03/12/2011 05:07 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Why Forgive?

What purpose does forgiving serve? And how do you forgive? The "how" was what I asked myself some 16 years ago, as I went into my divorce feeling emotionally distraught.

We are well-educated in acquisition: Gaining knowledge and qualifications, getting a good job, finding a lifetime partner for marriage, buying a home, cars and extraordinary technological inventions to make our lives more comfortable and enjoyable. Our place in the world often revolves around what we are seen to have. Our beliefs support this reality. We look good and therefore we are good. Celebrities are envied for the lifestyle they have acquired.

But what about letting go? As creatures of habit, we get attached to life's goodies. Our sense of worth and well-being may be closely linked to the material world, and the convictions we have about who we are in it.

Letting go of attachments, and self-forgiving when necessary, do not come easily. Loss can be painful. We more naturally want to strike out and blame someone, almost anyone, rather than accept the pain, be responsible and able to respond to life's changes and challenges. It is as though our life, our survival, depends upon our being "right" about how we think things should be.

Following a radio interview in 1995 on the theme "forgiveness" -- when it is really difficult --the interviewer and I declared March 15 to be International Forgiving Day, to be celebrated annually and globally.

Here is an excerpt from the article, "Choosing to Forgive":

The main purpose of Forgiving Day was to open the conversation on forgiving; to touch into the experience of what forgiving could mean; to accept that sometimes, it is just not possible to forgive; to recognize the value of forgiving.

Over the 10 years that I celebrated the vision with friends, I came to understand much more about how forgiving works and the benefits of forgiving, especially self-forgiving. Since then, the conversation on forgiving has become more widespread. Now, the benefits of forgiving related to health and well-being, better sleep, increasing awareness and intuition, enjoying the present moment and happy relationships have been well documented.

I was keen that the vision not become another "should" that a person had to live up to. This article about a vicar, who cannot forgive tube bombers, quitting the pulpit tells the story of one person who simply could not forgive. The pain of losing her daughter was too great.

If your trajectory through life -- your goals, dreams, plans and aspirations -- has been disrupted by the economic downturn, you might be trying to make new sense of your life purpose. Being willing to let go of all you have worked for may feel counter-intuitive, unless letting go makes space for something better.

Doctors Ron and Mary Hulnick, authors of "Loyalty To Your Soul: The Heart of Spiritual Psychology," write about Compassionate Self-Forgiveness. This process takes forgiveness out of the hands of the ego and into the heart of greater awareness, understanding, love and deep healing. We can become one who is forgiving, starting with ourselves.

In response to my article, "
Can We Be Emotionally Free?
" my wise friend Trixie, 93 years young, declared emphatically, "No!" If not free, could we be emotionally flexible? That is to say, could we have the space within us to accept our emotions and ride with them? To forgive ourselves when we react with harshness and criticism, especially towards those we love the most?

One day this week, the winds were high and the sea turbulent. Strong winds speak to me of the "winds of change," where water represents the emotions. On these stormy seas, I watched wind surfers and kite surfers skimming across the rough water surface at high speed, letting the wind carry them along and sometimes high into the air.

The image remains with me as I contemplate how I might soar with the winds of change and not allow myself to be overwhelmed by powerful emotions of resistance, how I might choose the lightness of flow over the reluctance to adapt.

The absence of forgiveness us drags us down. Forgiving liberates us.

In this touching short film by Nic Askew, from "Soul Biographies Collection," Carlos Enrique speaks of his forgiving through the sad loss of his son.

PORTRAIT OF A HUMAN BEING from Nic Askew on Vimeo.

So, why forgive? Could it be, as Doctors Ron and Mary Hulnick offer in their book, that we are not human beings with souls, but we are spiritual beings having a human experience? What if through forgiving, compassion and love we are able to realize more fully who we truly are, beyond the mental and emotional mask of our egos? Could we become more at peace with ourselves and those closest to us? Perhaps our adversaries truly serve as our teachers and guides to bring us back home to our hearts and our deepest connection with others.

Then, a true statement of forgiveness might be, "I forgive myself for forgetting that I am Divine," any time we lose sight of our greater reality.

John-Roger wrote:

Self-forgiveness is not an act of contrition or penance. It is a profound and radical approach to letting go of tensions and problems and preoccupations. When you hold a judgment against someone else, you are holding it inside your own body ... It's much easier to let go and forgive yourself.

How has forgiving benefitted you? Have you ever found forgiveness to be a blessing in your life? What have you learned from forgiving yourself? I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me at


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