WEEK 12: Practice Forgiveness

“Forgiveness is choosing to love.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Being a pretty forgiving person, I wasn’t too concerned about this week’s topic to ‘practice forgiveness’. I rarely hold a grudge, and if someone has hurt me I will usually try to smooth things over with them. Luckily, in my life, I haven’t been hurt that often. A boyfriend cheated on me once, which was pretty awful, but other than that I can’t really think of anything that was so painful for me that it was hard to forgive. And believe me, I consider myself incredibly fortunate that this is the case, because from what I read in the news, there is definitely a lot of hurting going on in the world.

Anyway, as seems to happen quite often with these topics, the more I thought about forgiveness, the more I realized that forgiving other people was not what was going to ‘push my limit’ this week. What would be a little more challenging would be to see if I could forgive myself for some mistakes I’ve made along the way…and show myself some of the same compassion that I find so easy to show others.

Growing up, I was always a little envious of my friends who were Catholic because they got to go to confession every week. I thought it was so great that no matter how bad they were, as long as they went to church every Saturday and confessed it all to the priest, their slate was totally wiped clean. Sure, it may have been a little scary to go into the confessional and say out loud what they had done wrong, but knowing that they would be forgiven, no matter whatwell, it just seemed like a pretty good deal to me.

So I guess, in a way, I could look at this week of self-forgiveness as my own personal confessional. Yes, it might be a little scary to admit to myself that I’m not perfect, but hopefully, in the same way a priest offers unconditional forgiveness, I would find a way to offer the same compassion to myself. And from what I’ve learned this week, there is a power in forgiveness that can make an enormous difference, not just spiritually, but physically as well. Given my health history over the last few years, I thought it was definitely worth looking into.

I had no idea that there is a whole science of forgiveness being studied today. Two prominent professors, Dr. Robert Enright of the University of Wisconsin, and Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University, have both conducted research studies into the health benefits of forgiveness, and their findings have proven that the ability to forgive, or not forgive, can directly affect an individual’s health:

“Studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. The first study to look at how forgiveness improves physical health discovered that when people think about forgiving an offender it leads to improved functioning in their cardiovascular and nervous systems. Another study found the more forgiving people were, the less they suffered from a wide range of illnesses. The less forgiving people reported a greater number of health problems.

Plus, along with all of the new scientific research, I found a ton of forgiveness websites out there as well: The Forgiveness Project, The Forgiveness Foundation, The Campaign for Love and Forgiveness – the list goes on and on. It seems that a lot of people have discovered the power in forgiveness and are trying to spread the word.

My dilemma, however, was not that I didn’t understand the benefits of forgiveness, I just wasn’t sure what the best way was to go about it.

According to Marianne Williamson, “We do not need to know how to forgive. All we need is to be willing to forgive. The Universe will take care of the rest.” Well, I guess that makes sense, but still, not that I don’t totally trust the Universe, but I think, in this case, I needed something a little more concrete.

So, a quick internet search led me to a website, ForgiveYourself.com, which made the claim:

REVEALED! How to Forgive Yourself Once and For All – Even if You’re Unforgivable and You Don’t Deserve It”

Well, that certainly got my attention, and even though it turned out that I had to spend $25 to find out exactly how to forgive myself once and for all, I decided to go ahead and give it a try. Luckily, it didn’t turn out to be a total scam, and I actually ended up learning quite a bit about the whole forgiveness process.

It seems that our bodies have a way of holding on to stress, and trauma, and guilt in ways that can actually cause illness. Even the littlest hurt, or guilty feeling, can settle into our psyche and have the potential to cause quite a bit of havoc, not only in our minds, but in our bodies as well. And even though I’ve known this for a while, until this week I hadn’t really bothered to take the time to figure out what those things might be for me.

As it turns out, there are a few choices I’ve made in my life that still make me cringe a little when I think about them…mostly because I’m pretty sure I hurt some people I care about in the process. And whenever one of those memories pops into my head, even though it happened a really long time ago, I still feel terrible.

So it seems that those bad feelings are the source of a lot of negative energy. And even now, years later, every time I think about what happened, that memory creates even more bad energy, setting a pattern which, according to this website, can only be disrupted by forgiving myself for making the bad choice in the first place:

“Forgiveness works by freeing up your energy. We all have a tendency to hold onto events of the past and patterns of the present. But it takes energy to hold onto anything, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional. And if your hands are full, you must let go of something else. Letting go of what you’re holding onto right now frees up your energy…so you’ll be better able to handle what’s next.”

This made a lot of sense to me because, as a Reiki student, I totally believe that maintaining the flow of positive energy through our bodies is instrumental to our well-being. And, it goes to reason, that when there aren’t a lot of blocks in the way of that energy, it can flow that much more smoothly.

Anyway, the website goes on to provide a step-by-step process as to how to get rid of those blocks and, I have to say, I think it was pretty effective, at least for me. It’s a little time-consuming, so I won’t go into all the details, but having taken myself through the steps a couple of times, I definitely feel a little lighter when I think about those bad choices. I can’t change the fact that I might have hurt someone, but I can forgive myself for making the choice that led to that hurt. And, hopefully, I was able to remove some of those pesky blocks in the process, which may have been causing me a little trouble over the years. So, yeah!

The thing about forgiveness is that it is not always a very easy thing to do, whether we’re forgiving ourselves or someone else. In fact, it is probably one of the hardest things, so ‘practicing’ it actually makes a lot of sense. And, as is true with anything else, the more we practice something, the better we become at it. And the better we become at something, the more likely we are to do it, right? Which can only be a good thing, individually and as a whole. For as Martin Luther King reminded us:

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.”

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