If You Can't Forgive, You Can't Dance
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
We are not trying to be simplistic. From a rational point of view, it can seem impossible to forgive: You are hurt and want revenge and it is the other person's fault—so why should you forgive? But if you want to reach closure, then you have to confront this desire to hold onto the story, because it simply causes further suffering. You are the one feeling the pain, and the longer you hold on, the more suffering you cause yourself.
To forgive includes fully acknowledging your feelings: how angry, upset, betrayed, bitter or indignant you are; how unfair life is; how let down and sad you feel...and that it's absolutely okay to be this way. You know and feel the pain, but the desire to no longer continue the suffering is stronger; you care enough about yourself to not want to carry the anger or sadness any longer.
If you don't forgive, it's like carrying heavy baggage that weighs you down so you can't go forward, but you can't go without it, because it contains your history, your identity. Or it is like holding onto hot coals, but you're the one getting burned. Letting go of the past—of the story and the details—enables you to open to the present, to who you are now. You don't need to live in the drama, to keep the story alive, to maintain suffering. You can come back to sanity and goodness and bring that sanity into your life.
As Gangaji says in our book, Be The Change: "We have all experienced being hurt by someone, such as our parents, lover, or friend. But it is not about denying the hurt; it's actually about opening and meeting the hurt, and then the hurt itself becomes a deepening of our heart. In that moment, it is natural for forgiveness to occur."
Try Ed and Deb's forgiveness meditation
In this way, forgiveness is truly revolutionary. It releases the pain of the past so you are free to live in the present. It changes fear and hate into love and acceptance, just as an oyster uses the irritation from a grain of sand to produce the beauty of a pearl. It enables you to live with kindness and care.
You can develop forgiveness for yourself or another. You may want to meditate on just one of these areas when you do this practice. Find a comfortable place to sit and settle your attention on your breathing.
- Focus on memories, feelings or issues you have not forgiven yourself for. Simply observe—without attachment. Hold yourself with care and tenderness, inviting forgiveness. Silently keep repeating: "I forgive myself, for my words and actions, intentional or unintentional, I forgive myself. May I be peaceful and filled with loving kindness." Keep breathing, letting the breath open and soften your heart.
- Now focus on one person you wish to forgive. Breathe out any resistance or anger, and breathe in forgiveness and gentleness. Silently keep repeating: "I forgive you, for your words and actions, intentional or unintentional, I forgive you. May you be peaceful and filled with loving kindness." Be gentle with yourself. Do not get sidetracked by the details of what happened. Let go of the story and breathe in forgiveness.
Ed and Deb Shapiro are the authors of Be The Change, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World. They are featured weekly contributors to Oprah.com, HuffingtonPost.com and Care2.com. Ed and Deb write Sprint's The Daily CHILLOUT inspirational text messages. They have three meditation CDs: Metta: Loving Kindness and Forgiveness, Samadhi: Breath Awareness and Insight and Yoga Nidra: Inner Conscious Relaxation. Deb is also the author of the best-selling book Your Body Speaks Your Mind, winner of the 2007 Visionary Book Award.
Keep Reading More from Ed and Deb Shapiro:
Why being in your heart is better than in your head
Unhook yourself from negativity
How your attitude can determine your life