It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but once you know and use the secret to forgiveness it can have a profound impact on your emotions, physical health, and overall sense of well-being.
Before I reveal the secret to forgiveness I want to tell you a little story.
When I was 14 years old I went to the doctor because I was experiencing soreness and sharp pains under my ribs.
My doctor patiently examined my abdomen but could find no obvious abnormalities.
So she sent me to get an ultrasound, but that too came back normal.
I left the office frustrated, because I knew there was something wrong but as far as anyone else could tell I was a perfectly healthy teenager.
More than a decade and a half later, I now know that the painful symptom I was experiencing was a consequence of Liver Qi Stagnation, a pathology that Chinese medicine correlates with emotional suppression.
My emotions were extremely volatile in my teenage years.
Like many of my peers I was mad at my parents and the world at large.
I was also mad at myself, though I would loathe to admit it at the time.
My way of dealing with all of this was to keep my feelings inside until they burst out of me uncontrollably in fits of screaming and crying.
Through the years my outbursts diminished, but it took a long time for me to learn how to deal with the emotions that I preferred to keep bottled up.
Until I learned to forgive.
As it turns out, forgiveness is not about telling other people that you have forgotten the ways in which they have wronged you.
Instead, the secret to forgiveness is to take responsibility for the ways in which you yourself have caused harm, both to yourself and others.
I told you it would seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out.
Yes, we have all been wronged by others.
No, situations don’t always turn out the way we might hope, and people don’t always treat us the way we think they should.
Occasionally others do things to deliberately hurt us, but more often than not their harmful words and actions are a consequence of thoughtlessness mixed with unfavorable circumstance.
These are facts of life.
Unfortunately most of us don’t realize that while we may not be able to control how others behave, we do have control over our own reactions.
When we continue to nurse our wounds long after the harming incidents have vanished in the ether, when we don’t allow them to heal and transform, these wounds negatively influence our interactions with the world.
In holding on to our emotional wounds, whether we realize it or not, we create a barrier between us and our ability to connect, not just with the people who have harmed us, but everyone else we encounter too.
In an attempt to prevent our wounds from being reopened we develop an overprotective shell that stops the healing process in its tracks so our old pain stays present.
Think of it as a bandage that stays on too long, preventing the scrape underneath it from getting the air it needs to heal.
When we wear this overprotective shell we are unable to truly connect and love the world around us. It blocks us from coming into the fullest expression of who we are and why were are here in this world.
We also end up with blockages in our physical bodies (or “Qi Stagnation” as Chinese medicine practitioners like to call it) that can impair our organ functions over time, leading to digestive trouble, fatigue, depression, body aches and sharp pains like I experienced in my teenage years, or worse.
Holding on to past pain is a normal protective reaction, but it is not as useful as you might think.
By carrying the painful emotions of past with us our egos think we are protected from encountering similar pains in the future.
The problem with this is that future pain is actually inevitable, whether we like to admit it or not, and holding on to our past wounds only draws the pain of the past into the present.
But the underlying reason we have trouble transforming our emotional wounds and forgiving others isn’t just because we are scared to move on, though we might be.
The real reason we hold on to these wounds is actually because we haven’t come to terms with the fact that we ourselves have taken part in causing pain.
Once we take the time to admit and process the pain we have caused others, both independently as well as in our reactions to pain others have caused us, three things happen:
First we become more compassionate. When we are able to step beyond the illusions of our ego and look directly at our own wrong doings, the image we have of ourselves as being superior and more righteous human beings melts away.
When we confess that we have also caused pain in others, whether accidentally, on purpose, or in just in our reactions to the outside world, we can more easily relate to others who have caused pain in us.
Secondly, we take responsibility for our own reactions. Strangely, when we admit to ourselves that we have caused others pain, it opens the door to a realization that we have also caused ourselves pain by so stubbornly holding on to the wounds and grudges from days past.
No matter how negatively someone’s actions have affected your life, and no matter how hurt you were in the past, it is your choice to hold on to that hurt in the present day.
Third, we have an easier time moving on in the future. Once we acknowledge that we have a plethora of reactions to choose from, and once we’ve seen how burdensome and harmful it can be to carry old wounds, it is much easier to let things go and move on in real time.
You don’t have to forget your past wounds, but you don’t have to keep feeling them either.
The good news is that you have the power to choose to heal, to let go of the past and make your current internal landscape a more pleasant place to live, but it will require some hard work.
In order to move on from the past you have to declare your own wrong doing, identify the emotional barriers within yourself, and express the associated emotions within a supportive and safe environment.
(Therapy, acupuncture, private yoga sessions and qigong classes are all excellent places to do this).
Once you’ve forgiven yourself you can start breaking down the barriers that have prevented you from living your life as fully as you should.
It may be scary, it may seem unpleasant, but you deserve more than to be limited by your past.
It’s your birthright.
Choose to forgive and move on.
P.S. Need some more inspiration?
A 93 year old Holocaust survivor explains that it wasn’t until she was able to choose a new reaction and forgive that she was able to heal and move on:
“My forgiveness … has nothing to do with the perpetrator, has nothing to do with any religion, it is my act of self-healing, self-liberation and self-empowerment,” she says. “I had no power over my life up to the time that I discovered that I could forgive, and I still do not understand why people think it’s wrong.”