Even small, unforgiven slights can weigh us down like an overpacked carry-on.
Think about the time your spouse snored relentlessly through the night, wrecking your sleep before a big presentation, or about the sibling who missed your birthday. How about the mechanic who found one too many things wrong with your car after you’d left it at the shop?
Still chafing? Still stoking embers of resentment?
If so, it might be time to forgive – and if not forget – at least let go.
What it Really Means to Forgive
For years, I thought forgiveness was for life’s big emotional blows.
I read stories about mothers who softened their hearts toward drunk drivers who maimed or killed their children. I read about Nelson Mandela’s immense act of forgiveness toward his imprisoners. I read lofty quotes about forgiveness, and I wondered: Could I ever live up to such vaulted ideals?
Then, it occurred to me that forgiveness isn’t like a set of fine china. It’s like an everyday coffee cup –serviceable and reliably handy.
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it’s a constant attitude,” said Martin Luther King Jr.
King’s quote is inspiring. It’s also practical. It prompts us to bring mindfulness into everyday moments of hurt and consider whether we can forgive others as well as ourselves.
Doing so is nuanced practice. Forgiveness is both a decision and an emotional process.
The Benefits of Forgiveness
Nonetheless, we can decide how to treat those we feel wronged us by not acting out, withdrawing, or seeking payback. We also can become aware of our emotional reactions whenever we’re wounded and work to transform our anger into compassion and empathy.
Of course, none of this is easy. Research says that despite the benefits of forgiveness, which include everything from lowering heart attack risk to reducing anxiety and anger, many people struggle to put forgiveness into practice.
Sometimes grudges against others are difficult to dislodge. Forgiving yourself is nettlesome, too.
Forgiving Yourself and Forgiving Others
Meditation teacher JoAnna Hardy has said she once practiced self-forgiveness for a year, silently repeating the phrase – “May I forgive myself” – before getting out of bed in the morning.
Her model of forgiveness practice has stayed with me for years, helping me soften my self-criticism. As for others, I’ve adopted the coffee-cup approach, taking forgiveness down from the shelf and using it in daily life (See Below) with friends who snub me by not returning phone calls or texts and drivers who cut me off in traffic.
Forgiveness also has been a salve for long-lasting hurts too painful to name.
If you’d like to forgive and let go the following framework based on psychologist Everett Worthington’s REACH model is a wonderful way to put forgiveness into practice.
Recall: Recall the hurt. Acknowledge the injury without treating yourself like a victim or the other person like a jerk.
Empathize: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Altruistic gift: Consider forgiveness a charitable gift even if the offender doesn’t seem worthy.
Commit: Commit to the act of forgiving, repeating a phrase such as: “I forgive them” or “I forgive myself.”
Hold onto forgiveness: Forgiveness is a process and a practice. Silently repeating the above phrases during seated meditation or lying in bed before your day begins keeps forgiveness in your heart.
Many people come to meditation to settle their busy minds and find an island of calm within the storm of their anxiety.
But meditation doesn’t fix a busy mind. It doesn’t get rid of anxiety. It does something more profound.
Practicing meditation changes our relationship with our addled minds and frayed nerves. It teaches us to no longer view them as problems to solve but experiences – unpleasant or otherwise – that come and go and that we can tolerate if not embrace.
Author Marc Hamer relays this far more lyrically in his lovely book: Seed to Dust, Life, Nature, And a Country Garden. Hamer writes:
“Developing a calm mind is like building a relationship with a cat. If you try to make it come to you, it will run further away; if you chase after it, it will hide; but if you sit quietly, keep an eye on it and appear ready, it will come to you, and it may stay or it may go, but a relationship will have been created and a stronger one is more likely, the more you sit and practice.”