The conventional understanding of forgiveness is of some absolution or pardon: “I know you did wrong, but I’ll overlook it this time.” But the original meaning of forgiveness is very different. The ancient Greek word for forgiveness is aphesis, meaning “to let go.” When we forgive others we let go of the judgments we may have projected onto them. We release them from all our interpretations and evaluations, all our thoughts of right or wrong, friend or foe.
Instead we see that they are human beings caught up in their own illusions about themselves and the world around them. Like us, they feel the need for security, control, recognition, approval, or stimulus. They too probably feel threatened by people and things that prevent them from finding fulfillment. And, like us, they sometimes make mistakes. Yet, behind all these errors, there is another conscious being simply looking for peace of mind.
Even those we regard as evil are seeking the same goal. It is just that for one reason or another—who knows what pain they may have endured in their childhood, or what beliefs they may have adopted—they seek their fulfillment in ways that are uncaring, and perhaps even cruel. Deep inside, however, they are all sparks of the divine light struggling to find some salvation in this world.
When we let go of our judgments of others, we let go of the source of much of our anger and many of our grievances. Our bad feelings may seem justified at the time, but they don’t serve us—in fact, they usually cause more damage to ourselves than they do to the other person. The freer we are of our judgments and grievances, the more at peace we can be in ourselves.