The Abstract Art of Forgiveness

Written by Shawna

Forgiveness is artistic, in the way that painting a giant abstract painting is; messy.  The end result is beautiful and deep, but there’s a giant mess to clean up each time you work on your painting.

There are so many colours that go into a painting, and even more colours that get mixed together to create other colours, and even shades of colours. Forgiveness is the same. So many feelings and emotions, and they all overlap at some point. And each time you come back to work on it there is a clean up involved. Repeat this a million times and that’s what forgiveness looks like.

It takes a creative eye to see something on a blank canvas before anything has been painted. Sometimes it takes hours of staring at a blank canvas before you can even start, because you’re not seeing anything yet and not sure what you want your painting to be. So you sit and stare, looking for a starting point. Sometimes it takes too long and you walk away from your canvas, but you end up coming back to it a hand full of times hoping that something, anything, will show itself on the canvas so you can start. And then seemingly out of the blue, the next time you stare at it, you finally see a starting point. Much like forgiveness.

I don’t think any of us intentionally want to stay in anger towards anybody, or ourselves. Anger is all consuming. It overrides our nervous system, and it can be set off just by the thought of the source of our anger. We carry it around in our hearts all the time. Sometimes it’s dormant. Other times it’s raging. If we could give our anger away and be done with it, I think most of us would glady part with it. We can’t just give it away though. It’s ours.

Our anger is usually directed at other people, but there is also the kind of anger we have towards ourselves. They overlap, just like the colours in a painting. To release anger towards other people, we have to find a way to work towards forgiveness and it’s exactly the same for ourselves. You can’t have one without the other. Whichever comes first doesn’t matter, whether you forgive yourself or others, the two go hand in hand.

My personal experience has taught me that most of my anger towards other people started with me; I didn’t set boundaries, I put other people’s needs ahead of my own, I didn’t speak up for myself. I have had anger towards people for not knowing what I needed, but I never told them what I needed. When I realized that, I got angry with myself and I got angry with my parents for not teaching me how to deal with relationships, how to speak up for myself, just angry. Coming face to face with anger and deciding that you don’t want to carry that around inside of you, in my opinion, would be the first step to forgiveness. It was the first step for me.

The rest of the steps are just like a colourful abstract painting, messy. It will look different for everyone, just like no two abstract paintings are the same. My steps were hyper focused on me and my actions, and an exhausting commitment to learn how to stop repeating the same cycles; there were A LOT of books on self-improvement, hours of talks with girlfriends to sort through all the crap I felt, hours of talking with my therapist, there were anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, an honest look at my own part in my relationships and taking accountability for myself. After a lot, a lot, a lot of reflection and honouring myself I got to a place of forgiveness for myself. From there I was able to start seeing the source of my anger in other people in a gentle way. I could see the humaness in other people, I could see that people are not all good or all bad, and that let me shed my anger. It's is slowly leading me to forgiveness, which is slowly leading me to feeling more whole.

In working on myself, I’ve been able to forgive people that never said they were sorry. I’ve been able to forgive myself, too. Through forgiveness I feel more love than I have ever felt. The anger took up so much space, and tainted every aspect of my life, and having let go of most of it I’ve opened up space for love and kindness. I feel more whole. It was messy though. VERY MESSY. Paint everywhere, even on the ceilings, messy. I’m still cleaning it up, but I am starting to love the abstract that I’m creating.

Forgiveness for me has meant having no contact with some of the people that have hurt me the most. It has meant setting boundaries and working on myself, loving myself more and protecting the peace I’ve been able to create in my life. Forgiveness has made me more gentle, more open, more loving. I feel more peace than I ever have, but the process is rough. I’m realizing the process is always messy, but worth it. It won’t look like that for everyone, we’re painting abstracts here, but I think forgiveness is more for ourselves than anybody else. And even if it takes years of staring at a blank canvas, it’s worth it to find that starting point and to get messy, so that we can come out more whole at the end.