One Fourth of July, as I was discussing the nature of freedom with another, I was also going through a deeply painful struggle of feeling betrayed and dishonored by someone I knew. Many of my precious hours were spent in contemplation of what had happened to me: “How could she have done that to me?” “Why did she want to hurt me so badly?” “What did I ever do to her to make her want to cause me such pain?” These questions went through my mind over and over, like someone in a revolving door who could just not find a way to exit the building. I admit that it was maddening at times. I felt as if I were held in a never-ending loop of sadness and confusion.
Until…one day I finally got a personal understanding of what forgiveness is at its very core. I believe that it is inherently freedom. But, how, you ask, does this freedom come? How was I freed in the moment I understood that there is nothing to forgive? Read on.
I believe each person on earth has a true self and a false self. Thomas Merton, in his marvelous writings, explored this concept at length and Father Richard Rohr wrote an entire book about this philosophy–Immortal Diamond. The true self is the spiritual nature of a person – the spark of divinity that is every human’s divine right. This is the part of us that transcends physical death. The false self is, unfortunately, the persona we show to other people. It is mostly built upon beliefs and ideas that were heaped upon us by others who did not know they were showering us with “false self” ideas. Since most of us do not know we have two selves and that we live predominantly from our false self, not our true self, how can we know differently when we are told, either verbally or non-verbally, “You’re stupid, ugly, unworthy, bad, inadequate, etc.?”
The realization came to me that a person’s true self is incapable of hurting another person. If someone has said or done something to me that hurts me, they have done this out of their false self, which is not real. And, if their action came from their false self (which is not real), and I hold a grudge against that person, I am holding a grudge against a shadow, a phantom. That, my friends, does not make good sense.
At the moment of this realization, I also knew that if I “forgive” everyone for everything hurtful they have ever done or will do to me, that I can never be hurt by anyone at any time. This is because I know that if they’re acting in an unkind way towards me, it is their false self that is doing this because their true self is incapable of such actions. This, to me, is the nature of true freedom. Forgiveness should be called something else, because there is nothing to forgive. We must only recognize that a person’s true self could never hurt another human being.