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If You Can’t Forgive, You Can’t Dance

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If You Can’t Forgive, You Can’t Dance

We were teaching a forgiveness workshop when John, one of the participants, told us that his brother had continually abused and even molested him as a child. He said quite emphatically that he would never forgive him. After John had spoken, there were a few minutes of shocked silence, another participant gently said, “If you can’t forgive, then you can’t dance, you can’t sing, and you can’t smile.”

Those few words exactly describe the emotional blocking that takes place when there is no forgiveness. Our ability to dance—to move emotionally, to give, to love, to feel alive and free—gets stuck. All the pain, grief, and hurt get held in this immovable place. We cannot move forward when a part of us is locked in the past.

All around us is the evidence of a lack of forgiveness: broken families, self-hate, guilt and shame leading to depression, huge amounts of anger, bitterness, and closed-heartedness. We learn to live by ignoring this dark place without realizing how deeply limiting it is, how it holds back our joy and laughter. We point the finger and see the other person as the cause of the suffering but we do not see how, by holding onto hurt feelings, we are simply creating more grief for ourselves.

Deb used to work with the elderly. As she recalls: “I worked in a nursing home where I saw numerous residents clinging to incidents from the past: words said in anger, distorted memories of how they had been wronged by children who had disagreed with them and left in anger. So much bitterness. They could not let go, even now, so near to dying. Over the years the hurt and anger had become solid, fixed, and immovable, as if they were surrounded by prison bars.”

How many times have you rerun the tape, gone over the details of who said what to whom, of how it all happened, of the injustice and blame or the guilt and shame? How many times have you done this, and did it ever help you feel healed, more joyful, or happier? How often do you have to repeat this before you see that all of it is going nowhere other than prolonging your unhappiness?

We are not trying to be simplistic. From a rational point of view, it can seem impossible to forgive: You are hurt and want revenge, it is the other person’s fault, so why should you forgive? But if we want to reach closure then we have to confront this desire to hold on to the story, for this simply causes further suffering. We are the ones feeling the pain, and the longer we hold on, the more suffering we cause ourselves.

To forgive includes fully acknowledging our feelings: how angry, upset, betrayed, bitter, or indignant we are; how unfair life is; how let down and sad we feel, and that it is absolutely okay to be this way. We know and feel the pain, but the desire to no longer continue the suffering is stronger; we care enough about ourselves to not want to carry the anger or sadness any longer.

Next: Forgiveness meditation

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Ed and Deb Shapiro

You can learn more in our book, Be The Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors Marianne Williamson, Jane Fonda, Ram Dass, Byron Katie and others. Our 3 meditation CD’s: Metta—Loving kindness and Forgiveness; Samadhi–Breath Awareness and Insight; and Yoga Nidra–Inner Conscious Relaxation, are available at:


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4:31AM PST on Feb 24, 2015

If one never opens his fist, he can never find a friend

2:28AM PDT on Jul 17, 2012

Before entering my own comment I noticed Julie H. commented and said it for me "forgiveness is for YOU, not for the other person."

12:03PM PDT on Jun 4, 2012

working on it!

10:43AM PDT on Jun 4, 2012

Forgiveness is certainly a necessity for our own peace of mind as well as an act of generosity toward the person we feel has harmed us. However, the idea that one can't dance or sing or smile unless one has forgiven is drivel.

7:14AM PDT on Jun 4, 2012

I have forgiven everyone that has every hurt me, and that is a lot coming from an abusive family. It does no good to go on hating them. They are not the same people as they were then. Those bad people are gone now. They have changed into different people and are trying to make up for what they did and I accept it. You can do it so let go of the hatefulness, or at least try, it comes up every now and then, and I think about it and let it go if you can as it does you no good to hold on to it. Love and light, namaste.

6:56PM PDT on Jun 3, 2012


11:18AM PDT on Jun 2, 2012

great article, thank you!

11:16AM PDT on Jun 2, 2012

great article thanks for sharing it with us

6:31AM PDT on Jun 1, 2012

Forgiveness as a daily practice is a great habit to cultivate.

2:23PM PDT on May 31, 2012


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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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