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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How Possible Is It To Really Forgive And Forget?

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How possible is it to forget anything? I forget where I've put my keys sometimes. It drives me crazy that when I find them I can usually remember how it came to pass that they are where they are. I tried explaining that it is a product of getting older, but friends remind me that it has always been like that for me. I can forget something I did a moment ago especially if I'm distracted by something more interesting or if I'm not paying strong attention to the soon-to-be-forgotten something. But to really forgive and forget, now that seems to have many similarities to losing my keys and finding them again.

I have talked to many people in my career about the journey of forgiveness, what it is and what it isn't. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how to really forgive. There is also no set time line for how long it should take you to accomplish the journey. Just like mourning: it's done when it's done and it's pointless trying to speed it up, maybe even harmful to try. In that regard, forgiving is similar to trying to find your keys, it's going to take as long as it takes.
If you really want to forgive.
There is a big difference between "Letting something go" and "Letting something be." A friend jokingly pointed out that when he has lost his keys, the harder he tries to find them the more
they stay lost. He reports that it is usually when he stops looking and lets it be that he ends up finding the keys again. If you really want to forgive, you're probably like most people in that you'll do better at it with support. You'll do well if you have a trusted friend or professional who can listen to you. Letting things be is much easier to accomplish when you and I have had someone listen to us. In my opinion, it's best for me to share my trouble with someone who isn't so close that their love for me gets in the way of their objectivity. In this regard, forgiveness work is similar to finding your lost keys, because forcing the matter will make you feel more frustrated, not less.
If you really want to forget.
If you really want to forget you're going to have to give yourself something more interesting and more satisfying than whatever happened. This will be easier to accomplish once you understand that difference between letting something be and letting something go. You're not expected to pretend that nothing happened. No, just the opposite, you're fully aware of what happened (you lost a part of you) and you're going to give yourself to something more interesting anyway (because you know that lost part still exists.)
You're going to turn your attention in a more constructive and more powerful direction. Have you heard the phrase, "I forgot myself in it...?" It describes those moments when a person is so wrapped up in a project that they forget time and space and friends and family. It may take a little research and determination to identify something that you can forget yourself in, but if you are successful, you'll be adding one more healthy step towards letting things be. When you do have engaging, creative or interesting activities, you will experience moments of forgetfulness of what happened. This is not the same as denial. Like finding your keys, when your mind touches on the memory of what happened, you will likely remember all the details.
How possible is it to really forgive and forget depends on how you define forgive and forget. If your expectations are unrealistic, you may find it difficult to do either. If you treat yourself respectfully and go about the process mindfully, you may very well have an experience of both forgetfulness and forgiveness.

Edward Viljoen is co-author (with Chris Michaels) of Spirit is Calling, The Prosperous Life Journal, and Practice the Presence, interactive journals available from Stepping Stones Bookstore. He is co-author (with Joyce Duffala) of Seeing Good At Work also available at http://steppingstonesbookstore.org/index.cgi/kw=viljoen

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