The greatest gift...

Forgiveness : 

the greatest gift to anyone... including ourselves

(This article appeared in the December 2010 issue of Commonground Magazine)

When Christmas time approaches and we start looking for presents, there is a category of gifts we sometimes overlook, although they are free and immensely appreciated. These are of course presents of love, gentleness, bounty, and the like. I was offered such a fantastic gift, 11 years ago, by Don Miguel Ruiz, author of the The Four Agreements, which I had just translated in French. I call it the Gift of Forgiveness.

During a workshop, Don Miguel had me unexpectedly go through a unique ritual of forgiveness, in the middle of our group. I wasn’t invited to forgive anyone that might have hurt me, during my whole life. I was asked to ask forgiveness, instead, in four increasingly challenging steps, leading to the most difficult one: asking forgiveness from myself, for everything I was judging myself for.

By the time I had completed the full process, I was having a powerful 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!

Beyond that unique moment, I was given a simple tool that I have been able to use time and again to keep my heart open and never again let negative feelings clog it up. Most of all, I have shared this wonderful gift with many people who, in turn, have been able to benefit immensely from it. After ten years of ripening, I finally followed Don Miguel’s advice and turned this experience in a small book, to offer this gift to a wider audience.

What makes the Gift of Forgiveness so special? It is actually a complete turnaround of our usual approach of forgiveness. Our religious education has taught us “to for­give our enemies” and “to turn the other cheek,” but we usually find it very difficult to do so. Merely wanting to forgive someone rarely works. Feelings do not yield to our will; they have a life of their own. Besides, we may feel we are morally in the right, that the other per­son just doesn’t deserve our forgiveness. In effect, we feel superior to them. We are good; they are bad.

The practice of the Gift of Forgiveness totally reverses our mental script. We are no longer seated on the throne of our self-righteousness. We no longer weigh whether or not to show largesse and forgive those who have maliciously hurt us. Instead, we become aware of our own judg­ments. We realize how these have led us to close off our heart and to hurt ourselves even more, using whatever oth­ers may have done to us as justification. So, we ask forgiveness from them, instead.

In doing so, we move from a place of self-importance to a place of humility. We 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 put 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; instead, I humbly ask 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 full 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.  Forgiveness keeps us from that trap.

Christmas celebrates the birth of one of the greatest Teachers of love and forgiveness. This is why it coincides each year with the birth of a new sun (winter solstice), a new source of light and warmth. Why not consider this spiritual celebration as an opportunity to let our heart be reborn as well, by offering ourselves and others this deeply healing Gift of Forgiveness?

- O. C. 

  © Olivier Clerc, 2013-2020.