How Do You Define Forgiveness?

How do you define forgiveness?  I intellectually understand that forgiveness is absolutely essential to establishing inner peace yet I often struggle to wrap my mind around a good understanding of what forgiveness really means.  How can I possibly hope to learn how to forgive myself and others if I do not fully understand what it means?  I turned to the dictionary for answers.  Some of the definitions I found for the verb “forgive” are:

  1. To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon
  2. To renounce anger or resentment against
  3. To absolve from payment of (a debt, for example)

None of these seem like a good definition for the spiritual forgiveness work that I am trying to understand.  The first definition feels like I am pardoning a murderer from being killed.  It just feels violent even though forgiveness is an act of extending love.  To excuse for a fault or offense requires a judgment that a fault or offense has occurred.  I would, therefore, need to forgive myself for judging and simply accept that which I had labeled as a fault or offense.  Is forgiveness, then, complete and utter acceptance?

The second definition implies that I am holding either anger or resentment against someone or something.  Does that mean that there is nothing to forgive if those two emotions are not present?  How could that be?  Ultimately, I think it is my own fear that causes me to have any reaction to another that would then require forgiveness.  For example, I may hold anger or resentment toward a lover for leaving me but if I am honest with myself, I come to realize that I feel hurt, sad, scared, lonely because I am afraid that I am not good enough, loved, worthy, complete.  Is forgiveness, then, the recognition of unity?

The third definition seems as though I am letting someone off the hook for not forgiving me.  It feels as though I am holding a grudge against the world and waiting for them to make the first move and forgive me, love me, accept me, honor me.  I am choosing to let you off the hook and not requiring that you pay me that which I am owed as though that act of forgiveness makes me superior.  Ultimately, I am the only one that can make the change that I wish to see.  Is forgiveness, then, accepting responsibility?

As I write this and really think about forgiveness it seems to me that, ultimately, the only person or thing I need to forgive is ME.  I need to find the compassion and understanding to fully accept myself and see the truth of who I am.  I need to recognize that I am one with everyone and if I choose to not forgive others I am choosing not to know my divine essence.  I need to accept responsibility for my perspective, separation, fear, and ego-based thought system.  Only I can choose to listen to the divine and live by extending love.

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