Forgiveness is an essential tool for self-empowerment and self-improvement. It is also the first essential step to progress in the eternal spiritual journey, writes Swami Mukundananda
At some point in our lives, we have all felt wronged/ let down or deceived. Consequently, we have experienced sadness, disappointment, anger or hurt... In fact, it is estimated that 90% of people experience some kind of emotional trauma at some point in their lives. So, if we are the ones who were hurt, why should we be the ones who forgive? Especially, if there has been no remorse, no apology, no sense of having done the wrong from the perpetrator/s?
To answer that, we must forgive because we would be doing that for ourselves and not for the others.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness means differently for different people. In essence, it means letting go of the anger, resentment, feelings of hurt or even vengeance towards the transgressor/s. The incident or action that hurt us may always be with us, but the sorrow loses its grip, the transgression does not have the power to impact us anymore, forgiveness allows us to move on with our lives. We no longer spend our thought and energy in those emotions and we open them up for more positive, productive, creative and progressive options.
In defining forgiveness, we must remember what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not an excuse, forgetting, being in denial or opening ourselves up to be vulnerable to be hurt again. It is growing from it, looking at it as a lesson and moving forward. Forgiveness is an essential tool for self-empowerment and self-improvement. Saints through the ages in all religions have described forgiveness as the essential crowning virtue on the spiritual path.
How and Why do you forgive?
“The mind is its own place, and in itself; Can make a heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven” — John Milton
It is essential to forgive to progress in our spiritual journey. We must understand where we are coming from. We live in a material realm. It is populated by imperfect souls, many of whom have been bereft of God consciousness for many lifetimes. Such people, if they behave in ways that are selfish, should not have the power to hurt us. We must adjust our expectations of people, only then we can limit the depth of impact of another individual’s hurtful deed or behavior can have on us. When we adjust our perspective, our expectations of others are reduced, and the disappointments also diminish and disappear.
We must remember that we forgive not as a favour to the other, we forgive as a favour to ourselves. We forgive for the good of ourselves, not for the one who has hurt us. Forgiveness is a personal gift that we give to ourselves.
Research shows us that forgiveness is a response that is deeply rooted in our cultural, cognitive, religious and spiritual beliefs and practices. Forgiveness can offer a positive and growth path out of the suffering created by frequently thinking and analysing the event or circumstances of that wrongdoing or injustice.
Forgiveness brings relief and a way out from mental, emotional and in some cases even physical anguish, and lead to personal restoration, regrowth and upliftment. When we can forgive, we become more open-minded, objective, compassionate, are able to heal from trauma, and re-engage in happiness and spiritual growth again. We may use forgiveness as an emotion-focused coping strategy to decrease the stressful response to a perceived transgression or wrongdoing or injustice. When we can bring ourselves to forgive, our attitude and actions toward the person/s that has caused the hurt, change and become more positive, benevolent, kinder and more generous. We become less reflective and analytic of the hurtful situation or event and consequently become less negative, less angry and less agitated.
Forgiveness can be viewed as a form of mercy that reflects kindness, compassion and empathy, which are emotional pillars of strength in any spiritual journey.
What if we don’t forgive?
“Forgiveness is the economy of the heart ... Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits” — wrote the 18th century poet Hannah More.
Let us consider the consequences. When we don’t forgive, we harbour resentment. Harboring resentment is like pouring toxic waste into our minds. We would not let someone outside to come and throw garbage into our living room, but that is what we are doing to our selves when we keep remembering the wrong and continue with the resentment.
We should not interpret Unforgiveness as just the absence of forgiving; it is a complex combination of delayed negative emotions, negative reactions, of anger, sorrow, disbelief and distrust. The complex delayed negative mental process of unforgiveness can create a stress reaction and sustain undesirable and harmful emotions such as resentment, bitterness, hostility, hatred, anger, distrust and sometimes fear. Unforgiveness is a stressful state in consciousness and therefore bears ill consequences on our individual health. The effects from bottled-up aging anger, resentment, frustration and sadness can lead to serious health issues for us including but not limited to anxiety, depression, higher blood pressure and risks of heart attack.
If unforgiveness is prolonged and negative emotions are sustained, that negative emotion “poisons” our physical and mental being. Sustaining anger, resentment and vengefulness is similar to the voluntary ingestion of a poison. “It is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”.
Forgiveness, as opposed to unforgiveness, can mitigate the effects negative emotions can have on our individual mental and physical health. Forgiveness is not forgetting or approving or giving up or accepting. Rather it is a process of holding the wrongdoer accountable while replacing the negative thoughts, emotions and behaviors with positive, kind, benevolent, gracious responses.
This is an essential process in continuing and progressing in the spiritual path. To attain Divine Love for God we must be able to overcome and discard all the negativity that unforgiveness brings. It is sometimes a difficult and laborious process, but it is one which we do for ourselves. It does not change the transgressor or wrongdoer, it changes us for the better. “What does not kill us makes us stronger”. Being able to forgive does just that, it strengthens our resolve, heightens our outlook of on life, and frees us to be motivated on a higher spiritual journey. Forgiveness frees us from our external circumstances, no matter what anybody does, it allows us to choose our emotions. Unless we forgive, we are locked by the environment. And the moment we forgive we become free and that is the first step in moving ahead with the process of mind control. It is the first essential step to progress in the eternal spiritual journey
The writer is a yogi, a spiritual teacher and founder of JKYog