The academic literature on forgiveness demonstrates that it supports well-being and clearly sets guidelines as to what forgiveness is and what forgiveness is not: Forgiveness is voluntary, it is a process (there’s actually stages of forgiveness and therapeutic approaches that focus on the processes), does not include condoning, excusing, and/or the necessity of reconciliation (check out Thomas Freedman and Robert Enright).
Considering forgiveness on a philosophical and spiritual level, there’s a teaching in the Bhagavad Gita--echoed in other texts of both Western and Eastern traditions-that introduce the qualities of courage and love: “If you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive. If you want to see the heroic, look at those who can love in return for hatred.” (BG 14). As I am in conversation with this idea of love in return for hatred, I ask how would one know she/he is loving-or at least moving into the quality of love?
One possible first step in the process, might be to engage in a mindfulness-based practice that supports acknowledgement and soothing of the pain resulting from the perpetrator. Start with noticing the thoughts and the feelings in the body. Pain, confusion, abandonment, fear, anger, constriction of the throat, chest, fists may all be present. Mindful self-compassion practices (Check out Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer), and RAIN practices (Tara Brach) can guide this process. Once our own pain of the situation is encountered, recognized, and soothed by our own process in the cradle of self-care, self-compassion and self-love, we can take additional steps to touch the aspiration of loving the person who has objectively transgressed our personhood, emotionally or physically, on any level.
Two practices that can be helpful in this regard is to do intentional acts of love in honor of the person (donations, kind notes to people, visits or assisting a sick person, any small or large act) can all be offered for the goodness of the person who has hurt you. The only person who will know this is you, or your therapist, or an intimate, if you so choose. The loving acts may include an intention that somehow there would be an awakening for the person, or that they would show kindness to others and not treat others the way that they treated you. Loving-kindness meditation practice (check out metta meditation) can also be helpful. Succinctly, it involves envisioning the person with the qualities you desire for them: love, safety, kindness, compassion, peace and/or any quality that is most immediate in your sit. You can experiment with imagining you're breathing your breath of compassion and they're receiving it and it is imbued in their being. It’s important to note that if this practice is too activating, stop and return to self-compassion and/or compassion for others for which a neutral or positive feeling is found. (A mindfulness-informed therapist or teacher can help with determining if this practice can be helpful and/or best utilized within a framework that can allow for processing and/or grounding/calming through other somatic and therapeutic practices with a trained practitioner or in a group).
As we think about forgiveness and its relationship to love, one might ask if loving the transgressor is desirable. This is a question only you can answer. If you feel a greater lightness, energy, flow, and deep knowing in your spirit that love is being asked of you, you will be led to the right practices, people, groups environs that support you. Along this life long journey of loving well in the most difficult situations, It’s important to keep in mind that love is a process, it doesn’t require reconciliation and/or engagement with the individual. And, that we may move in an out of the feelings, that our aspiration and will may be more or less salient at times. It’s all ok. Setting intentions, providing gentleness with oneself, and doing small acts of love when possible-for oneself and others-support us in touching LOVE, feeling our humanity with softness, and sharing in the humanity of others.