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There is a discussion group that meets every Sunday night at Olcott, the National Headquarters of the Theosophical Society in America.

During a discussion last week, someone brought up forgiveness. This is one of those words we use frequently, but whose meaning is rarely explored. It occurred to me then that I didn’t really know what forgiveness meant.


Several of my co-inquirers offered very cogent explanations, but as I reflected, those explanations essentially amounted to a recognition. Forgiveness was an event you could recognize. When you have really forgiven someone, you know it, and there is a distinct reordering of internal engergies. Most agreed it involved a letting go, a release of anger, resentment, certain expectations.

This then foregrounded the real question. How does forgiveness happen? How do we truly forgive?

I’m grateful to be surrounded by such bright people, because they quickly worked towards the realization that understanding always preceded forgiveness. You could tell someone who had harmed you, ‘It’s okay, I forgive you’, but unless you had really done the work of understanding their actions, those words were likely empty. However, if you did understand, the feeling we recognize as forgiveness, that release, naturally followed.

First, it should be noted that forgiveness isn’t granting license. You can deny the rights of someone to act a certain way, even condemn and punish their actions, and still forgive them. Mothers do this constantly.

I’m intrigued by this dynamic and curious of the implications.

How do we begin this process? How do we set in motion the understanding that precipitates forgiveness? Is it a particular type of understanding? What is the relationship between the mental exercise of trying to understand another’s actions and the emotional component, the active empathy? Can either succeed alone or are they codependent?


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