It is essential to learn how to practice forgiveness no matter what. This may sound extreme, but let me explain. Forgiveness, as you may have heard or experienced, is simply the act of letting go of the burden that you carry from another person who has hurt you out of their own pain, ignorance or confusion. It’s a practice of freeing up your energy to focus on things that incline toward your own health and wellbeing or the health and wellbeing of others.
In 2009, a study was published that gave cardiac patients with coronary heart disease forgiveness therapy. It involved identifying people and forgiving people who had wronged them, and measured the impact next to a control group which received standard treatment of diet and exercise. After the fact, the forgiveness group not only showed reduced anger, but the rate of blood flow to their hearts improved more than the control group. This is only one of many studies that point to the mental and physical benefits of forgiveness.
There’s a saying: “Not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get hurt or die.”
The reality is holding onto resentment, literally keeps our cortisol running and makes us sick.
The wonderful thing about forgiveness is it really only takes one to tango. You only need one person to forgive — you! You don’t even need the offender.
Right now, if you have someone you’re holding a grudge against or are resenting, imagine the two of you tied together in a tug of war and imagine the cord being cut... you no longer have the tension of the rope, you are free!
Of course it’s not often this easy and it’s a practice to forgive, but what else is there to do? Hold onto the resentment so we continue to suffer? We’ve already been hurt, why continue to inflict further suffering on ourselves?
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” — Paul Boese
If you are open to letting go of the resentment-habit and opening up to a better future, play with the following short forgiveness practice from The Now Effect:
Allow this to be a choice point to practice forgiveness.
Think of someone who has hurt you or caused you pain (maybe not the person who has hurt you most) whom you are holding a grudge against right now. Visualize the time you had been hurt by this person and feel the pain you still carry. Hold tightly to your unwillingness to forgive. Now observe what emotion you are feeling. Is it anger, resentment, sadness? Also use your body as a barometer and notice physically what you feel. Are you tense anywhere or feeling heavy? Now bring awareness to your thoughts; are they hateful, spiteful thoughts?
Feel this burden that lives inside when you hold so tightly to past hurts. Now ask yourself, “Who is suffering? Have I carried this burden long enough? Am I willing to forgive?” If not, that is okay, perhaps the time will come when you’re ready.
If you are ready practice “Breathing in, I acknowledge the pain, breathing out, forgiving and releasing this burden from my heart and mind.”
Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is co-founder of The Center for Mindful Living in West Los Angeles and creator of the 6-month mentorship program A Course in Mindful Living. He is a psychologist, speaker and author who has published numerous articles, chapters, and blogs, including Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion, The Now Effect: How This Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life and co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn and MBSR Every Day. He synthesizes the pearls of traditional psychotherapy with a progressive integration of mindfulness to achieve mental and emotional healing. He has his private practice in West Los Angeles, California. Dr. Goldstein is a contributing author for the Whil blog.
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