Forgiving for Health
Forgiving is not always easy, but it is always the healthiest choice…
In Chinese Medicine, Mind and Body are interconnected. Our thoughts have an effect on our emotions, which have in turn an effect on our physical health. Most emotions just pass by. For instance, we meet with friends and feel a moment of joy. Or, we miss our bus and feel frustration temporarily. However, when an emotion is felt with strong intensity for a prolonged period of time (beyond what might be considered appropriate), then it could have an ill effect on our body.
Grudges can turn into an illness
Keeping a grudge can unfortunately lead to intense long held emotions. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is a concept phrased: “the five emotions can turn to Fire.” This means that an emotion felt over a long time can lead to undesirable symptoms. In fact, the term Fire is linked to symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, headaches, etc… But how do emotions create this inner Fire? It usually happens through long term Qi Stagnation, which is linked to symptoms such as irritability, chronic tiredness, depression, aches and pain, etc…
To illustrate these concepts of Fire and Qi Stagnation, let’s imagine our body as a room that has an open door and many open windows. The windows and door help to create a continuous flow of fresh air circulating in and out of the room. Now, imagine an incident causes the door and all the windows to shut. Over time, the room becomes stuffy, dusty, uncomfortable. It could even turn toxic with an excess of carbon dioxide. This is the effect that grudges can have on our health. On the other hand, forgiveness has the power to open up that room, remove the stagnant air, replacing it with a continuous flow of fresh air.
In my practice, I have witnessed three stages to forgiveness: accepting, forgetting and moving on…
To forgive is to accept
Can we forgive if we don’t accept the painful incident? No matter how difficult it is, acceptance is essential in the process of forgiveness – the acceptance of the ‘other’, of our own self and of life as it unfolded.
Refusing to accept creates an inner conflict. On one hand, we cannot accept the ‘event’ and we want it rectified. On the other hand, we cannot change the past, nor the person we were, nor the ‘other’ involved in the incident.
To forgive is to agree that the past has happened and that it is now irreversible. Only then, can we start moving from inner conflict to inner peace.
To forgive is to forget
If we forget, we could get hurt again? Perhaps even in the exact same manner we were hurt the first time? Isn’t it better to remember so that history never repeats itself? Forgetting, in this instance, is not the inability to remember. it is the choice to stop dwelling on the past.
Why is forgetting important in the process of forgiveness? Thinking of pain revives the pain. It is as if we were choosing to go through life dragging a heavy luggage. We open the luggage regularly. And every time, the content makes us feel angry, frustrated, sad, scared or anxious… This luggage is a phantom from the past that we hold on to, keeping it present, perhaps out of habit or perhaps for far more complex reasons. More importantly, this luggage is full of memories and of beliefs that continually hurt us. And the pain is an evidence that we have not forgiven. To forget is to let go of all that weight and to Keep on living. We remember the lesson gained through the hurtful experience but we cease to carry the pain associated with it.
To forgive is to move on
We may be reluctant to forgive because we don’t want to let the ‘other’ off the hook. In our eyes, the ‘other’ is so guilty they don’t deserve our forgiveness (the ‘other’ may include our own self…). Meanwhile, we dismiss how our resentment affects us.
Remember the room I described above? When we refuse to forgive, it’s us in that airtight room – no one else. We are uncomfortable, yet we stay there, trapped by our own resentment. When we forgive, as by magic, the door and all the windows swing open, filling the room with new energy and allowing us to move on. We get to explore life in its entirety. But this time, with more experience and wisdom, as well as compassion. Through the cycle of pain and forgiveness, we undeniably grow in our ability to understand ourselves and others. Perhaps, we also grow in our desire to help…
To move on is… freedom
The refusal to forgive can give a false impression of power over the ‘other.’ However, the more empowering choice is to let go, so as to free ourselves from suffering. Awareness allows us to realise that we can disagree with a past action or event, and yet move on. Courage pushes us to leave behind toxic relationships because we deserve better. Strength gives us the knowledge that we don’t need to hold on to resentments as a shield to future pain, for our true shield is the wisdom we gained.
Forgiveness is ultimately an act of love both towards ourselves and towards life, as life is too important to weigh it down with pain and resentment when we could open our heart to new adventures and human connections.