If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself online, minding your own business, and you’ll come across a word that hits you first in your whole body and then mind. That’s what happened to me this week when I was handling my productivity and the word FORGIVENESS came up on the screen. At first, my eyelids and abdomen contracted which could best be described as a tiny protest of resistance. And then I relaxed into the healing truth of that word. Almost as if my body was saying: “NO WAY” and then “Okay, you’re right. Based on that contractive response, forgiveness is something I should probably examine closer.
Does that ever happen to you? Please tell me I’m not alone. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in having somatic and mental reactions to words.
Over the years, I’ve noticed there’s a direct correlation between high levels of stress in my life and physical resistance to softening into the inner truth of forgiveness. The more relaxed and connected to my inner truth, the more willing I am to be open to seeing who or what I need to forgive in order to move forward and be more productive.
The Benefits of Forgiveness
Why should we forgive at all? After all, righteous indignance feels so good! The biggest benefit of forgiveness is that it’s medicine only you can gift to yourself. Forgiveness is an inside and unidirectional job. You can’t make anyone else forgive you. You only have control over your own ability to forgive. We can forgive ourselves and the people who’ve hurt us. The power lies within us. Convenient and free healing modality in abundant supply. Side effects may include altered thought patterns, closer relationships to self, a clean emotional landscape, and addictive desires to forgive early and often.
The Drawbacks of Forgiveness
So why don’t we forgive more often? For starters, forgiveness can be terrifying. When we forgive, we create a void where hurt, anger, blame, righteousness once lived. Here’s the part I always forget: forgiveness is not the destination; it’s part of the journey. Depending on the levels of hurt, forgiveness can be daily cleansing work like brushing your teeth. Another drawback is forgiving without fully processing. To jump quickly to forgiveness without processing the emotions around the source of hurt can create more harm.
Forgiveness: a Source That Can’t Be Forced
Forcing yourself into forgiveness would be like telling yourself to ride a bike for the first time and expecting a perfect outcome. Someone can tell you all about the fundamentals of riding a bike, but unless you practice consistently or you have the wisdom and patience that rivals the Dalai Lama, you’re going to fall down, lose your balance, and crash. As with everything else in life, we must set our expectations accordingly. We’d also be well-served to remember that we are comprised of different emotional parts as whole people as I remind my coaching clients in our sessions together. Forgiveness might really sound easy in one part of your brain, but a different part of your brain might be unable to forgive at that moment because it needs to go through some emotional processing first in order to be ready for forgiveness.
How to Forgive
My sister-wife-for-life, Tamara Grace, is an expert on the topic of forgiveness. Recently she was featured in an interview and spoke about her journey with forgiveness. Her brilliant take away on forgiveness is a formula that she practices regularly. Like other spiritual or contemplative physical practices, she makes times for her forgiveness practice regularly. Ancient yoga texts relay the importance of regular yoga practice to burn away impurities of the mind so that we can access the power of our inner truth.
REACH in for Forgiveness
Tamara’s formula for practicing forgiveness can be remembered with the acronym: REACH
R: Recall the hurt
E: Empathize with the person
A: Altruistic gift
C: Commit to forgiving
H: Hold on to forgiveness
Remember: forgiveness may require regular practice. Some days forgiveness will be easier and some days it will be harder. The important part is to show up and try. If you cannot, reach out for other tools or healing modalities to deal with your other very legitimate feelings. Try not to see those feelings as getting in the way, but as diagnostic tools that show you where the healing needs to begin.
The Power of Forgiveness
Beyond REACH, there is yet another powerful incentive to forgive: when you release someone of their responsibility for your emotional state, you become freer. You cut the cord between you and that other person (or that other part of you if you’re the person you need to forgive). You take your power back.
The Danger of Forgiveness
I recently heard Lutheran Minister Nadia Bolz-Weber talk about forgiveness in which she said that people who forgive are “dangerous” people. I love that. Her use of the word “dangerous” in this context implies that people who forgive are radicals. Love Warriors as Glennon Doyle puts it. Those who can forgive quickly are dangerous because by forgiving themselves and others, they are unpredictable, difficult to control, and hard to manipulate. They are evolved beings with a capacity to process their feels, honor their truth, and forgive. Their onus to move onward elevates their personal potential and that of the whole world.
Forgiveness Makes You Clean and Dangerous
So if you want to get more done and obsess less about what happened in the past or what you would say if given the chance to go back to that one conversation with that one person who keeps living rent-free in your mind, I invite you to be clean and dangerous in your forgiveness. Do the work and forgive yourself and others. Use REACH or some other tools that help you access the part of you that’s ready to forgive and move on. Stay angry if it’s the right thing to do, but I challenge you to commit to check in with your anger.
By teaching ourselves to forgive those who have hurt us the most, we can change the world by filling it with our big expansive love for others rather than staying small and contracting inwards on our hurt. We can get more done personally and professionally which always feels good. And as Beyoncé says at the end of her song Formation: “Always stay gracious / best revenge is your paper”.
Breathe and believe, beauties.