By Suzanne E. Harrill
Most of us would agree that forgiveness is part of a healthy, balanced life-style. Just as French fries, chips, and soft drinks on a regular basis are toxic to our physical well-being, hurt, resentment, and anger are toxic to our emotional well-being. Food choices are more concrete and therefore, it is easier to correct the junk food regimen by remembering to eat our vegetables, nuts, and fruits. Working with feelings and emotions is a little trickier. Why? Because it is easy to not recognize them, deny them, and we want to get our minds on something happier and positive with our mind-over-matter strategies. Then, we are not trained to understand the language of feelings and emotions so they get less attention than our behavior, choices, goals, and actions.
Holding on to bitterness and resentment, even when we are unconscious of these feelings, silently eats away at us on the inside and robs us of the fullness of our lives. Some people fear that forgiving another means opening themselves to further pain, hurt, disappointment, or abuse. Consider that forgiveness is an inner experience and does not dictate any actions on your part; you do not have to talk to or continue to be around a person or situation that does not support you emotionally. Sometimes you need to set a strong emotional and/or physical boundary as you shift how a person or event impacts you. Forgiveness releases you from emotional bondage to the past. It frees you emotionally, giving you more creative energy to live today and to focus on creating the future you want to experience. Emotional well-being positively impacts our physical well-being as well.
How do we begin? With the decision to add forgiveness in your spiritual practices. When we set an intention to live our life with continuous inner healing, we are ready to deal with issues that come forward to our awareness from our past. Forgiveness is a process and takes time. Sometimes we believe we are done with an issue or person from our past only to find it surfaces again. This is normal and allows us to go deeper in our process.
Let me illustrate from my life how a painful issue with my brother resurfaced several years after he died. We had a history as adults of avoiding each other as we could easily “get under each other’s skin” for our religious/spiritual beliefs. While sitting next to me at my oldest daughter’s wedding he said something critical and judgmental right after the vows. I can honestly say it caught me by surprise and enraged me, which I don’t ever remember experiencing before. If I could have yelled I would have. My option was to immediately seek out my sister who was totally supportive and asked if I wanted to confront him then. I chose not to as I wanted to get back to my joy and have fun that evening – which I did. I handled it by using all my mental techniques, which by the way helped me at the wedding but did little to erase the experience from getting me worked up. I could see my reflection in him that I did not like and vowed to stop judging him in my mind. Not only did I need to forgive my brother’s words, I had to forgive myself. My brother who was in town for a few days did come to apologize to me, which I open heartedly embraced. We talked in depth with my sister present and shared a very connected couple of days.
I thought I had done a good job with the forgiveness process and I believe I did. My inner self had intentions for a deeper healing however. During a spiritual process this issue was brought forward about 12 years later, eight years after his untimely death. My brother came forward and said he was sorry. This told me I had not fully integrated this past hurtful experience and thus began a deeper process within. Today I feel a smile on my face when I think of him and especially how cute he was as a boy. My parents took lots of pictures of the three of us born close in age – when I was 2 ½ my twin brother and sister were born.
Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu have a new book, The Book of Forgiving, which has some very simple advice about some steps to begin the process of forgiving presented next in The Fourfold Path. Each chapter ends with a poem followed by a meditation, an experimental exercise with a ritual, and a journaling opportunity. To see what these two people are doing to help others heal from the atrocities of life visit their website: Tutu.org.za.
The Fourfold Path
1. Telling the Story. It is important to get it out. This can be with a friend, spouse, counselor, or journaling. It does not mean you tell your story over and over, as this is not healing the wounds instead it keeps them alive. The goal over time is to integrate the painful events and story into your life experiences without the detrimental charge that robs you of your joy.
2. Naming the Hurt. When you have been harmed it is felt in the heart and the feelings need to be named – sad, betrayed, abandoned. “We give voice to our hurts not to be victims or martyrs, but to find freedom from the resentment, anger, shame or self-loathing that can fester and build inside us when we do not touch our pain and learn to forgive,” the authors write.
3. Granting Forgiveness. Forgiveness must be sincere and not taken as a quick process to get through in order to experience inner peace. It can be very fast. It is different for each. You will feel a shift in how you feel when you truly forgive. It may feel like a heavy weight is released, it may be a place where you can truly wish the other well, or you may have a deep sense of inner peace and calm.
4. Renewing or releasing the relationship. If the other person that you are forgiving is alive, you may choose to end the relationship and never make contact again. It can be very powerful however to renew and reconnect with the person. Mpho says, “Renewing a relationship is not restoring a relationship. We do not go back to where we were before the hurt happened and pretend it never happened. We create a new relationship out of our suffering, one that is often stronger from what we have experienced together.”
Forgiveness is a way of life, just as is loving. They go together. The more forgiving we are, the capacity to love expands. I encourage all you readers to ponder what has been said so you can remove toxic emotions that may be affecting you at the unconscious level. As you enlighten up it positively lightens me.