A Model for Forgiveness

Jerry Jampolsky, from Forgiveness: The Greatest Healer of All

Consider for a moment that happiness is our natural state of being. At the Center for Attitudinal Healing, where forgiveness is so much a part of everything that we do, we say that the essence of our being is love!

We learn to look at life from the perspective that we are spiritual beings who are just temporarily in these bodies of ours. When we look upon our lives that way, we also begin to see that love and happiness are inseparable. And what forgiveness teaches us is that it is possible to choose love over fear and peace over conflict regardless of the circumstances affecting our lives.

Before we talk about forgiveness, let’s briefly explore the roots of unhappiness. By looking at where unhappiness starts, we can move toward a very different way of looking at the world. A good place to begin this exploration is with that part of us which believes that our happiness lies in external things.

Living in this modern society, as we do, it becomes all too easy to believe that money and the accumulation of material things will make us happy. The trouble is that the more we accumulate, the more we want. No matter how much we get, it almost never seems like enough. Once we begin making choices from this perspective, we fall into the habit of believing that we will eventually find something outside ourselves that will bring us lasting happiness. The fact that this search frequently ends up with our feeling frustrated, angry, unhappy, and even hopeless is our clue that this belief isn’t working.

Why is it so difficult for us to see that our search for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is only hiding the fact that we are both the rainbow and the gold?

There are so many temptations in the world on which to blame our unhappiness or our lack of money and material things. We look around us and see people with more than we have who seem to be happier than we are. We turn to other people and seek to fill the hole in our souls with our relationships. It may seem like a big jump we are making from seeing more material things as the answer to seeing other people as the answer. But the same part of us which tells us that the answers are to be found in externals also tells us that we should be able to make other people responsible for our happiness. Surely, if we could only find the right person, our lives would be fulfilled!

Pretty soon we are on a psychological treadmill, going round and round in an endless circle, disappointed and unhappy because neither money and material things nor our relationships are making us happy. We have moments, but they seem too fleeting. We may begin to feel trapped by life. But what, we may ask, is the alternative?

What is this part of ourselves that keeps us seeking outside ourselves? Can we even name it? It is the part of us which believes that our true identity is limited to our bodies and personality self. It is the part of us which sneers at any suggestion that our true essence is that we are spiritual beings living for a time in these bodies.

I like to use the term ego to describe the part of us that is so concerned with externals. The ego tries to justify its presence in our lives by saying that it is only looking after our better interests, that our bodies need it to stick around or we are going to accidentally step out in front of a speeding truck or forget to feed ourselves or protect ourselves from all the dangers that are in the world. Our egos would have us believe that anyone who doesn’t think that money can buy happiness doesn’t know where to shop.

Again and again, our egos send us the message that we live in an unfair world where we will be victims if we aren?t constantly on the alert. Our egos are quite happy when we become convinced of our victimhood, because then we hand our power over to them. The last thing our egos would want us to believe is that we have a choice-that we can choose not to be victims, that we can, in fact, choose love rather than fear, that we can choose to forgive rather than hold on to our embitterments, grudges, and judgments.

It is easy to see how the ego interprets happiness, love, and peace of mind as its enemies, for when we are enjoying these states of being, we are experiencing our spiritual essence. We are seeing a world that is very different from the one our egos furnish us. Forgiveness is easy when we look at the world through the eyes of love, since it is then clear that the answers we have been seeking all of our lives can be found here and not in the ego’s beliefs in the externals of life.

At its worst, we hear the ego in our minds saying that it is impossible to experience happiness for long, so we had better be able to turn to the physical reality for our true and lasting happiness. Eventually, things will fall apart. Something is sure to go wrong. Someone or something will intrude on our happiness. So we’d better be on the lookout for the person who is to blame. The ego’s advice is to become a faultfinder, to make certain we are always right and the other person is always wrong.

Ultimately, our happiness or unhappiness actually is measured by the degree to which we accept the advice of our egos. Think about what happens whenever we judge other people, hold grievances in our mind, or cling to blame and guilt. What we feel at such times blocks us from experiencing love, peace, and happiness. Our feelings of unhappiness are magnified and we become faultfinders, probing our world for circumstances or people who might be to blame for our unhappiness.

Forgiveness is a transformational process. In a heartbeat, we can let go of the externally based paradigm that says we must look outside ourselves for true happiness. With a simple change of mind, we can release ourselves from the ego’s conviction that to be safe we must believe in our victimhood and act defensively. With a shift of perspective, we can stop seeking other people or things outside ourselves to blame for our unhappiness. We can embrace our true spiritual essence and instantly find that this has always been our source of love and peace and happiness. It is never more than a heartbeat away, and it is free for the asking.

Forgiveness can be learned at any age and by anyone, regardless of their present belief system, the past they have experienced, or the way they have treated others around them.

A Model for Forgiveness

Several years ago, my wife, Diane, and I met a remarkable woman by the name of Andrea de Nottbeck. We became acquainted with her through a most unusual phone call from a person in Switzerland, who told us that a woman who lived there had a painting she wanted to give us. The woman was ninety-three years old at the time and was very healthy. While she had given most of her wealth to philanthropic organizations, she still had one material possession to give away before she died. It was a thirteenth century painting of Jesus Christ.

Feeling perplexed about who should get the painting when she died, Andrea had gone out to the mountains to meditate on it. After a few moments, she had gotten the message “Love Is Letting Go of Fear.” The painting, she decided, should go to Jerry Jampolsky, the author of the book by this title, which is about the ways that we prevent ourselves from loving. And so she had her friend call me in the States.

We learned that following her husband’s death, several years before, Andrea had become a bitter, crotchety old woman. She was difficult to get along with, frequently provocative, and extremely argumentative. At the age of eighty-five, a friend gave her a copy of Love Is Letting Go of Fear.

This book became Andrea’s daily reading. Soon she began forgiving all the people in her life who she felt had hurt her. She forgave herself for behavior she knew had caused pain or had been unloving. Miraculously, her life changed. No longer crotchety and angry at the world, she became more carefree and joyful than she’d ever been in her life. To celebrate her transformation, she changed her name to Happy.

Without my ever knowing it until I met Happy, she had been responsible for getting Love Is Letting Go of Fear translated and published in French many years before.

When I heard the story of Happy’s transformation, Diane and I decided to visit her, combining our trip with one I already had scheduled for the Middle East. Upon our arrival, we met this most extraordinary woman. She showed us a French magazine with her picture on the cover-of her flying in a hang glider high over the French countryside! She was eighty-eight at the time. And as if that weren’t enough, she had gone stunt flying in a biplane at the age of ninety-one.

We spent three wonderful days with Happy at her home in Geneva, Switzerland. I have to say that she lived up to her new name in every way imaginable. She was one of the happiest, most peaceful, and most loving people I have ever met.

When we asked Happy what she had done to bring about all these positive changes in her life, she replied, “Oh, I just gave up all my judgments.”

We left Happy’s home just after the first of the year, having celebrated the New Year with her. Diane took the painting she had given us back to California while I went on to my meeting with some friends in the Middle East. Three weeks later, we received a phone call that Happy had died peacefully in her sleep as she had predicted.

To this day I think about Happy’s story of how her life was transformed through forgiveness. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to meet this delightful woman. She will forever remain a most powerful model of forgiveness for both Diane and me, and a reminder to us all that we are never too old to change.

Miracles Inspired by Forgiveness

Finally, there is a story in Yitta Halbertstam and Judith Leventhal’s book, Small Miracles: Extraordinary Coincidences from Everyday Life, which clearly illustrates the process of forgiveness. I paraphrase it here:

There was a young man named Joey, who at the age of nineteen left home and turned his back on his Jewish religion. His father was extremely upset with his son and threatened him with total rejection if he did not change his mind.

Joey did not change his mind, however, and all communication between father and son ceased. The son wandered throughout the world to find himself. He fell in love with a wonderful woman, and for a while he felt that his life had meaning and purpose.

A few years went by, and one day in a coffee-house in India, Joey ran into an old friend from his hometown. His friend and he passed the time of day, and then the friend said, “I was so sorry to learn about your father’s death last month.”

Joey was stunned. It was the first he’d heard about his father’s passing. He returned home and began to reexamine his Jewish roots. His girlfriend and he split up because she was Jewish, too, but did not want anything to do with her Jewish tradition.

After a short stay at home, Joey traveled to Jerusalem and found himself at the Wailing Wall. He decided to write a note to his deceased father, expressing his love and asking for his forgiveness.

After Joey wrote the note, he rolled it up and tried to fit it into one of the holes in the wall. In the process, another note fell out of the same hole and landed at his feet. Joey reached down and picked it up. Curious, he unrolled the note. The handwriting looked familiar. He read on. Amazingly, the note was from his father, asking God to forgive him for rejecting his son and expressing deep, unconditional love for Joey.

Joey was thunderstruck. How could this possibly happen? It was more than a coincidence ? it was a miracle. As difficult as it was for him to believe what had occurred, there was the note, written in his father’s own hand, irrefutable proof that this was not just a dream.

Joey began studying the Jewish faith in earnest. A couple years later, back in the States, a rabbi who was a friend of his invited him to dinner. That night at the rabbi’s house, Joey came face-to-face with his old girlfriend who had left him years before. She, too, had returned to her Jewish roots.

And, yes, Joey and his girlfriend were married soon afterwards.

Time and again we hear stories in which the process of forgiveness wipes clean the slate of a painful past. It is not always easy to accept the fact that a shift in perception can apparently produce such miracles, removing the blocks to our awareness of love. But Joey’s story indicates that not even death can stand in the way of this process. It is as if the reality of the incident that once caused us such grief vanishes and is replaced by the love that was always there ? and will always continue to be there forever and ever.

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