This ancient myth offers a powerful message to lighten up . . . to let go of the emotional burdens that weigh us down, disturb our peace, and make it difficult to be fully present. For many of us, one of the biggest emotional burdens we carry is a lack of forgiveness – for others and for ourselves.
When we hold onto a grievance, shame, anger, or pain from the past, our entire bodymind suffers. Our body produces excessive amounts of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which over time can compromise our immune system and contribute to cardiovascular disease. Hostility is an inflammatory emotion and, as researchers have found, the number-one emotional risk factor for premature death from heart attacks and strokes. Hostility is also linked to autoimmune disorders. It’s not a coincidence that we speak of people “dying from a broken heart” or describe a betrayal as “a stab in the back” or say that a deep loss was “gut wrenching.” As we’ve known for more than three decades, the body and mind are inextricably connected.
Fortunately, the bodymind is incredibly flexible, and when we let go of the emotional toxicity, our body immediately begins to return to homeostasis, which is a state of self-healing and self-regulation. On an emotional level, the benefits of forgiving and releasing the burden of judgment are valuable beyond compare. In forgiving, we free ourselves from attachments to the past and we clear encumbrances that constrict our heart, expanding our ability to love and be loved.
Forgiving is not condoningIt’s common for people to resist forgiving another out of the belief that forgiveness in some way condones that person’s actions. In our perspective, forgiveness isn’t about condoning an action that caused pain for us or others. It doesn’t imply that we tolerate a thief stealing, our partner cheating, or our child lying. We can forgive even if we refuse to tolerate someone’s behavior and no longer want that person to be part of our life.
Ultimately forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. We can benefit from forgiving even if the person we forgive isn’t aware of our feelings or is even no longer alive. We can find inspiration in the words of Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned by the South African government for twenty-seven years yet emerged without bitterness for his captors. He stated, “As I walked out the door toward my freedom I knew that if I did not leave all the anger, hatred and bitterness behind, I would still be in prison.”