I was recently reminded that forgiveness is key to being healthy and emotionally free. Things happen all the time that beckon the need to forgive, and once you realize that it’s cleansing for your mind, body and soul, it becomes a habit. The holiday season is a great time to let those old grievances go. It could be the greatest gift you’ll give.
Here’s an excerpt from my book Embrace, Release, Heal that speaks to the importance of forgiveness:
To heal, truly and deeply, we are charged with somehow, in some way, bypassing the urge to retaliate, to cast blame, or to further ignite the justifications for remaining a victim. We must find the still and certain center of our hearts, the place that wants to release the grievances and find peace. It’s the deepest part of our heart that knows, without doubt, that we are divine and there is no need to fight or blame. When we feel a tug to be still rather than to fight or flee, then we’re closer to that center, a territory so subtle and sublime that it can easily be overlooked.
Giving up the battle is a hard concept in a culture that thrives on drama and adversity. Before I grasped this concept, I judged a friend whom I saw backing off from an argument with a coworker, a situation where my friend was clearly in the right and the coworker clearly in the wrong. I inquired why she was submitting, and she said, “I asked myself if I’d rather be right or at peace. I’d rather be at peace, so I’m letting it go.” The ferocity in her eyes showed that this wasn’t the easiest choice, but it was the best one. Plus, she was telling me in no uncertain terms that this was none of my business.
Each of us is responsible for finding the sweet spot where forgiveness dwells. Each of us is in charge of how deeply we let our upsets, anger, resentments, and sorrows run. We have the choice always to let those heavy emotions go. Forgiveness is the way.
It is essential to enact forgiveness with every grudge or judgment that surfaces, because in order to truly heal, we must admit once and for all that we are not victims. Rather, at our core, we are powerful, pure, loving, blissful, peaceful beings. Playing the victim keeps us bound to the laws of the ego. When we forgive, we sanction who we really are. We no longer need or want to be the victim, because forgiveness takes us beyond the rigid dictates of right and wrong. It delivers us to compassion and the acceptance that we occupy a complex world in which every point of view can be understood.
How do we do it? After all, we live in a relentless atmosphere of anger, fear, blame, revenge, outrage, and simplistic black-or-white, wrong-or-right dogmas. Radio and television talk-show hosts scream at us to be mad as hell and blame the ”other” for the state of our ailing world. Forgiveness isn’t a topic of discussion unless it’s couched in sarcasm or cynicism. We cannot watch the news or look to media icons to learn the ways of forgiveness.
Do we dare look to preachers, priests, rabbis, and ministers to learn how to forgive? Only if we’re lucky enough to find a church, a synagogue, or a mosque that’s free of harsh opinions about those who practice life or faith in ways different from our own. Remarkably, judgment seems to be the backbone of many religions today, since political viewpoints have penetrated the pulpit and embroider scripture with partisan design.
There’s nothing you and I can do about that. The machine is too big. We can, however, congregate at the cornerstones of our consciousness and weed out the judgments we possess and protect. Many of those judgments will feel deeply entrenched, leftover from childhood. Some will feel ancient, having followed us into this life from another. Others will be rooted in the current conclusions we have made. How or why our judgments and grievances exist doesn’t ultimately matter. What does matter is letting them go.
Deciding to forgive is the first step. Whether we harbor a lifetime of anger or have just gotten caught up in a specific period of time or a particular incident, we must consciously and deliberately choose forgiveness.
Freeing ourselves of poisonous emotions isn’t just about forgiving the “other.” Very often — indeed, more often than not, it’s about forgiving ourselves.
Forgiving ourselves can be a difficult concept to grasp. We aren’t taught that the worst abuse and neglect often comes from within, yet upon paying closer attention, it doesn’t take us long to become aware of some intensely negative self-talk. Eventually, it becomes necessary to forgive ourselves for self-destructive behaviors, such as dishonoring ourselves by not speaking up or allowing our voices to be heard, by losing someone or something we loved because of neglect or lack of consideration, or by neglecting our bodies or life’s purpose by giving into harmful addictions. We’re masters at putting ourselves down.
Then there are all the ways in which we breed a negative environment by putting others down. This could include cutting comments we make about or to someone else, simple but wicked gossip, or our unspoken but toxic judgments–from criticizing the texture of someone’s hair to dismissing them due to their gender. We’re also masters at putting others down.
Treating others or ourselves badly, regardless of how slightly or severely, insults the truth that we, and everyone else, are absolutely worthy of being treated with respect, kindness, and love. We have an inborn knowledge that we should honor all others and ourselves. When we do not, the ego goes wild and pummels us with guilt and blame for being a bad and worthless person, which only perpetuates the cycle of wanting to blame others so that we can feel better about ourselves.
We’re all members of the gang that lives within. The warfare continues until some part of us steps up and is willing to forgive. Our well-being depends on it.
© Leigh Fortson, Excerpt from Embrace, Release, Heal: An Empowering Guide to Talking About, Thinking About and Treating Cancer(Sounds True Publishing, 2011)