Many years ago, one of my dearest friends finally decided to leave her husband after a lifetime of affairs on his part that started soon after their marriage. It was heartbreaking for her, as he was the first man she had ever had in her life. But her two girls developed great resentment towards their mother, especially the younger one. Each time they met, the meeting ended in an explosion. Finally, one day I suggested that she write to her daughter a letter of apology for the suffering she had unwillingly caused her. The result was absolutely magical, and for years they have now been the closest of friends.
Another Swiss friend, a man, to whom I had been extremely close all my life, went through two of the toughest divorces I ever witnessed. They shattered him. I visited him in the States after the second one and suggested he come back to Switzerland where he could rebuild his life and opened our home to him. Whilst there, he wrote to a girl friend with whom he had been almost engaged over forty years earlier and whom he had dumped unceremoniously for another partner. She had had a professionally successful career but had never been married. He ended his letter by presenting his sincere apologies for the way he had treated her over forty years earlier, suggesting they meet again. And the magic happened: at sixty five, they married and are an extremely happy couple still today, many years later. He asked for her forgiveness – she extended hers.
I myself had an incredible experience of forgiveness about twenty years ago, alone on a California beach, dropping thirty three years of deep resentment for a real spiritual rape I underwent as an adolescent through practising a very simple spiritual exercise – but that will be for my next article!
Forgiveness is one of the most magical ‘happenings’ of life, which is why I pounced on Olivier Clerc’s book, The Gift of Forgiveness, narrating his very meaningful and powerful encounter with Toltec spiritual teacher Don Miguel Ruiz. Don Miguel is one of the great contemporary masters of personal and spiritual development on the planet today (I have great difficulty separating the two!), known especially for that magical world bestseller: The Four Agreements – A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom [130205 and 181205]. Olivier himself authored last year a very precious little book, Invaluable Lessons from a Frog – Seven Life-Enhancing Metaphors, rapidly translated into half a dozen languages, including Korean.
In his brief new book (at around seventy pages, an easy evening’s reading), Clerc narrates a workshop with Ruiz which changed his life. He learned an exercise in forgiveness which was extremely simple, but, practised in a group, at the same time tremendously powerful – a real inner cleansing.
He explains how Don Miguel asked him to kneel in turn in front of each of the twenty other participants he has never met before (with one exception) and ask for their forgiveness! Suddenly, during the exercise – that had him completely nonplussed at first – he realised that ‘by asking forgiveness from all these strangers I was actually asking for forgiveness from all the people I had known in my life, and even beyond.’ The group represented a kind of global healing community, and through them he was asking forgiveness of everyone he had hurt in his lifetime.
When that was done, Don Miguel asked Clerc to request forgiveness of the ‘devil’ (each one needs to define that entity for himself), of God, and finally of oneself (very often the toughest), explaining that we use them and others to stop ourselves from loving and to let ourselves be trapped in fear and judgement. ‘We ask others to forgive us for having used them to shut ourselves off from love, while blaming them for our own choice.’ This book is replete with such gold nuggets of deep wisdom and insight, and this brief review cannot start doing justice to the immense wealth of these pages. Clerc explains the changes this experience wrought deep down in his life, and its impact on his existence. ‘Since learning this practice, I no longer try to forgive myself for whatever I’ve done – the things that my inner judge has condemned instead. I humbly ask forgiveness from myself. When I do this, the bill of indictment and all the charges I had made against myself just melt away… In asking forgiveness of others, the purpose is not to become great friends with people who’ve done bad things to us, but to stop shutting down our hearts and imprisoning ourselves in resentment, anger and other isolating feelings.’
Before reading this book, I thought I had done all of my ‘spring cleaning’ in relation to forgiveness, but, boy, did I not change after putting it down!
True forgiveness is the greatest gift anyone can make themselves
As a former theology student (that was fifty years ago, thank God!) I feel the churches have usually got it all upside down in respect to forgiveness, as I will explain in my next article, And if your subconscious harbours this idea of a punishing God, I hope Clerc’s gentle writing will enable you to dump ‘Him’ in the ditch (its all part of the old, hackneyed male win-lose syndrome, in any case!)
Thank you to Findhorn press for this pure little gem of a book, and to Olivier Clerc for sharing his powerful experience with us.
With many loving thoughts,