The freedom of forgiving

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you” — Lewis B. Smedes

Sometimes we are hurt by someone so deeply that it seems we just can’t put the situation aside.

Every time this person unwillingly pops up in our minds and creates all kinds of unpleasant feelings varying from anger, pain, revenge, disappointment to hatred that completely take over ourselves at that moment.

Again and again we feel the same intense hurt of what has been done to us as an infected wound that doesn’t seem to heal and is being ripped open every time the situation comes back into our minds. Or we keep on feeling guilt and shame — two very toxic emotions, about the things we have done to others that have caused any harm or pain. Not to forget the self sabotaging judgments we constantly repeat in our head about all the things we have done wrong in the past that have a negative or destructive influence on our happiness, well-being and health.

This can keep on haunting us for years, even for a lifetime, and locks us up in a prison of negativity. The mind will sent us constant reminders about all the hurt and pain that has been caused, to keep the memory alive, in order to protect ourselves from letting it happen again. As a result we close our hearts and become revengeful, frustrated and bitter. By holding on to grudges or resentments about the past, we cannot be fully present in this moment, and these black shadows from then will define our future.

In other words, we are a prisoner of own self if we’re not able to make peace with whatever has happened and truly forgive.

It sounds so simple, but it is true what the song sings – “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”. It requires a lot of courage and strength to drop down the defense mechanisms, open the heart and be in the vulnerability of the chance of getting hurt again. However, it’s not so much about the other. In fact it’s all about the relationship with ourselves and there is no greater gift we can give ourselves than the freedom of resentments, negativity and pain that we carry. Forgiveness sets us free to live a happier life. Forgiving is a way to end suffering and needed for our physical and mental health.

The practice of forgiveness is one of the most powerful tools we have to positively stimulate our happiness and well-being. It has life extending physical and psychological benefits; a positive influence on the heart, hormones and immune system and makes you less depressed and anxious. It reduces sleepless nights, stress and other unhealthy conditions. It brings peace within and the possibility of really enjoying life as it is.

How can we set ourselves free and leave the past for what it is? The most common advice you’ll hear in this is “let it go”. However, the answer doesn’t lay in letting go as a coping with uncomfortable feelings, bad experiences and people who’ve hurt us. We can’t let go of something that’s part of ourselves. But we can learn to let it be, released from all its heaviness, by giving it space and being able to observe it without judgment, coming from a place of acceptance and compassion. That’s true forgiveness. We don’t ignore what has happened, we’re not putting it aside as if it’s nothing, but we take the responsibility for our lives and happiness in our own hands and decide not be controlled anymore by the hurt of the past.

This is a process that takes time and it’s not an easy one either. The bigger the infected wound, the more time is needed to heal and when we start to take care of it, initially it might hurt a lot. Cleaning the wound itches and can bring up emotions as sadness, anger, grief, confusion and fear. But through really feeling these emotions, without being drawn into the story of the past, we can release them and find relief. Treat it with compassion, kindness and love, even though it hurts or you don’t want to see the ugliness of it.
Like with every practice, it gets better when you keep on doing it.

Forgiveness is a work in progress and especially the very deep nasty wounds take time to heal. It’s not something you do once and then it’s fixed. It requires some discipline and commitment to integrate the practice in your life. But the good thing is; you can do it whenever you want, wherever you are and it doesn’t take a lot of time. Take just five minutes every day to contemplate on forgiveness in your own way. You don’t need to sit in lotus pose for this, you can do it everywhere you want. The practice of forgiveness consists of two aspects; namely asking for forgiveness and offering forgiveness.

1. Ask for forgiveness.

Start with the forgiveness of yourself. Reflect upon times where you were not really taking care of yourself, periods of self neglect, self destruction or unhealthy habits. Look at yourself coming from a place of compassion and see if you can hold the space for the suffering in the past. Connect with your inner child and ask it for forgiveness. Then focus on asking for forgiveness of others who you might have disappointed or hurt in the past. Let upcoming feelings of frustration, shame or guilt be and see if you can breathe through this without judgment.

2. Offer forgiveness

This is all about letting go of resentments you might hold on to from the past that hamper you to be fully present in this moment. Look at that what others have done to you that caused pain and suffering. Understanding leads to forgiveness. To understand the nature of people, my own true nature that no one can ever really hurt me. To be able to dissect it with understanding removes its binding effect and brings in compassion. You know you are free and have forgiven when their names come up and you have no adverse (physiological) reaction. This is a process that needs time.

Last but not least, forgive yourself if you’re not able to forgive straight away. That’s all part of the immense process. It’s a big thing to do. Be patient, be kind and keep on going. Stay with it in compassion and acceptance. Tomorrow is another day. You’re on your way.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong” — Mahatma Gandhi

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