I thought about titling this “Spitting Whiskey in Your Eyes,” so that tells you a bit about where I stand on forgiveness right now. But hell! Let’s try to and be good people, shall we? The world needs more of them.

Over the last couple of weeks, for a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking about the different types of forgiveness that exist, and the merits of reaching a forgiving and “zen-like” point in one’s life. Like everything, the process towards that state is a cycle: someone or something messes up, makes you mad or hurts you, whatever, so you have to get away from it and protect yourself, so “it” doesn’t happen again. (Sidenote: sometimes it takes a while to realize that you need to get away from it, and that’s okay.)

There comes a time eventually where you can decide to hold on to the anger and resentment forever, feelings which may be completely justified, or you can choose forgiveness. Apparently, the latter option is the way to go, the only way to be truly free from the detrimental weight of anger and pain. Considering that it’s the most difficult to accomplish, that’s probably right. (Thanks for making things so easy, Universe!)

What does it take to look your pain in the eye and tell it firmly, but kindly, that it’s time to go away for good? How do you “let something go” and still maintain your distance from what caused the pain in the first place, so that you can continue to protect your heart, your self, and your well-being? I have no idea, really. But I’ve been trying to learn. And I think perhaps the first step on the path to Dalai Lama-level forgiveness depends upon turning your focus inward, towards your self, and away from blame.

Sure, that thing may have been bad, or that person may have hurt you, and they may both certainly be terrible and worthy of the anger and vitriol you feel towards them. But, the only person capable of perpetuating the pain they initially caused is you. And you do that by replaying the story of whatever painful meaning you’ve assigned to the event. They did this, and that means this. This happened, and it means this. They cheated on me, and that means they’re awful, I’m hurt, and the world needs to know how bad they are. My cat died, and that means the world is bad, good things always get taken away…you get the idea.

A much wiser person than I has helped me to see that continuing to focus on blame, by replaying the story about how they/it hurt us, is what really perpetuates pain. Sure, what they did was wrong, what happened sucked, but girl! What if you decided that what happened was actually a good thing because it allowed you to realize and decide that you deserve way more respect? What if you decided that losing your cat taught you to deal with pain, how to be more compassionate to others going through the same thing, how to love the life you’re given and not wish for more or less, just love what is? It takes a big paradigm shift, but imagine how good it would feel to not be angry all the time. How good would it feel to remember them/it/that and not shudder like someone just rubbed a cheese grater over your gaping emotional wound?

A friend of mine recently told me that every time she and her (now ex) boyfriend would cross a road together, he’d grab her hand to help protect her, make sure she didn’t rush out into traffic unknowingly. Now, she crosses those roads by herself, and no one is there to grab her hand; she reaches out and grabs hold of the space where those memories still linger. It’s hard, and it hurts, but so far she’s made it to the other side every time.

That’s the point, I think: we have to keep crossing the road. Someday we’ll reach out and laugh for what happened to make us so brave and alone.