I’m Bridget Owens and you're listening to the Waxing Soul podcast. Join me on an exploration of mindful modern magic, a journey towards deeper understanding of self and transformative individual spirituality. It's October 7, 2021, and on today's episode we'll discuss the mechanics of forgiveness, why forgiving doesn't mean excusing or ignoring what has been done, and how I finally learned to truly forgive. Are you ready to grow your soul?
I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago with my wife, visiting her parents (which was amazing, by the way – I’ve discovered an even deeper love for the ocean, it was… incredible), and while we were all driving to South of the Border (which is a place I’ve wanted to go since I was a kid and read about it in Roadside America), I decided to use the time to read a book that a friend had written and sent me a copy of. I don’t get a lot of time to read, really. And something in her book – it’s about mind and body healing and energetic transformation while going through a traumatic experience in life, specifically divorce, which I’m not going through or anything but the book is called Alchemize Your Divorce and I’m always up to dig into takes on alchemy, right?
Anyway, a portion of her book got into the topic of forgiveness, and while we were all driving to South of the Border I had to stop and write out notes for this podcast episode on my phone. Because forgiveness has always been a bit of a touchy topic for me. I grew up in a family religion centered on forgiveness. Like, humans are awful so god had to find a way to forgive us for being human so we didn’t end up in hell, and that sets the stage for all kinds of screwy takes on forgiveness. It was…. Honestly, the message I always got, or at least the way I understood it, was that forgiveness was necessary because anger is bad. Sadness is bad. If someone causes hurt in your life (this is what I got from messages in my childhood) – if someone hurts you, and you’re sad and upset and hurt and angry, it’s a bad thing to feel sad and upset and hurt and angry. Those are negative emotions. You have to get rid of them somehow. And if you don’t forgive, you can’t not feel those emotions.
The more you can forgive, the more you turn the other cheek, as it were, and get used to everything in life kicking you around without you holding onto that hurt, the better you are.
And I know I’m not alone in feeling that the expectation of forgiveness is that it’s like pretending it never happened. Or at least, if you acknowledge that whatever it was did happen, it didn’t hurt or do damage. There wasn’t anything wrong in the end. It erases the hurt along with the deed, and that’s always been a problem for me.
For those of us who have been hurt, we know it’s so much easier to pretend someone didn’t do something, to ignore someone’s actions, than it is to pretend the harm didn’t happen, to hide the wounds or scars. Right? The hurt party, the one expected to forgive, is the one with the lingering effects of whatever is to be forgiven, at least sometimes. Right?
And don’t worry, this isn’t a whole rantfest of an episode. Hang with me here.
But that’s the trouble I always had with forgiveness. And, of course, the biggest forgiveness issue in my life over the past… however long… was my parents and their response to my queerness. It’s a big deal to people when it involves family, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard that it’s important for me to forgive them because of that. And that message so very clearly includes this thing of… I mean, if forgiveness means you put the hurt aside and pretend it didn’t happen, and family deserves forgiveness more than other people, doesn’t that kind of imply that your family sort of has the right to hurt you and you just have to accept it?
I mean, toxic family dynamics is a topic for another day, but when we talk about forgiveness that way, when we talk as though the people close to us or the people we’re related to are supposed to be forgiven out of hand, as though forgiveness is the same as absolution, it sets up a really toxic dynamic.
Interestingly, as these things tend to go, this past week another thing happened in my life to kind of bring up this forgiveness issue again. My best friend from high school got a friend request from my brother, who also refused to attend our wedding, we haven’t spoken in years, and while I’m not privy to the whole conversation, just being aware that there was a discussion, some of the overall theme of it, I realized that, you know, I wish I could say it didn’t bother me but it does. The hurt is there.
And that’s the crux of, I think, the problem that I’ve always had about the way we talk about forgiveness. We treat emotional hurts as though they are imaginary and inconsequential and something we’re supposed to just will away. But they’re not. I recommend going back to the episode series I did on emotions in spirituality, actually. Emotions aren’t bad. They’re useful. They have a purpose.
The world isn’t supposed to be able to beat us up all the time without us feeling any emotions about it. Anger and sadness and all of that… it serves a purpose. And the way we usually talk about forgiveness really plays into the toxic positivity thing, pushing us to push away any emotion that doesn’t feel pleasant, that keeps our attention on stuff that isn’t happy and loving and shiny and good.
Now, good news is, over the past couple of years I’ve actually figured out for myself what real forgiveness looks and feels like, and that’s what I want to dig into next.
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For me, the secret to understanding what forgiveness means came out of a maybe an unusual place. It wasn’t a religious or spiritual teacher or philosophy, it was actually from the stuff on my social media feed about economic justice, particularly student loan forgiveness. That, combined with the fact that as part of my quote unquote real job I deal with client billing.
And there’s… honestly, you know, maybe someday I’ll do a book or a series or something on money and all the ways that our understanding of money can help our understanding of spirituality and vice versa.
Because here’s what sort of occurred to me one day when I was contemplating debt forgiveness. If I take out a student loan, and… who am I kidding, I took out a ton of student loans and I’m still paying them. It’s not an if. But whether you take out a loan or you do it in a harmful way and steal from someone, the result on a very basic level is that there’s a debt owed. And that’s the root of the issue of forgiveness, too. Those things we’re asked or expected to forgive are situations where we feel that there’s a debt owed to us. Someone hurt us, and they owe us an apology, they owe us amends. We expect something from them to settle the debt. It’s probably an emotional debt, a spiritual debt of some sort, something energetic rather than tangible or monetary, but if there’s an issue of forgiveness on the table, there’s a debt, an imbalance. They have something that you believe you are owed. Right? Even if it’s just words or an acknowledgment.
And it’s really easy to feel, in all the pressure to embrace forgiveness, that what forgiving means is saying it’s okay that they – metaphorically speaking – took out that spiritual, emotional loan or even committed that spiritual, emotional theft with no intention of making it right. But that’s not what forgiving entails. It’s not saying it’s okay. That’s absolution.
Forgiveness isn’t about the actions that caused the debt.
If a debt is forgiven, it means simply that repayment is no longer expected. Like, if I’m handling a client account and for whatever reason we forgive that debt, write it off, it’s not saying they never owed us. It’s not saying it was okay to not pay us.
If you’ve ever done any accounting, your accounts receivable is money you’re owed, money you plan and operate as if those payments are going to happen. If they aren’t happening, you put effort into making them happen, right? You make an effort to collect on what’s owed. If the debt is forgiven, it’s taken out of play. No expectation that it will get paid. No bills sent. It’s not counted in the accounts receivable anymore.
However, a company might forgive a debt, but that doesn’t mean they’ll ever do business with you again. They don’t forget about it. They’ll probably even make efforts to avoid the same situation happening with others again.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean opening yourself up to more hurt. It doesn’t mean pretending it never happened. It’s simply a declaration that you no longer expect or demand anything of the other party in repayment. The reason doesn’t matter. Even if it just comes down to not wanting to remain tied up in the emotional, spiritual effort of trying to collect on whatever the debt is, just a recognition that there’s little chance of getting satisfaction, the moment you decide you’re writing the debt off the emotional books, that’s forgiveness.
Of course, the tricky thing with emotional debts is really releasing that hope of resolution, truly not continuing to pour your energy into that relationship of debtor and debtholder. And that’s the benefit of forgiveness. In fact, that’s the difference between forgiveness and absolution. If you forgive someone, you are free to move on and can put your attention towards recovering. You declare it a loss rather than a debt, so it’s a matter of grief and healing rather than conflict. If you absolve someone, it’s to their benefit rather than yours. They’re free to move on without the burden of guilt. It means there’s no more record of the debt on the books.
And it’s super important, I think, to recognize that forgiveness does not require absolution. It doesn’t require forgetting. Forgiveness alone, though, frees us up to heal.
This is what I didn’t get for a long time, because it felt like the expectation was that in order to heal emotional hurts, I first had to make things okay for the person responsible, and it’s ridiculous to hold up our own healing for anyone else.
But it’s like, if you’ve ever been in an accident and the other person is at fault and their insurance is supposed to cover the damage to your car, they essentially become the party in control of what happens. Instead of putting in effort to fix the damage, you end up putting in effort to make sure someone else fixes the damage, which is entirely different. And it’s the same spiritually. Until the moment you forgive, your spiritual energy isn’t being poured into your healing, it’s being poured into the relationship with the other party.
Refusing to forgive keeps us from healing. We keep the wound open, we keep the account at a deficit, because otherwise there’s nothing to hold them responsible for. If we are able and do choose to work on our healing before doing the forgiving, the process of healing will lead to forgiveness because in the end there won’t be anything left for them to be held accountable for. It still won’t mean it didn’t happen, but healing eventually would also lead to that release of obligation, that severing of spiritual connection. But for most of us, the forgiveness piece has to happen first to give ourselves the ability to begin to heal.
If you love The Waxing Soul, connect with me online! BridgetOwens.com is the central hub for all my projects including books, card decks, and resources. Go there to get my latest book, Deep Self Magic, to connect as a potential podcast guest, and to find out all the latest news. Also find me on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook as bridgetowensmagic.
I’d like to end the episode by reading a passage from my upcoming book, Deep Self Magic: A Step By Step Roadmap to Spiritual Authenticity. It will be available in ebook and paperback starting October 28th.
“The spirit involved in our growth and development to this point in our lives has shaped and been transformed into the authentic self that we are right now. It has shaped our deep self and our physical existence just like the quality of light, water, soil, and air affects and is affected by a plant’s essence and the way it physically develops. It takes the right amount of sun, nutrients, and proper temperature for a plant to live and grow. And just as plants take in all that spirit stuff and use it to get bigger, so do we. We metaphorically bear fruit and seeds, and we bloom if we are in a spiritual environment that supports our growth. Some plants need to be trained, pruned, repotted, and whatnot to make sure that they continue to thrive because their own growth can cause problems for them in the future, and that’s true for us, too.
All the knowledge, ideas, and emotional energy that we get from our life experience and the connections around us shape the way we develop as we go through life, but not all change and development is sustainable or good for us. And it doesn’t always turn us into a person we end up liking. All that baggage we talked about digging up last chapter? All of that has come to be part of our deep self because of the relationships we’ve had over time and the resulting flow of spirit.
When we try to grow a plant, we do our best to give the plant the right amount of water and sun and nutrients, the best type to nurture rather than harm. But the plant will take in anything that it can get when it needs it. It can’t refuse to take in water from the soil if it’s contaminated or move itself to get more optimal sunlight or shade. How the plant grows, what it becomes, has everything to do with where it is planted and what goes on there.
Our development happens the same way if we’re not actively engaged in shaping it. Who we are and who we have become has everything to do with the spirit we’ve been immersed in during our lives. Some of the choices we’ve made to impact the flow of spirit were probably ones we made purposefully to impact our lives in specific ways, but many were not. Still, all the spirit that has flowed into and out of our life, filtered in through our soul from all the sources we found ourselves surrounded by, is reflected in who we are.
But that person isn’t likely to be the person we envision ourselves to be or the person we want to be in the future. And as long as we convince ourselves that we’re a version of ourselves that isn’t actually real and doesn’t truly exist in the moment, then we aren’t living an authentic life or practicing an authentic spirituality.
Inauthenticity is what happens when we try to conform rather than embrace our entire identity. We push our shadow selves back into the darkness rather than integrate them. We learn to hate parts of our authentic selves rather than embrace them. We struggle to grow because the spirit we’re immersed in isn’t optimal to support the person we are.
Our authentic selves include our shadow selves. We are who we are because of what our life experience and the flow of spirit in our lives have shaped us into. To fully embrace our authenticity, we have to accept that not all of who we are in the moment is who we want to be, and that we can only become who we want to be if we first embrace who we are.”
Thank you so much for listening. New episodes of the Waxing Soul drop every Thursday. All materials and resources except the music are copyright Bridget Owens. Many thanks to my readers, listeners, friends, mentors, inspirations, and my framily for riding with me into season two. Until next week, blessed be and be good to yourself.