Tuesday, 30 September 2014

About forgiveness

Shambhala sign
Last Sunday I went to the BrightNow festival at the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam. It was the last day of this Shambhala festival, which I believe took place for the very first time in Amsterdam. I am not a Shambhalian buddhist, but Miksang contemplative photography has its roots in this tradition so I decided to join them for a day.
lady with bag
I joined the workshop 'The strength of Forgiveness' which was led by lawyer Wikke Monster. She has been a lawyer for about 20 years and lately she has been missing something in jurisdiction: the element of forgiveness. She has been reading a lot about it and working with clients in various cases.
She started to explain that there are two reasons to forgive:

  1. to free yourself from the pain and anger caused by the perpetrator. This is about restoring your own humanity and breaking the spiral of violence or retaliation cycle, independent of what the perpetrator wants (does he/she show remorse or not).
  2. the positive effect it has on your health: it decreases anger, increases hope, strengthens your self confidence and much more.

reflection of people in glass
The retaliation cycle is opposite the forgiveness cycle of Tutu and the latter consists of four steps:

  1. telling the story
  2. embracing the pain
  3. forgiving the other
  4. ending or renewing the relationship

rows of cups
Forgiving is NOT: forgetting, tolerating, a trick, making up excuses. You don't forgive to please somebody else, you don't even need the other person. You don't forgive out of compassion for the other or for sentimental reasons and it also is not a matter of seconds. To actually forgive somebody is a process which make take a while.
people in the audience
So then, what is forgiveness? There are a few definitions or descriptions:
  • Humanization of both the victim and the perpetrator.
  • Everyone is essentially good.
  • We condemn the act but not the person behind the act.
leaf on a red surface
Lawyer Wikke Monster had invited a man over whose daughter was brutally murdered a few years ago. In a few words he told us the horrible story. He was a little bewildered with the word 'forgiveness', he didn't exactly know what that meant. But he could explain to us that he felt no hate towards the murderer and that he felt totally free of him, he lived his own life. So, we guessed in that sense he had forgiven the murderer.
The man also made a distinction between forgiveness towards his daughter or towards himself. He could only forgive the murderer of what he had done to himself (namely robbing him of his daughter), but the actual murder could only be forgiven by the daughter, because that was an act done to her.
orange vase
I thought this was an amazing story and so did all the other participants. Imagine the impact! And there I was just thinking about an ex-boyfriend and letting go of my anger towards him. My story is so insignificant to what I had just heard. But still, I felt that the next step in my process is to forgive my ex of what he did to me.
red vase and its shadow
Question only is: how do I do that? I can see it is not about forgetting, because that would only mean I would push away my emotions and putting them away in a dark corner of my being. As I see it now, forgiving is about going through all the emotions, accepting them for what they are, accepting myself for having them and as time goes by and the emotions fade away seeing the qualities of my ex. Just like the fourfold road of Tutu. And after that comes the ending or renewal of the relationship. To me it has already ended, but maybe a friendship might arise. Time will only tell.


  1. your words about forgiveness really made me think. It's giving yourself the chance to free yourself and to open up.

  2. I think you are absolutely right! Thank you for letting me know.


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