From an early age we are told forgiveness is an important virtue we should practice, but we are only told to forgive, we are not shown how to forgive and mean it. In the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us,” But I don’t think forgiveness should be regarded as prescriptive morality. Prescriptive morality never works and is frequently a form a self- righteousness in disguise–a mask for the ego.
The best way to understand forgiveness is to realize that to forgive and to ask for forgiveness is the best use of one’s energy and also one of the most important paths to self-healing. The absence of forgiveness is holding a grievance or resentment and also a subtle desire to seek vengeance. In short it is hostility. Many studies have shown that although anger can be a healthy release of pent up energy, hostility is not healthy, and it is the number one emotional risk factor for premature death from cardiovascular accident (stroke and heat attack).

Hostility is an inflammatory emotion and causes physical inflammations as well, which can result in inflammatory cardiovascular episodes and is also linked to autoimmune disorders. It is more than remembered pain; it is also rumination over a past hurt. If you kick a dog and hurt it, it will remember that and if you encounter the dog many years later it may attack you in the interest of self-preservation. However, unlike a human being, the dog will not plan for years on how to get even. Because human beings ruminate over past hurts and have the ability to imagine and plan the future they are capable of enormous violence against themselves and their fellow beings. This is one good reason to learn to forgive.
Learning how to let go of toxic emotions such as hostility is the essence of learning how to forgive, because forgiveness is basically releasing your attachment or identification with the conditioned response. There are a few well-developed psychological techniques for releasing a toxic emotions that are based on the premise of gaining objectivity and clarity on the emotion before one can release and forgive.
Here is a 7-step process that is known to work:
1 Taking responsibility for your emotion
2 Witnessing the emotion
3 Defining or labeling the emotion
4 Expressing the emotion
5 Sharing the emotion
6 Releasing the emotion through ritual
7 Celebrating the release and moving on
If you are holding on to a grievance or resentment and feel hostility toward someone, here’s what you can do.
Close your eyes and recall the episodes that caused you to feel this way. Recall the experience in full sensory mode, noting the voices , gestures and setting. As you visualize it, feel the sensations accompanying the experience. You will usually feel a tightness or discomfort in the area of your stomach or your heart. At this point remind yourself that these are your emotions but they are not you. You are responsible for creating them and you have the power to heal them.
Once you have located the discomfort in your body, feel it for several minutes. Ask yourself, Who is most damaged by holding on to this toxic energy?
The answer of course is obvious–you are hurting yourself more than you are hurting another. Nelson Mandela once said, ” Holding a resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemy.” Having located and experienced the discomfort for several minutes, and having realized its damaging effect on you, give it a label. Define it. Is it hostility, anger, sadness, guilt, fear or a combination of all of the above?
These are the first 3 steps, taking responsibility, physically feeling it and then defining it. The fourth step is to express what you are feeling in writing. It is suggested that you do this from three different perspectives. First, as you recall the experience, express in writing what you are feeling in the first person. Having done that, express it in the second person, pretending you are the other person in the conflict. And finally, express it in the third person as a neutral observer. When you express the conflict or emotion accompanying the conflict from three different perspectives you will find the toxic energy accompanying the emotion will begin to dissipate. In fact there are studies that show that when you express your emotions in writing in this way, your immune system gets an immediate boost. Immunoglobulins or IgE levels in the saliva show an immediate rise. The fifth step is to share this experience with a loved one. It could even be the person with whom you had the conflict. During the sharing you could also say that you feel ready to forgive and be forgiven. The sixth step is to release the emotion through a ritual. You could burn the paper on which you have written these feelings and offer the ashes to the winds, to the Virgin Mary or to any deity. Ritual action is a way of trapping energy and releasing it effectively and bringing things to closure.
Having released the emotion, celebrate and do something fun, Go out exercise, see a movie, go dancing, whatever makes you happy. Although this seems like an elaborate procedure once you get in the habit of feeling your body, identifying what’s going on, seeing it from different perspectives and releasing it, it becomes quite a natural process. It doesn’t mean you will never feel resentful or angry, but over time, you will start to feel energy flowing freely through your body as the time period of your holding on to resentments will decrease. The lingering effects of the emotions will be no more than a line drawn in water, instead of a line etched into stone as before. As you become adept at releasing toxic emotions in the moment, some people find they can locate their silent witness within and easily go through the release and forgiveness process with a few conscious breaths.
If you look at what’s happing in the world right now, we see it is our inability to forgive and ask for forgiveness that is the cause of all conflicts, personal, social and even international.
Ultimately forgiving another is forgiving oneself. In forgiving we release the false sense of identity with which we have attached to a story about an event. When we release an attachment to a toxic emotion, we are freeing ourself from that false sense of self. As we free ourself from the illusion, we are really forgiving ourself in the deepest sense. What we think we are forgiving in another is an act of freedom for our own soul. Every situation that calls for forgiveness is a step in our own evolution to higher consciousness.

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