us, we could all use again, anytime, all by ourselves – proved to be so powerful. The key, as I said above, is a complete reversal or turnaround of the usual approach of forgiveness. Let’s have a closer look at this.

   Our religious education may have taught us “to for­give our enemies” or “to turn the other cheek,” but we usually find it very difficult to do so, even if we’re willing. Merely wanting to forgive someone rarely works. Feelings do not yield to our will; they have a life and a flow of their own. So, try as we might, we may find ourselves unable to muster a genuine feeling of forgiveness for someone “who’s done us wrong.”

  Besides, we may feel we are morally in the right, that the other per­son just doesn’t deserve our forgiveness, that we cannot forgive them for what they have done. In effect, we feel superior to them. We are good; they are bad. We become like a governor or a president who has the right to grant a pardon to a condemned person. We revel in the power we believe we have over others.

   The practice of the Gift of Forgiveness totally reverses our mental script. We are no longer seated on the throne of our ego. We no longer weigh whether to show largesse and forgive those who have maliciously hurt us, judging whether these people deserve to be forgiven. Instead, we become aware of our own judg­ments. We realize how these judgments have led us to close off our heart and to hurt ourselves even more, using whatever oth­er people may have done to us as justification.

  Using the prac­tice of the Gift of Forgiveness, then, we ask forgiveness from them.

  Why does this work?

  In choosing to ask for forgiveness, we move from a place of self-importance and pride to a place of humility. We drop our pretense, climb down from our ivory tower, and something opens up inside us. By shedding our armor and our griev­ances, we are free again. As Don Miguel puts it: The most important part of asking for forgiveness isn’t related to others; it’s related to ourselves and to the merciless judgments we so promptly pass on ourselves. (“I shall never forgive my­self for having done … been … said … that.”) Since learning this practice, I no longer try to forgive myself for whatever I’ve done—the things that my inner judge has condemned; instead, I humbly ask for forgiveness from myself. When I do this, the bill of indictment and all the charges I had made against myself just melt away.

The main purpose of the Gift of Forgiveness is to restore the flow of love in our heart, which has been reduced—or frozen altogether—after the various hurts we’ve experienced. When we stop loving, we are the first to suffer. We become cold, dry, and defensive. We lose part of our natural joy.

In asking for forgiveness from others, the purpose is not to become great friends with people who’ve done bad things to us, but to stop shutting down our hearts and imprisoning ourselves in resentment, anger, and other isolating feelings. We don’t have to actively love our enemies, or even like them; we just need to stop shutting down our capacity to love them, to stop using them as a reason for shrinking our hearts and pro­gressively drying up our love. That’s a major difference.

When we work to open our hearts, be able to love, be humble, and ask for forgiveness, it doesn’t mean that we stop being discerning, as some people seem to believe. Indeed, in the name of “nonjudgment”—a very fashionable value, these days—too many people mistakenly also set aside their discrim­inating mind. In reclaiming their hearts, their feelings, their emotions, their compassion, some people tend to reject their analytical mind and intellectual faculties.

This is not what is being asked of us when we practice nonjudgment. Since we have both a heart and an intellect, it is obvious that we need both in order to function effectively. The world today reflects many of the negative consequences of an intellect not tempered by the heart: cynicism, coldness, incivility, ruthless exploitation of others and nature, and other sadly familiar behaviors. But a heart not counterbalanced by the analytical mind is little better. It opens the door to illu­sions, poorly informed choices, the risk of being manipulated for gain, and other problems.

The Gift of Forgiveness is intended to help us free ourselves of our judging mind, not of our discernment. The Gift of Forgive­ness can free our heart from the prison of our fears, anger, and resentment. But it doesn’t mean, once the door is open, that we have to let everyone in, indiscriminately. That’s where discern­ment comes in.

The Gift of Forgiveness, in short, is an exceptional tool, but it is neither an all-in-one Swiss Army knife that will help you solve all your problems nor a quick-fix solution that you can use anytime, anywhere. There are no such solutions, de­spite what many self-help books and workshops try to make us believe. Remember American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s beautiful piece of advice: “To those who only have a hammer, all problems look like nails.” A hammer is a wonderful tool, but we also need a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, a saw, and so on. Think of the Gift of Forgiveness, then, as a well-designed tool. It will occupy a place in your personal toolbox for inner work; but keep adding other tools to the toolbox, to help you handle all kinds of situations and problems.

– Olivier Clerc


  © Olivier Clerc, 2013-2020. http://www.olivierclerc.com