My two-year-old red footed tortoise, Malti. She often has this sort of grumpy intense expression on her face, but I never once have taken it personally….unlike with some people I know!

Recently I realized that I’m not sure I have ever forgiven anyone, ever, for anything. And that includes myself.

This is not because I haven’t tried, mind you. I have definitely tried.

It’s just – all of a sudden I’m not sure I even know what forgiveness is.

Although I’m pretty sure I now know what forgiveness is not. I say this because I have started to work backwards to see how I have “forgiven” people who have harmed me in the past. And I see a lot of mental and emotional activity, but I don’t really feel anything like a real release in my heart or spirit.

If I had to pick one, I would say my speciality is probably “intellectual forgiveness.” What I mean by this: when I reason out in my head why a person might have said or did something I now feel like I need to forgive them for.

So maybe someone says something really mean to me. It bugs me and I feel like I need to forgive them. I think about it and conclude they didn’t have any good role models growing up, so they probably couldn’t help being mean or inappropriate or rude or whatever happened. Then I feel I can forgive them because I’ve found a potentially valid reason for why they acted like they did.

After intellectual forgiveness, I think I am next most expert at “emotional forgiveness.”

So let’s say someone said or did something mean or hurtful or just plain awful. I get really angry, or sad, or depressed. But then after awhile I am finally done crying or raging or telling everyone I know my side of the story so they can agree with me.

With the emotional trauma released, I can then forgive them because the memory doesn’t really bug me anymore and I no longer really care what happened and don’t want to spend any more time or energy on it.

But neither of these feel like “real” forgiveness, which I suspect I suck at….at least with people.

Where I have realized I do NOT suck at forgiveness is with animals, and in particular with my 3 animals (two turtles and one parrot).

I am actually really good – expert – at forgiving my animals. It happens instantly. I don’t think twice about it. In fact, it is not uncommon for my 17-year-old parrot to bite me for no reason at all, and in the next 30 seconds hear myself cooing at him, “Oh Pearl, you such a good bird and mommy loves you so much!”

When my little tortoise, Malti, bites me on the little toe because she sees it wiggling and it is pink and she thinks it is fresh salmon (her favorite treat), I am NEVER mad. Surprised maybe, but there isn’t anything that needs forgiving.

Or when my adult rescued box turtle, Bruce, cringes and cowers and runs away from me even though I’m just trying to deliver his lunch plate, I don’t feel a moment’s anger or hurt over it.

I think the reason why I can forgive my animals so easily but find it almost impossible to forgive myself (and very difficult to forgive some other people) boils down to this:

I don’t take anything my animals do personally. 

In other words, what they do or how they act is not about me. Ever. It is always about them.

Of course, this is one of the Four Agreements (Don Miguel Ruiz) I have been studying for years. I now understand why there are only four agreements and am very grateful (in fact, he could have made fewer agreements and that would have been fine too).

After all, I haven’t even mastered ONE agreement and I’ve been working on it for several years now!

But I have mastered it with my animals. Or, I never even needed to master it, because I’ve never taken anything in our relationship personally. They are just being who they are, doing what they feel they need to do, looking out for themselves, reacting in ways their ancient survival instinct has programmed them to do. It isn’t personal. When they act loving towards me, I don’t think it is because of me (although sometimes I think it is because I’ve brought treats or I smell like my salmon dinner leftovers).

When they act grumpy or reclusive I don’t think it is because of me. More often, I worry that I am not doing enough to ensure they are healthy and happy, but I don’t take offense or think they are mad at me. I just take it at face value, look at my part, see if I need to change anything, and then do that and drop it and move forward.

So I think I know what forgiveness feels like – or what it should feel like. It is a lovely, intuitive, connected and deeply spirit-led “letting go,” bolstered on all sides by lots of peace and unconditional love.

My mind really doesn’t get involved. My emotions don’t really get involved. My heart is all in and my spirit has already arrived way ahead of the rest of us.

In other words, it is as different as anything could be from what I’ve been doing to forgive other people and myself.

So now, I just need to figure out how to translate what my animal mentors have taught me about forgiveness to “people situations”…and most of all, to forgiving myself. Maybe then the big “mystery stress ball” in my chest will finally ease up already.

It sure seems worth a shot.

Today’s Takeaway: I would love to hear your experiences of forgiveness – of feeling/knowing/sensing/however you do it that you have really, TRULY forgiven yourself and others. And anything you want to share about how you personally know it is not coming from an emotional or intellectual place so much as a true “letting go” in the heart and spirit.