Charles Dickens
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The Path to Health; Forgiveness

Affirmation: I freely forgive myself and others.

What does it mean to forgive someone?  What does forgiveness look like?  Does it mean you must now become the
offender’s friend?  Does it mean you must
forget whatever happened that unsettled you or brought you pain?  Is forgiveness an emotion or a conscious
decision?  Once you make that decision,
are you done or is it a process?

Have you ever had something happen in your life that you
could not let go of? Something that seemed to haunt you? Something that you
were sure you had “gotten over” that kept appearing? Something that
kept coming up even in your dreams?

Forgiveness is a topic that appears in all spiritual
teachings and in many writings about improving one’s physical health. Of
course, one can’t really separate the two. Forgiveness is a letting go of
resentment and hurt.  It offers one the
opportunity to let go of perceived or actual injuries and move forward.  It does not demand that you dismiss someone’s
poor behavior or that you and your offender need to continue a
relationship.  It is not an emotion, it
is a conscious decision and it can take a lot of work!

I can be fascinated by my own reaction to what I think is a
“done deal.”  I’m sure I’ve put that
issue behind me.  I’ve prayed about it,
I’ve journaled about it and I’ve made a conscious decision to not hold onto
whatever it is that has caused me pain, whether or not it was intentional.  “I’m good with that,” I tell myself and then
something happens, there’s some recollection of the event and whoosh, I feel
like I’m starting all over again and I probably am but if I’ve worked on it,
I’m probably starting a little further up the spiral than in the
beginning. 

The Buddhists say when you don’t forgive someone it’s like
holding a hot coal in your hand and expecting it to burn the other person.  Christ’s main message was about love and
forgiveness.  Even after he had been
tortured and humiliated, He asked his Father to forgive His persecutors.  “Father, forgive them for they know not what
they do.”  (Luke 23:34) The one prayer he taught us, The Our Father, says, “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against
us.”  One of the church studies in which
I have participated, focused on forgiveness as a tool to bring one closer to
God and at one of the yoga workshops I attended which was taught in the
tradition of TIch Nat Han, the focus was also on forgiveness.

The Mayo Clinic has a whole web site devoted to how
forgiveness promotes health and healing. (www.mayoclinic.com/health/forgiveness) There’s also a healing movement that encourages people who have lost
loved ones to violent crimes to connect with the criminal and to offer an olive
branch.  I cannot even imagine the
fortitude and stamina that such a process must take but there are those amazing
people out there who accomplish such a monumental feat.  

My book group read, The
Girl in the Blue Dress
by Gaynor Arnold Catherine Taylor. It’s the
fictional story of the wife of Charles Dickens. It created a great deal of
conversation, which is one reason I am part of a book group. In the story this
woman went about healing herself of every shred of animosity she had with
regard to those who had mistreated her in her life. And, she was very poorly
treated, even, some would say, abused. Her husband disowned her, made her leave
her home and 6 of her 8 living children. Her sister took over the household and
kept the family from contacting her. Her husband had what everyone thought was
a mistress. Even after her children were grown, they did not connect with her.
She had a lot to be angry about. She had a lot of justified reasons for
resentment and she had quite a bit, as you can well imagine. But, after her
husband died, she openly accepted those people in her family who wanted to make
restitution. She didn’t demand a thing from them, other than an open mind and
heart. She even took herself to her husband’s rumored mistress and made peace
with her.

What do you think? Was she a weak, desperate person or was
she wise and strong? Was she so used to being used as a doormat that she no
longer knew how to stand up for herself, or was she so relieved to let go of
years of loneliness and shunning? All I can tell you, is that I found her
actions to make peace with her pain, inspiring. Oh, it’s so easy to hold onto
resentments, to work them over in our minds until we know we are right and our
nemesis is oh, so very wrong, perhaps even evil. But, truly, when I do that,
those emotions, those conversations I have with myself, don’t disturb that
other person in any way. The only one who is unsettled and disturbed is me.

One of my daily readings comes from a book called, Spiritual Insights for Daily Living.  I’ve discovered that some things have longer
“tails” than others.  They can be
draining and unsettling. Sometimes, I can’t even imagine why these thoughts that
keep coming up, have become so insistent, so obsessive. The reading from
January 21st helped me with this issue. “I am now ready for a
cleansing–getting rid of debris that I have harbored much too long. Anyone who
at any time may have contributed to causing disharmony within me, I bring into
consciousness and I see them clearly and honestly. As I visualize them, I say
with feeling and complete sincerity: “I fully and freely forgive
you.”  

We are called to forgive “seventy times seven.”  (Matthew18:22)  One of my studies called the injuries we
carry with us “wounds of the heart.”  We
were encouraged to carefully look back on our lives and make note of every
wound that had been inflicted upon us. 
Certainly, I’ve been very lucky and didn’t see any reason to pursue this
line of healing.  But, I would
participate simply because I was part of the group and this was our
assignment.  Once I cracked open the box
that held all those wounds, I was stunned to see just how many were still in
there.  I had things hiding in that box I
hadn’t thought of in years!  Once the
list began, I actually found some pleasure in making it.  Not only were old acquaintances on that list,
but my church was there and once in awhile, God’s name came up.  Then too I found way down in the bottom, my own
name.  So many things of which I had not
yet forgiven myself. 

Wounds of the heart take up space, space that can be used
for love and for compassion.  What to do
with them?  Now that I could see them
clearly, it was time to turn them over to God, an angel or two, maybe a
spiritual guide.  I visualized my taking
the list and folding it and placing it in a new box.  I closed the lid, locked the lock and placed
it way up on a shelf that would take a lot of effort to reach.  I am surprised when I find it has popped open
on its own and I have to reseal it. There are other more tangible techniques
that you may choose.  One would be to
actually burn the list. Do whatever it takes to begin the healing.  Yes, it takes me longer to let go of
somethings than others. But, it really helps me to tell myself;  I freely forgive myself and others. I know by putting this affirmation into practice, I am
happier, I am more peaceful and I am healthier. Truly, there are no justified
resentments. Let them all go, especially, I repeat, especially the ones you
hold towards yourself.