Forgiveness is only possible if you have the courage to embrace the pain that underlies the anger and hatred you feel towards your perpetrator. To me, this was the central lesson taught by Disney’s Maleficent, a captivating spin on Disney’s classic, Sleeping Beauty. As a child, Maleficent was free-spirited, loving, and playful. She was brave, but also kind and righteous. Her big, warm eyes glowed with a wise innocence, as she flew freely in her peaceful land. Maleficent fell in love with Stephan, a young boy who claimed to offer her “true love’s kiss”. However, he was eventually overcome with greed and betrayed Maleficent by stealing her sustenance, meaning that which gave her support, strength, and freedom. His desire to prove his own worth, which was rooted in the ignorant belief that we are all separate and need to boost our own sense of ego so that we can falsely believe we are “better than” others, led him to harm someone he pretended to love. Stephan was an unlikeable character throughout the movie, largely because he never took responsibility for his unskillful actions and the harm he caused others. Instead, he blamed his fate on Maleficent, became paranoid and fixated on seeking revenge. He was so full of anger and hatred that he could not even acknowledge the ultimate safety and well being of his daughter, which is what he was supposedly trying to avenge in the first place. His inability to touch his own pain, loss, and guilt made it impossible to forgive, and eventually led him to his death. On the other hand, Maleficent was well liked throughout the movie, even during her period of darkness. It was evident that her “evil” actions arose from a profound sadness and hardening of the heart. She was deeply hurt; first by the betrayal of someone she loved, and second, by the loss of her freedom. No longer able to fly, she was missing the thing she loved most, and her heart was confined. Ironically, Stephan’s daughter, Aurora, was able to free her heart once again. Aurora must have reminded Maleficent of her own true nature, the youthful, free-spirited, playful girl who was loved by the friends of the forest. Through watching Aurora’s innocence and feeling her tenderness, Maleficent was able to come alive once again. She was able to find forgiveness. While it is true that she fought, viciously at times, and killed when she needed to, she did this to protect what was precious to her and on behalf of what was right. Maleficent was able to acknowledge the harm she had caused, took responsibility for her unskillful actions, and corrected them. This allowed her to rediscover peace, happiness, and love. This is another valuable lesson demonstrated in the movie; if you do not take responsibility for your own unskillful actions, you will go on blaming the other, and the resulting anger, hatred, and desire for revenge will not allow you to forgive or feel peaceful or happy. Each of us has been hurt by another; can you be with the sadness, the suffering, and the loss? Can you take responsibility for your own actions, when you have caused someone else to hurt; can you be with the guilt and the pain? From there, you can begin to let go of the anger, hatred, and desire for revenge. You can reclaim your true self, your freedom, and your strength by finding forgiveness for self and other. This will lead you closer to peace, happiness, and freedom.
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