Forgiveness: how to stop carrying our past into our future


Forgiveness is a decision. Either we can resent or feel shame over past experiences or we can be grateful it happened because it taught us something we wouldn’t have learned otherwise.  It can be incredibly difficult and equally powerful. Releasing feelings of anger or resentment to those who harmed or betrayed us can be liberating. Forgiveness does not condone or excuse offenses, but it frees us to live in the present without the baggage of past negative emotions weighing us down.

Horses and all animals are masters at forgiveness. I have seen time and time again, horses who were severely abused eventually forgiving the past and learning to trust and love again. For example, if you rescue a horse from horrendous circumstances and the horse holds onto a certain way of being, (e.g. aggression or shut down), then the horse is limiting his or her ability to receive the love and care offered by his or her new life. The new humans must be patient, kind, and consistent in order for the animal to learn to trust again, but it is not only possible, it's probable that it will be a deeply healing process for all involved. However, if the animal carries attachment to the injustices they feel were done, it skews their perspective and blocks them from receiving the benefits of what is available in the present moment. It's easy to see how the horse letting go of the past will improve his or her life. This can be a good reminder of who and what we need to forgive in our own lives.

Forgiveness can be for others and it can also be for ourselves. Self-forgiveness is a big step you can take to rid yourself of debilitating shame. At some point, it may be helpful to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we’ve made or the hurt we've caused others. For example, I have shame around believing what I was taught. I was taught to show the horse who's boss, to use a bit, to use a whip, spurs and various kinds of gear to control horses. I had dreams of going to the Olympics until I photographed an Olympic Trial and looked more deeply into the horses' faces and saw suffering. Although it was painful to look at, the real mistake would have been if I continued doing things in the old way. There would have been no learning, no awakening, and no transformation. Forgiveness is one of the primary lessons I’ve learned from the horses and has been a key component to my healing. Once we forgive, we can move on in a new direction freed from the bondage of whatever happened in the past.

Forgiveness plays a role in regaining balance in our relationships with other humans, animals, and nature. What would it take to forgive what has happened and restore balance to a very imbalanced planet? Forgiveness releases us from stagnation caused by a state of powerlessness and instead offers a state of acceptance for what was and empowerment for what could be. In addition, if we carry all the pain from past failures, disappointments, people who hurt us, and hold onto the belief that things shouldn’t have gone the way they did, we’re carrying that with us into the next experience and often recreating a similar pattern. 

We are living in a time where we are seeing the glaring negative effects humans have had on the planet. Both human and non-human animals are enduring unfathomable atrocities. The forests are being cut down, the climate is changing, the air is being poisoned and the oceans are being overfished and polluted. Through it all, people with unique specialities are speaking up, taking action, and implementing change.  As we look at unresolved aspects of ourselves and acknowledge both our own and humanity's errors and injustices, we can make the decision to forgive. This one action creates more freedom, more gratitude, more presence, more acceptance, and more love.

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