A couple of years ago, a woman who I considered to be a very close friend betrayed me. It was hurtful and destructive. Every time I thought of her, my heart would race, my breathing was constricted, and my blood would boil, literally. My perceived injustice was like a broken record, playing over and over in my mind, a tape without an end. I felt lots of jumbled emotions- anger, sadness, loss, surprise, rage and disappointment. They hit me in waves. And clearly, the last thing on my mind was forgiveness!
Around that time, I was preparing for a month-long vacation with my family. So, I had a vacation project- myself! First, I began to discover how much anger and stress was stored in my body. I jogged, did yoga, rode a bike, and took a lot of deep breaths. I talked incessantly…to anyone. No one escaped my fury! And I read a lot. All kinds of things from self-help to religion books. Most importantly, I sought help from my mentor, who patiently listened and gave me sage advice.
This cycle continued until one day my family grew tired of listening; and I became aware of what a burden I was becoming for them. It was my ‘Aha!’ moment. I was finally bored enough with my own anger to move on. Throughout this process, I knew there was never going to be a ‘ kiss and make up’ scene. I was on my own, and the only emotions that I could control were mine. So there were two choices: I could carry this mixed bag of unhealthy emotions with me, or I could begin the process of letting go.
Learning to forgive, like the grieving process, is a leap of faith and not a quick fix. Letting go of anger means giving up a part of yourself, albeit a useless part. It’s kind of like carrying around a full backpack; you forget how heavy the load is until you start to empty it.
Scientific evidence now shows that forgiveness is just plain good health. Dr. Fred Luskin, of Stanford University, has been conducting pioneer studies on forgiveness. His research clearly shows that being able to forgive produces positive biological effects as well as emotional ones. Luskin suggests that the act of forgiveness affects the body in the same way as cardiovascular exercise. It changes the cerebral blood flow, lowers blood pressure and lowers heart rate. Anger simply doesn’t feel good for our bodies.
So why then, is it so hard to forgive? Well, often it’s uncharted territory- we just don’t know how to do it. To forgive means giving up a role as the victim, and taking responsibility for your emotional reactions. It’s work: our minds have to create a new story, a new explanation of an event which includes understanding of the other parties involved. This may feel counter-intuitive, like we are naked and have let our defenses down. Like we are vulnerable to being hurt again and getting angry. On the contrary, forgiveness can only make you a stronger person.
Forgiving is learned. It takes a conscious effort to want to make yourself healthy, and, let go of past ‘injustices.’ But, forgiveness is an opportunity. To quote Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, ‘The selfsame well from which your laughter rises is oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.’ I choose to create a song out of my anger.