The first time I intentionally expressed forgiveness, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I felt tingly all over. I could feel something inside of me changing. Then came a rush — a wave of emotion that rolled over me, spilling me onto a shore of complete peace.
Like so many other aspects of the human condition, forgiveness is experienced differently for different people. Some people feel shivers. Others describe it as a feeling of being wrung out or completely exhausted. Still others say they feel lighter, as if a weight has been lifted from them.
While forgiveness might feel different to people, it has the same physiological effects on us all. It lowers our heart rate and blood pressure. It improves our sleep, our breathing and relaxes our muscles. Much research has been done on the subject of forgiveness and there have been hundreds of books written by experts in psychology, religion and medicine. From these studies, books, articles (and an Oprah master class), we know that:
· Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves, not the person who hurt us
· Forgiveness is taking back our own power…by taking responsibility for our feelings
· Forgiveness is a choice. And it is a skill that can be learned through training just like any other
While it's important to understand HOW to forgive, and valuable to acknowledge WHY forgiveness is so important for our mind-body-spirit well-being, do we really know WHAT in our lives constitutes the need for forgiveness?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama doesn't think so. He suggests that we can easily identify the BIG hurts, disappointments, betrayals. A friend, family member, a spouse, a co-worker … someone who has done something to us that is – UNFORGIVABLE.
It's hard to miss that BIG, monster boulder smack in the middle of our path. That unforgivable boulder is so big, we don't know how to move past it, around it, or over it. Sometimes those hurts and betrayals are so big, they are not only obvious to us, they are obvious to others around us, as well.
We know that if we want to find inner peace and well-being, we have to work on those big boulders of hurt. But what about the little hurts? What about the little deceptions and betrayals…those small stones of disappointment and anger? Do we know what they look like? Do we realize how many of them we collect in our lives? How many are filling our pockets and weighing us down?
It was in 2011 after hearing the Dalai Lama speak at a lecture in Montreal that I realized how many stones I had in my pockets — how many little hurts and disappointments I’d been carrying around, how they had built up to a hefty weight over time and were keeping me from reaching my 'joy potential'.
If you're ready to stretch your forgiveness muscles, join me in this exercise.
Go outside in your garden, yard or out at the curb and find a stone - any stone. Grab more than one if you like. If you can't get outside now, use anything that fits in your hand like a walnut or a large button. Got it?
Now take a few moments to think about the last time you COMPLAINED about another person in your life. Maybe it was one of your children taking you for granted. Maybe a friend let you down or a co-worker set you up for failure yet again. Or maybe your spouse "disobeyed" you.
We all complain. But according to the Dalai Lama, the key to identifying WHAT needs forgiveness in our lives can be found in our complaints. Why? Because COMPLAINTS are the expression of our GRIEVANCES and GRIEVANCES are the catalyst of NEGATIVE EMOTIONS which, in time, adds up to STRESS. Therefore, every time we complain about someone in our lives, we should think of it as filing a grievance away in our pocket. It doesn’t matter whether we say it out loud, write it in an email or just think it to ourselves.
The bottom line is .... nobody makes us complain – they just give us the opportunity to fill our pockets with stones. So with that in mind, grab your stone, close your eyes and think about one of your complaints, your grievances. Can you feel the weight of it in your hand? In your mind? In your heart?
By forgiving that grievance, you give a gift to yourself. You take back your power by taking responsibility for your feelings. This is an exercise - a choice - you can make every day.
Jeannette is the author of the novel "Diary of a Teenage Empath" and two HSP/Empath workbooks for children & teens. She is an Integrative Health Coach who, with her mentor Dr. Wendy Nickerson, launched the first-ever accredited HSP training program for mental health professionals. She leads an HSP community group in Halifax and advocates for HSPs in the mental health community.
The information on this site is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for seeing a doctor or mental health care professional. None of the information on this site is intended to treat or diagnose any physical or mental health conditions.