Image / Joseph Belanger
"Our failure to know joy is a direct reflection of our inability to forgive." - Charlotte Joko Beck
Many of us know that holding anger and bitterness in our hearts doesn't serve our wellbeing, and most of us struggle with forgiveness and releasing resentment at some point in our lives. Perhaps along the way we were trained that we "should" forgive others because it was the "right" thing to do - and perhaps that didn't provide a compelling reason for us to make the challenging journey from blame and anger to the freedom of forgiveness.
Alternately, we may struggle with the validity of forgiveness itself. We may feel that withholding forgiveness from ourselves and others will keep us from experiencing pain and injury again. And while that's both a natural and understandable response to pain, in practice it also keeps us from experiencing the things we most need to thrive: connection, intimacy, love and joy. When we're walking through the world in bitterness with our shields up, we're missing out on the vital connections that make life worth living. We're missing moments of magic, and the subtle enjoyable shifts of life energy moving through us, and the excitement of seeing and being seen without preemptive fear. And we're missing serious joy.
Forgiving protects our physical health, improves our mental health, increases our potential for happiness and benefits our relationships with all of the others in our lives. In fact, studies reveal that even when people simply imagine forgiving, there are immediate improvements in their cardiovascular, muscular and nervous systems. Conversely, people who imagine not forgiving someone show negative changes in blood pressure, muscle tension and immune response. Knowing this, we may as well use forgiveness as a tool for increasing our own capacity for joy, health and happiness. Because, if we're gonna be here anyway, we may as well thrive and enjoy the time we've got!
Forgiveness is a skill that can be learned, and it is something that we can do for ourselves - we do not need to do it for anyone else. Forgiveness is not condoning or approving of what happened, it does not require forgetting what happened, and it does not require that we reengage with the offender or repair our relationship with them. There are situations where neither repair nor re-engagement would be wise or beneficial. We can still forgive. Forgiveness is for us. This is self-care of the highest order.
Forgiveness is the feeling of peace that emerges as you take your hurt less personally, take responsibility for how you feel, and become the hero instead of the victim in the story that you tell." - Frederic Luskin, Ph.D.
In the forthcoming post, I'll share with you the practical and highly effective 9-Step Forgiveness Practice that was developed by Dr. Luskin to help people leave their anger - and it's related physical and psychological effects - behind them. I'll recommend starting small, with a situation that needs your attention that also isn't your biggest or most traumatic grievance. Before applying the forgiveness practice to your grievance or situation, there are a few preparatory steps you'll want to take, so we'll look at those this week. In preparing to forgive, you'll want to first:
1) Know what your feelings are about what happened. You may want to write them out, to gain clarity.
2) Be clear about the action that wronged you. Again, writing this down is helpful.
3) Share your experience with one or two trusted people.
4) Practice applying PERT in your daily life if you are not already doing so. This practice is integral to the upcoming forgiveness process, so start working with it now so you can apply it easily when the time comes.
Start there, and stay tuned for next week's post for the formula to forgive for good!
Dana Wyss Healing Arts
Breathe deeply, practice often, be well.