If we love, we must learn how to forgive. --Jennifer M Refinnej
Each of us will let go of our grudge at a different pace. You can move through these steps at your own speed, of course, but we really might want to hurry, because research shows that holding onto a grudge can significantly impact your mental and physical health. “When we hold onto grudges and resentment, it’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick,” says Angela Buttimer, Chapman Family Cancer Wellness. “It causes us to carry negative, tense energy in our biology.” And as we know, that tense biology can permeate our whole mind: the body, brain and relationships.
“Living in a chronic state of tension disables your body’s repair mechanisms, increasing inflammation and the stress hormone cortisol in the body,” she explains. “Forgiveness engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps your immune system function more efficiently and makes room for feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin.” (https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/how-does-holding-a-grudge-affect-your-health)
If you are tempted to dwell on an offense, remind yourself what you are doing to your body when you run the scenario in your mind again.
“Your brain doesn’t know what is real and what is imagined, when you replay in your mind an experience you had six months ago, your body reacts as if you’re having the same experience over and over again.
The Power of Forgiveness, by Pat A. Fleming
Some people view forgiveness,
As a virtue for the weak.
An act of Mercy undeserved,
That serves no useful need...
They stand firmly in their judgment,
And won't consider a mistake.
They prefer to hold a senseless grudge,
Than accept amends when made...
They feel they have some Godly right,
To reject and criticize.
They're possessed by righteous anger,
And consumed by pointless pride...
They're focused on how they've been wronged,
And won't be made the fool again.
So they feel they must avenge themselves,
By refusing to give in...
They will sacrifice their family,
Or forsake a long, time friend,
Do anything they have to do,
To be the winner in the end...
Or perhaps it's that they can't resolve,
The depth of all their hurt.
Caused when someone that they've trusted,
Left them questioning their worth.
But no matter why the struggle,
Out of pride or out of fear.
Not being able to forgive,
Can cause the loss of ones most dear...
Yes, forgiveness is a virtue,
They even say it is divine.
But more than that it sets you free,
From what weighs you down inside...
The best way to approach this life,
Is to ask forgiveness and to forgive.
There's a balance to this crazy world,
So live and just let live.
John Greenleaf Whittier: House of Forgiveness
My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;
So, turning gloomily from my fellowmen,
One summer Sabbath day I strolled among
the green mounds of the village burial place;
Where, pondering how all human love and hate
Find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
Wronged &wrong-doer, each with meekened face,
And cold hands folded over a still heart,
Pass the green threshold of our common grave,
Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,
Awed for myself, and pitying my race,
Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
Swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!
Here’s poet, philosopher, David Whyte: “To forgive is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt, to mature and bring to fruition and identity that can put its arm, not only around the afflicted one within but also around the memories seared within us by the original blow and through a kind of psychological virtuosity, extend our understanding to one who first delivered it. Forgiveness is a skill, a way of preserving clarity, sanity and generosity in an individual life, a beautiful way of shaping the mind to a future we want for ourselves; an admittance that if forgiveness comes through understanding, and if understanding is just a matter of time and application then we might as well begin forgiving right at the beginning of any drama rather than put ourselves through the full cycle of festering, incapacitation, reluctant healing and eventual blessing.”
Mark Nepo, poet and spiritual adviser, writes that “The pain was necessary to know the truth but we don’t have to keep the pain alive to keep the truth alive…...This is what has kept me from forgiveness: the feeling that all I’ve been through will evaporate if I don’t relive it; that if those who have hurt me don’t see what they’ve done, my suffering will have been for nothing. In this, the stone I throw in the lake knows more than I. Its ripples vanish. What it really comes down to is the clearness of heart to stop defining who I am by those who have hurt me and to take up the risk to love myself, to validate my own existence, pain and all, from the center out. As anyone who has been wronged can attest, in order to keep the fire for justice burning, we need to keep burning our wounds open as perpetual evidence. Living like this, it is impossible to heal. Living like this, we become our own version of Prometheus, having our innards eaten daily by some large bird of roundedness. Forgiveness has deeper rewards than excusing someone for how they have hurt us.The deeper healing comes in the exchange of our resentments for inner freedom. At last, the wound, even if never acknowledged by the other person, can heal, and our life can continue. It is useful to realize that the word forgive originally meant both to give and receive—to “give for.” In keeping with the original meaning, we can see that the inner reward for forgiveness is the exchange of life, the give and take between our soul and the Universe. It is hard to comprehend how this works, yet the mystery of true forgiveness waits in letting go of our ledgers of injustice and retribution in order to regain the feeling in our heart. We can only hope to begin this exchange today, now, by forgiving what’s broken in each other and imagining through love how these holy pieces go together.”
Let’s practice some steps that I’ve put together from some research I’ve done. Please try to think of some destructive act that someone has done to you in the past that caused you to need to forgive that person. Maybe you did and maybe you didn’t. If you did, good on you, and you can glide in this and apply these steps to see how they match up or could have helped. If you didn’t, that’s a good one to choose as long as it’s not someone who did something to you on the magnitude of “I should probably go work this through with a trained counselor and I haven’t. It’s too much to do here today as we start this. But in the spirit of training your brain, we will begin the process here and as your brain integrates what you are learning, you might feel ready to work up to a bigger destructive act later on. Coaching and witnessing by a trained professional always helps, of course.
Let’s first do a little breathing….get ourselves transitioned to being here right now. The work we do here is the work of being in the moment in order to do more of being in the moment. Check out that you are safe here….
1. Come into language for what exactly happened and why it is not OK with you. Then practice your elevator speech by sharing one on one with a couple of trusted people in your life. Imagine doing that now with someone you trust. Share what happened.
2. Articulate your own commitment to feel better for your own benefit. You are embarking on the adventure of forgiveness for yourself and not for anyone else
3. We are forgiving, we are seeking the peace that spontaneously results from understanding more and blaming less. We are reaching out an act of mercy toward the person who hurt us. It is possible to offer kindness, love, generosity to the offender. We are embarking on forgiving but this doesn’t necessarily mean we will make peace or reconcile with the person who did the thing to you. Reconciliation is a strategy for negotiation that takes mutual trust. In forgiving, we not only do not need to trust the person again, but we also don’t need to see them, talk with them or let them know we are working toward forgiving them. We are not forgetting, we are not excusing the actions of the person who offended us, we are not letting go of the value of justice. We are intending to understand more and to blame less. When we succeed at this effort to forgive, we are somehow able to take the offenses less personally. We and those around us that we care for and who care for us will benefit from the putting out there this kind of bigness, this kind of courage.
4. So, placing the source of your present distress in the right place. You are not likely distressed right now, in this moment, from the hurt you suffered by this person. You are likely suffering right now from your own feelings of being hurt, your own other uncomfortable emotions about being hurt, your own thoughts and physical upset (sensations, primarily) that you experience nowadays when you think about the offense. This is a challenging concept, to separate the two. For example, the hurt that the person did to you then becomes “the fact that this happened” and not the initial experience of pain or unsafety or whatever was worse about this destructive act. The memory of this happening and you being unsafe, but now that you are safe, you are experiencing continued impact from the experience and forgiving the person may help you see the difference and loosen a bit of the association. If this is difficult to comprehend, just let it sit and breathe through it.
5. Ask yourself some questions, exercise your understanding and your empathy: What was life like for this person growing up? What wounds did this person suffer that might have made it more likely for them to hurt you? What kinds of pressures and stressors were going on for this person at the time they hurt you? These questions are not meant to excuse or condone the behavior but to help you understand this person and their base humanity better. Perhaps you will find something in common with you that opens your heart to forgiveness more easily, or perhaps just allows you to learn from this context and protect yourself from being hurt in the future.
6. When your nervous system is responding to the hurt feelings, etc, take care of yourself by using whatever techniques you can to get yourself back into the window of tolerance that makes you feel balanced and safe. Maybe here today this means taking some deep breaths, opening your eyes, getting up and walking around the stacks, or finding a tree out the window to look at from bottom to top, but please don’t leave here. At home you can do any of these things and also take a shower, make some tea, whatever brings you into your body even more. I don’t recommend doing anything that helps you escape, like tv, alcohol, the internet, etc. (Do you know what is most effective for You? If not, you can work on a list later of what helps you be less aroused, or less numb, if that’s what happens when your nervous system gets defensive.)
7. As you explore this person’s experience, be aware of any sensations in your body (especially in your chest/heart area) that might indicate even the slightest whisper of compassion for the person in question. Perhaps you are willing to admit that this person made a mistake, that they were confused. Perhaps you can acknowledge that they feel bad about what they’ve done. As you focus on this person, can you notice slightly softer emotions towards them? And tune in again to your present experience of being safe.
8. Imagine yourself bearing the experience of the pain that they have caused. We often want to throw the pain back to the person who caused it in ourselves and you can drop down into the level of your values and question if that is the person you want to be. It is normal to displace our pain onto others, especially onto the person who hurt us. This perpetuates a relationship, a network, a society of anger, injury, disrespect and destructive action. Is that what you want? If not, envision this different way.
9. Take a breath and move your attention to the thought that you can let go of your expectations that life or another human being will give you what it or they do not choose to give you. You do not have the power to enforce getting love, power, friendship, wealth, safety but you can work hard to get them. Suffering happens when you demand that you get these qualities from life and from others because we simply don’t have the power to make them happen
10. Imagine now placing your energy on achieving your desired experiences instead of putting your energy, your focus into the way you were offended/hurt. You have two wolves inside of you, the good and the bad. It matters which wolf you feed.
11. Create an image for yourself inside illustrating that a life well lived is your best revenge against someone that has hurt you. Call to mind several good things about your life, or imagine how you will live your good life by envisioning it now. By expanding the good you do have and ignoring the hurt that will never feed you, will only poison you, your life will be improved.
12. Remember that you are capable of changing the way you tell yourself your story and of choosing to focus on your strength in choosing to forgive. Perhaps you can find a handful of positive outcomes that have come from this particular experience of hurt. (Perhaps you have become sensitized to others who have been hurt, or energized to protect others from being hurt.) Finding those positives does not mean the experience was positive, only that you have the courage to make something out of it.
Let’s return back to the body, to a softening, can we? Relax the tongue….
Mark Nepo again: We can see that the inner reward for forgiveness is the exchange of life, the give and take between our soul and the Universe. It is hard to comprehend how this works, yet the mystery of true forgiveness waits in letting go of our ledgers of injustice and retribution in order to regain the feeling in our heart. We can only hope to begin this exchange today, now, by forgiving what’s broken in each other and imagining through love how these holy pieces go together.
If you really want to put more of yourself into this, consider extending mercy in some noticeable way. You might be merciful to them in a way that they are not merciful to you. Reaching out in some way, or at least stopping talking about them negatively—might shift your own internal experience enough to create hope and peace for yourself. After all, this is the primary goal of forgiveness anyway. Note: Please consider whether interacting with this person might put you into the path of more destructive behavior. Instead you might write in your journal, create a small piece of art, throw your energy into gardening with this person in mind, or do a compassion meditation to cultivate compassion for this person and for all beings.
After all, the compassion we put out there, is compassion we take in as well.
May you be well. May you be forgiving. May the world receive your energy of forgiveness and may it cause a chain reaction of softening, allowing, and forgiving….