Healing and true peace begins with forgiveness. Most of us know this deep down, but it can be very challenging to remember and follow through when we feel wronged, or hurt in some way. True forgiveness, whether it's for yourself or someone else, takes strength, compassion, and the willingness to let go. It also takes knowing that the person you're truly setting free is you. It's like a superfood for the soul.
A number of years ago, I was coming out of a bank in Los Angeles with a friend on a sunny, carefree weekday morning when I was attacked violently by a young guy frantic for money to buy drugs. We weren't more than ten feet from the front of the building, walking and chatting away, when I heard footsteps running up behind me. My spine froze. Somehow in that brief moment, I knew what was coming.
Before I could react, something smashed into the side of my head like a brick (actually, we're pretty sure it was literally a brick). Everything went dark for a few seconds and I could hear my friend screaming like the world was ending. I felt my bag being ripped from my shoulder and heard the footsteps again as he ran away. It almost didn't seem real.
Later that day, lying in a cold bed at the hospital, I can clearly remember the thoughts that were present in my mind. I did freak out briefly, but after the initial shock subsided, I felt strangely peaceful and thankful that I'd recover from the injuries, with the exception of a minor hearing loss in my left ear. I had what seemed like endless questions, but mostly, I just wanted to know why it happened. I wanted to understand what could bring a person to that kind of lost desperation. It seemed so sad to me.
About a week later, a kind person called to say my bag had been found, not far from the bank. I was anxious to go through it to see what had been left behind. There wasn't much. A stack of my business cards, chewing gum, and ironically, a can of pepper spray (a lot of good that did for me). I pulled out one last thing -- a library card from the nearby Santa Monica Library, belonging to another young woman. My heart skipped a beat.
I called information, got a number, and called her up. We bonded right away, sharing our experiences. Two different police departments were investigating our cases, and when we put the detectives on our cases in touch, they were able to piece together enough information to track the man down. I felt empowered.
Strangely, what I felt when I went to court and saw him wasn't anger, fear, or resentment. It was empathy and compassion. The aching sadness in the energy that was coming from him was clearly visible. He knew he'd messed up his life in an epic way. He was a handsome guy who had come to L.A. to be an actor, found himself lost, depressed, tangled in a web of addiction and mistakes. What he did to me had nothing to do with me. It was an act of fear and desperation. Some might think it strange, but a part of me felt sad for him.
After it was all over, people in my life were concerned. They thought I should be emotionally traumatized. Some had me convinced that I might be, or should at least be looking for reasons to be, so I went to a few sessions of therapy to be sure.
I found the therapy sessions totally unnecessary and even somewhat draining. There was nothing wrong. In fact, everything was right. I felt like I'd grown tremendously from the experience. I was more self-aware, had straightened out some priorities, and was grateful for having been given a powerful reminder that every moment is a precious gift. Not just every day, but every single moment.
It wasn't until years later that I came to understand that the reason I wasn't emotionally traumatized from the attack was because I'd forgiven the man who inflicted it. It was that simple. By forgiving him, I'd set myself free and was then open to receive the lessons and gifts that were offered to me through the experience. If I'd chosen to hold on to fear and anger, if I had continued to tell myself the same frightening, painful story over and over, then that's the energy I would have gone on living with.
Was this incident a terrible thing? For sure. At the time it happened, it was horrifying. But choosing to hold on to that part of the story would be much more damaging. Because I'd made the choice early on to forgive, I was able to let go, grow, and move forward.
Forgiveness does not excuse the other person's actions, and it doesn't mean you have to accept them. It's about setting yourself free from bitterness and taking back your power. It's about letting go of negative energy that's taking up space in your mind where high quality thoughts should be. It's for you. There's a great quote from the late theologian Lewis B. Smedes that says, "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and realize that prisoner was you." This is an absolute truth.
This understanding has lead me to changing the stories I tell myself about many things in my life that had caused me pain. By looking at each situation and finding empathy, understanding, and forgiveness, I've been able to let go of so much unnecessary junk and open up beautiful, cavernous spaces for good to come into my life. And it has.
Here are three ways to begin the process of forgiving:
First, know that the forgiveness is in no way condoning what was done. It has everything to do with you, and really not much at all to do with the other person. It's about letting go of pain and resentment, which is like poison to the spirit. It's about setting yourself free. Think of forgiveness as a spiritual superfood. It's an emotional detox.
Second, understand that whatever the person did, the root cause underneath everything was very likely fear. People so often act out of fear, and when we see this, it can sometimes make a situation a bit easier to digest because acting out of fear is something we all understand. It's about compassion. This also applies when it comes to forgiving yourself.
Finally, shift the way you look at a situation. A change in perception is amazingly freeing. Look for the good, even the smallest molecule, that came out of it. A lesson, an experience, a fire to create a positive change. Right after my experience, I was so thankful that I was alive that just the feeling of gratitude was the first bit of light I was able to see. It helped me open up. Be willing to see the whole thing, all of it, from a different point of view and you'll crack it open so the sun can begin to shine in. This is also a good one when it comes to forgiving yourself.
After the trial, the young guy in my case was sentenced to nine years in prison. I don't know what happened to him after he got out, but wherever he is, I do hope he has found peace and healing. Call me crazy, but I send him love. And, I hope he has forgiven himself. Forgive, be love, let the light in, and set yourself free. You deserve it.