Did you know that practising forgiveness can benefit our physical health, mental health and improve our overall wellbeing? Our new blog entry, shines a light on this unexplored path, thanks to our guest blogger Faith Shorney. An amazing woman (she is a nutritionist, life coach, trained chef, yoga teacher and a very prolific writer) who is passionate about helping people improve the quality of their lives through a winning combination of talent and experience.
Why is forgiveness so important?
“The past has no power over the present moment” Eckhart Tolle
Time is a precious and fragile thing, this is something we all know to be true, and yet we still waste so very much of it. Forgiveness on the other hand, is probably the best cure I know for wasting time. Forgiveness will free your mind from the shackles it is bound by, forgiveness will let you breathe a sigh of relief as you let go of all the anger and shame, guilt and tension that takes up so much of your day.
Forgiveness is the father of acceptance, when we learn to forgive, we are learning to recognise and to accept that what has happened in the past, has already happened and cannot be changed; and by letting go, we are no longer allowing it to dominate our future. The power in this is the ability to step forward, to reduce the baggage that is holding you back from your true potential. If we can find forgiveness in our hearts for those who have caused us hurt and injury, we will rise to a higher level of self-esteem and well being.
There is of course the issue of our bruised ego’s; we all get hurt, feel abandoned, disconnected, disempowered by someone at some point in our lives. Most of us need time to lick our wounds after someone has hurt us, we need time to grieve through pain and loss. We can all find a thousand reasons to postpone forgiveness, because actually, it’s not as easy as it sounds to be the bigger person and to let go of the resentment we harbour towards someone.
One of the most common reasons in psychology for people holding onto their anger and not moving into a space where they are ready to forgive, is that we all seem to be waiting for the wrongdoers to repent before we are able to forgive them, rather than accepting that they are wrongdoers and forgiving them anyway. The issue here is that in waiting for this unlikely event to occur, we are forfeiting the peace and happiness that could so easily be ours. If only we could stop for a moment, look back, and untie the knots we have tied within our own being from rehashing these long-past hurts.
What I find incredible is that some people hold grudges for a lifetime, completely unaware that when we have the courage to forgive those who might have wronged us, or who we perceive to have wronged us, we open up to something entirely therapeutic. Forgiveness is a healing process for our conscious mind, and for our bodies.
Recent studies have shown that people who learn to truly forgive have positive effects both on a mental and on a physical level; Professor Fred Luskin, Ph.D., cofounder and director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, says “Forgiveness is like a muscle; When you practice on smaller things, you gain the skills to deal with bigger ones.” Luskin explains “Learning to practice it today can make you more resilient against future hurts.” He also went on to explain that you will feel better in the here and now too. "Uniformly, people who are taught to forgive become less angry, more hopeful, less anxious, less stressed, and more confident," says Luskin.
The physical benefits of having reduced stress levels and increased levels of those awesome happiness hormones like serotonin are numerous; lower blood pressure, a stronger heart, a healthier immune system and fewer headaches or back pains often caused by stress. I don’t think I’m the only one here who would agree that we would all like a little less stress and tension in our lives.
Dr Sidney Simon, a recognised authority on values realisation, defines forgiveness in terms of how it applies to human relationships: “Forgiveness is freeing up and putting to better use the energy once consumed by holding grudges, harbouring resentments, and nursing unhealed wounds. It is rediscovering the strengths we always has and relocating our limitless capacity to understand and accept other people and ourselves.”
Start today; you may not always get it right, but making a start is the only way you’ll ever know. Try a few of these little forgiveness tricks and see how much of a difference they make to how you feel. Even if you only remember to do this one in even ten times, it’s a start, and one day practice will become habit and you will free yourself of the shackles of resentment.
Try a little tenderness: The next time you are with someone and you begin feel the burning sensations of anger or the string of being hurt, take a deep breath, close your eyes and try to imagine the reasons they might be acting that way towards you. Perhaps they are facing a struggle of their own; we often take our frustrations out on those closest to us. Have a little empathy, soften the blow and ease your own pain by recognising the other person in that moment.
Be courageous: This one isn’t always as easy to come by - courage is something we have to muster up from the very deepest part of our being. The courage to forgive comes from a place of understanding and compassion, and that is something we need to practice in order for it to be a genuine act of courage. We need the courage to put aside our own feelings and accept the moment for what it is without growing attachment to it or an aversion towards it. Not always the easy road, but definitely more worthwhile.
Breathe: Whether you are recalling an old hurt, or facing a new one, stop and close your eyes, notice your heartbeat and how the speed increasing as your tensions rise, notice your breath becoming shallow. Now consciously try to slow your breath, taking at least five long slow inhalations and exhalations. Focus on your abdomen rising and falling with the breath to take your tension away from the feeling of hurt or anxiety. When we breath deeply and slowly we send signals to the brain to allow tension in the muscles to be released.
Imagine: Bring into your thoughts to an image of someone you love, or a place where you have positive memories of peace and happiness. Allow yourself to feel the positive emotion which this image elicits. Now imagine those feelings of love and happiness filling your chest and the area around your heart. When you surround your heart with positive emotion and energy, you are protecting yourself from hurt.
Smile: It is also possible to trick your brain; breathe slowly and smile. Smile a soft smile, feel that feeling in your stomach and smile at it. Your brain will be deceived into thinking you are happy and the anxiety and tension will begin to dissipate.
Real peace within yourself is not possible without forgiveness. Martin Luther King once said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.” We need to take small steps each day towards living a more forgiving and peaceful existence. And we need to take responsibility for our emotions and actions and to be the example for our children; the only way children can learn the habit of forgiveness is by seeing us, their parents, forgive others and forgive ourselves.
The freedom to be at peace in our own skins - that’s what forgiveness allows. We relinquish this freedom when we hold onto anger and resentment. Enormous amounts of energy are wasted when we hold back our love, hold onto hate, and harbour acrimonious feelings. The only remedy is letting go, and being willing to forgive.
And perhaps in doing this we are able to truly be the best version of ourselves, the self which we are at the core. When we forgive we are able to remove the shackles that bind us, take down the walls that we use to protect us, and show the beauty of the person who we really are. When we forgive, we learn how to live.