Should I Forgive to Forget or Forget so that I may Forgive?

Questions constantly move back and forth in my mind

This is one of those conundrums that I have often found myself in when pondering over the sense of having been wronged.

For the most part, I think I forgive so that I may forget.  I have forgiven all those who have hurt me knowingly or unknowingly.  To be honest, the only impetus for that is my own selfish need to be forgiven by Allah.   Take this analogy:  If a pilot knows he is in danger and needs to land his plane safely to save his life, at that point he is not meticulously counting or fretting about every individual passenger on that plane.  They will inevitably benefit from a positive outcome if he makes a successful landing.  They are simply accessories in the bigger picture.   Similarly, the focus of my personal dilemma is me and the need to purge my own self.  It is not about other individuals per se.  I know my faith teaches me to forgive my aggressor if I wish that Allah would forgive me in return.  If I wish to receive Allah’s mercy, then I need to learn how to show mercy too towards others, even when they did not necessarily deserve it.

To forgive first, unequivocally, is a huge step towards helping oneself forget the unpleasant past.  My own theory is that recognising this link comes with understanding the ego.  I do not believe it is the instinctive thing to do for many people. I believe the ego is very much a dimension of us that belongs totally to this world.  As such, it is extremely difficult to keep it in check.  It is one of many worldly pursuits and concerns which are often the downfall of us all.  Although the ego is not a tangible thing, that does not make it any less real.  We all need to be aware of its existence.

It is for precisely this reason, that I have been training myself to try and forgive first.  Fight the ego. Bury the past.  Draw a line under it and leave it there.  The surprising result in doing this is that I can then learn to forget.  Once I can distance myself from previous events, then perhaps the memories will fade like a sepia photograph, to the point where one day they will completely disappear.  Then, as I forget a bit more, I can accommodate more forgiveness.  It is a repeating cycle.

Some people believe a precursor to forgiving others is to try forget the harm they have caused.  Thus, there is no forgiveness until that negative experience has been completely erased from their memory.  Arguably, to try and forget something ever happened can be viewed as a form of emotional suppression.  Some may even say it is unhealthy.  Surely, being open about our feelings and emotions is cathartic in itself?  Yet, I would also argue that if I suffocate the bad memories long enough, maybe I will deprive negative thoughts the opportunity to develop and wrap their tendrils around my mind. 

The simple truth is, we are an embodiment of contradictions.  It is only Allah that can guide our hearts to peace.

We all have egos and we know ego is often a synonym for arrogance, vanity and pride and it’s for that reason I cannot let it win.  However, where I find myself seeking forgiveness for others, I also have found that it does cleanse my own heart and a certain peace occupies the ugliness that once lingered there.  In turn, I can actually go for long periods where I forget the cause of that pain and move on and live in the present where I would very much like to be.  So, in that sense, yes, I do forgive in order that I may forget too.  But it is a work very much not complete.

When I say “I think I have forgiven”, I make no mistake about my choice of words.  That is because over the months and years, I have often vacillated about where I stand when assessing past incidents.  I am a mere mortal; I don’t wear a seraphic halo around my head.  I am in constant battle with my ego and my intellect.  Emotional pain can be buried but, like a weed, it can also erupt from the depths of a dark place and find its way to the surface again so soon.  It does not take much to be catapulted back to the past.  The memory of a conversation, a photograph, a favourite dish, a place previously visited…  These are all fiendish reminders of the past. 

So, in a very convoluted way, to answer my own question at the beginning of this post, I cannot say I subscribe to one or the other.  My views are very much connected to my circumstances and emotional state and it is a cycle that keeps going round.  The only one thing that is clear is that the process of inner cleansing is a long, arduous one.  I know for some, it has taken years before they can finally say they have sealed the past and moved on.  I am not quite there yet though, Alhamdulillah, I can see a lot of progress has been made.  However, Alhamdulillah, I am at least always conscious of the need to rise above my own short-sighted pride.  Instead, I must learn to appease the soul. 

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