Freedom and Forgiveness

Sep 22, 2022

 

I recently had the good fortune to spend time with a dear friend and mentor who was nearing the end of her life. I was so inspired by the joy, courage, and intentionality with which she was living her final days. At 86 years old, she told me how immensely grateful she felt for having lived a wonderful and full life.

As we sat in her backyard drinking coconut water on a hot afternoon, she shared with me that the most important thing she felt she needed to focus on was forgiveness. This included forgiving herself for any circumstances or situations that might feel incomplete, forgiving others unreservedly, and asking for forgiveness from others whom she may have hurt or wronged, either knowingly or unknowingly.

Forgiveness, kshama in Sanskrit, is one of the classic yamas, or guidelines for yogic living, that appears among the list of yogic virtues in many yoga texts, including the Bhagavad Gita, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and others.

Like the yoga tradition, forgiveness is a central practice in many of the world’s sacred traditions. In Judaism, for example, the ten days between the New Year and the Day of Atonement, which happen to be coming up next week, are focused on reflection and asking forgiveness for sins incurred over the past year.

Forgiveness is considered to be indispensable for fostering inner peace because holding onto grudges and resentment keeps us from being happy and content.

It’s not about minimizing the hurt or denying the pain we might have experienced. It’s also not about exonerating the person who wronged us from doing their own repentance. Instead, it’s about letting go of the bitterness and resentment we might feel. We do this for ourselves, because when we hold onto those feelings, they become obstacles to our happiness, growth, and evolution. Martin Luther King, Jr said:

Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains a barrier to the relationship.

Yoga teaches that forgiveness dissolves anger. In this way, it brings freedom. In letting go of our anger and hurt, we release the grudges and resentment that keep us from moving forward—whether that means entering a new phase of a relationship, ending a relationship that no longer serves us, or, as in my friend’s case, letting go of life itself.

 

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