We were teaching a forgiveness workshop when John, one of the participants, told us his brother had continually abused and even molested him as a child. He said quite emphatically that he would never forgive him. After John had spoken, there were a few minutes of shocked silence, and then another participant gently said, "If you can't forgive, then you can't dance, you can't sing and you can't smile."
Those few words exactly describe the emotional blocking that takes place when there is no forgiveness. Your ability to dance—to move emotionally, to give, to love, to feel alive and free—gets stuck. All the pain, grief and hurt get held in this immovable place. You cannot move forward when a part of you is locked in the past.
The evidence of a lack of forgiveness is all around you: broken families, self-hate, guilt and shame leading to depression, huge amounts of anger, bitterness and closed-heartedness. You learn to live by ignoring this dark place without realizing how deeply limiting it is, how it holds back your joy and laughter. You point the finger and see the other person as the cause of the suffering, but you don't see how—by holding onto hurt feelings—you're simply creating more grief for yourself.
Deb used to work with the elderly. As she recalls: "I worked in a nursing home where I saw numerous residents clinging to incidents from the past: words said in anger, distorted memories of how they had been wronged by children who had disagreed with them and left in anger. So much bitterness. They could not let go—even now, so near to dying. Over the years, the hurt and anger had become solid, fixed and immovable, as if they were surrounded by prison bars."Why it really means to forgive others