essays on suffering and awakening


Many people I admire talk a lot about forgiveness. I do too actually. Letting go of old grudges and old guilt—what a great idea! It’s supposed to be one of the most important parts of awakening, a way of freeing ourselves from the burdens of the past.

Honestly though, I never really understood how one goes about forgiving: what forgiveness in action looks like. When I say “I forgive you” to other people or myself, a part of me always wonders, “am I doing it right? Or am I missing something?” Sometimes I try praying for the person I’m forgiving. That usually feels good, and is a helpful practice.

But now I’m starting to see forgiveness differently. I’ve always looked at forgiveness as a process; a series of actions that help me release whatever it is I’m forgiving myself or someone else for. Maybe I pray for someone for a week straight or say I forgive you to myself a dozen times.

But what if forgiveness is actually much simpler? Maybe it’s really just seeing what’s in front of us.

Anytime we feel guilt or resentment towards another person, it’s always about something that happened in the past. That past might be ten seconds or ten years ago, but it’s not right now. 

As teachers like Eckhart Tolle remind us, the present moment is all that there is. The past doesn’t exist. That means we can’t change it. No matter how much we wish we could, we can’t go back and do it over: make a kinder choice or keep someone else from hurting us.

In other words, we can’t fill the hole that grows inside us when we regret something that we did, or remember how we were hurt. 

When we see that, there is a release. It’s not a matter of elaborate apologies or rituals or anything complicated: forgiveness is just a natural part of understanding the eternally present nature of the universe. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make amends to people we’ve hurt or do our best to be kind to others, or pray for their well-being. Those are always good things and promote peace. But we don’t have to wait until we’ve done that before we can forgive within ourselves.

The more we see things clearly, the more forgiveness just happens. We can’t help it.

Ian Cooper