Jack Kornfield once said: “There is a place in everyone that yearns to love, that longs to be safe, that wants to treat others and ourselves with respect. Sometimes that place is buried underneath layers of fear, old wounds, and pain that we have used to protect ourselves from injury.”
The path to health and inner peace is often not a path of adding to something. It is the path of letting go. This is a main principle of healing – rather than chasing happiness we simply choose to let go of that which makes us unhappy.
Let Go – it means just as it says. It is a conscious decision to release with full acceptance an idea, a thing, an event or a particular time – it’s an invitation to make room for our future by letting go our past, at least a part of our past. We all have made mistakes and bad decisions. We all have ‘baggage’ from our pasts – painful relationships and old beliefs.
How do we let go of such things? Letting go does not mean ‘getting rid of’ or ‘throwing away’ or annihilating them. It is more like setting down and letting them be. A close friend to letting go is acceptance. Accepting people and situations for what they are. This means we lay them aside – put them down gently without any kind of aversion.
A breakup of a relationship can crush our joyful disposition and replace it with tearful despair. According to brain scientists, nearly 20 percent of us suffer from ‘complicated grief’; a biological occurrence that is actually rooted in our brain chemistry. It is a persistent sense of longing for someone we lost with romanticized memories.
When we break up with someone, words like ‘time heals all wounds’ might ring very hollow.
Losing a relationship can feel like a mini-death. We may find ourselves going through the process of grief:
Denial (‘It can’t be over’) – You are shocked and in denial. You don’t believe it is over and you hold out hope.
Anger (‘How could he/she do this to me?’) – Allowing ourselves to grieve – there is nothing wrong with having a good cry. We are free to express our feelings, but not drown in them.
Depression (‘No one will ever love me.’) – Don’t go down that road, there is nothing good down there! – Replace those thoughts with: ‘All pain passes eventually’. Yes, time will do its part. A cut on your skin will heal in time, but it hurts now. The same is true with an emotional wound. In the beginning, it hurts, but over time the pain passes.
We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to it. There are steps we can take to lessen the pain. At first, we need to stop the bleeding and soothe the pain. Finally, we need to keep our wound from becoming infected with bitterness.
Acceptance (‘I’m going to be all right) – When this process is over, try to remember: Letting go opens you up to new possibilities. Everything about holding on is torturous and an exercise in suffering. When we let go, we give ourselves peace.
Past Resentments And Hurts
Sometimes our lives are like driving. Driving down the road of life, we all look through our windshields; we focus on where we are and where we want to go. But we also look at the rearview mirror to see where we’ve been and what has happened behind us. But, imagine driving our car looking only into that rearview mirror.
What do we think would happen? We can’t see the good things or the bad things that are in front of us. We can’t see where we are going, and finally, it’s not a safe way to drive, and even, seems ridiculous.
It’s the same way in life. Often times we drive down the road of life focusing only on the rearview mirror. We can get so focused on our past that we are barely able to move forward or to see what is in front of us.
In our mind’s rearview mirror is where we can feel resentments, mistakes, bad decisions, and hurts. But they are behind us. We need to be aware of our past mistakes, but we can’t dwell on them.
When someone wrongs us, it is only normal to feel a degree of wrath. When we have, or feel that we have, been wronged, we could become bitter. Constantly thinking about the episode could result in our having negative feelings about others. We might close up, isolating ourselves and showing little interest in others.
Our heart is like an heirloom bowl or vase. What would we do if it became soiled or stained? Would our immediate response be to throw it away? Not likely. We would probably put forth the effort to clean it carefully. In like fashion, we can work hard to get rid of any feelings of annoyance toward those who offended us. With our heart cleansed of negative thoughts, we want to enjoy again the close friendship that had seemed lost for good.
Physical injuries may range from minor cuts to deep wounds, and not all require the same degree of attention. It is similar to injured feelings—some wounds are deeper than others.
There is a saying that ‘you can measure a man by the size of the things it takes to upset him.’ How do we measure up in this regard?
Do we really need to make an issue over every minor bruise we suffer in our relationships with others? Minor irritations, slights, and annoyances are apart of life and do not necessarily require formal forgiveness.
Forgiveness, it seems, is much like money. It can be spent freely and mercifully on others or can be hoarded stingily for oneself.
Positive Impact of Forgiveness and Letting Go
Scientists have launched research that has begun to demonstrate that forgiveness and letting go can positively enhance emotional and even physical health. Forgiveness is not just a good social lubricant but also good medicine!
“In a study of more than 4,600,” says a report in The Gazette, researchers “found [that] the more hostile, frustrated and mean-spirited the personality” was, the more unhealthy the person’s lungs were. In fact, some of the harmful effects were even greater than those of a current smoker!
Dr. David R. Williams, said regarding his research: “We found a particularly strong relationship between forgiveness of others and mental health among middle-aged and older Americans.”
Negative Impact of Resentment
Resentment is a heavy burden to carry. When we harbor it, it consumes our thoughts, robs us of peace, and stifles our joy. The offender, at the same time, may go his way oblivious to our turmoil!
Dr. Hans Selye pointed out: “It is not the hated person or the frustrating boss who will get ulcers, hypertension, and heart disease. It is the one who hates or the one who permits himself to be frustrated.”
Researchers report that caustic emotions like bitterness and resentment are like rust that slowly corrodes the body of a car. The car’s outside may appear beautiful but under the paint a destructive process is taking place. When a person is unforgiving, the resulting conflict creates stress. Stress can lead to serious illnesses. Statistics indicated that two-thirds of the patients who went to a physician had symptoms caused by mental stress.
Dr. William S. Sadler wrote: “No one can appreciate so fully as a doctor the amazingly large percentage of human disease and suffering which is directly traceable to worry, fear, conflict.”
Benefits of Forgiveness
Forgiveness, on the contrary, brings psychological benefits including less stress, anxiety, and depression.
Forgiving others is not always easy. The pain can be immense, especially when a person has been grievously wronged. ‘How can I forgive someone who viciously betrayed and hurt me?’ some may even wonder.
Professor Carl Thoresen of Stanford University says that there are “very few people who understand what forgiveness is and how it works.”
The Toronto Star report defines forgiveness as:
a) “Recognizing we have been wronged“ – Forgiving others does not mean that we condone, minimize, or deny the offense what others have done to us. It does not mean that we have to approve of their wrong behavior or minimize the damage it does. Nor does it mean putting ourselves back into an abusive situation.
b) “Giving up all resulting resentment“ – At times it may simply involve letting go of the situation, realizing that harboring resentment will only add to our burden. Forgiving, though, does mean letting go of any resentment for such wrongs and maintaining our own peace. By dwelling on negative thoughts and mulling over how badly they have been treated, some people let the behavior of others rob them of happiness. Do we harbor feelings of resentment and bitterness when some injustice causes us pain? Do not let such thoughts control us! Refuse to become trapped in a web of bitterness and resentment. This can easily happen. If we allow our emotions to dominate us, the result may prove more damaging to us than the injustice itself. Ask ourselves: Must we remain in severe emotional turmoil, feeling intensely hurt and angry, until the matter is fully resolved?
c) “And eventually responding to the offending person with compassion and even love” – Waiting for an apology that never comes, we may only get more frustrated. In effect, we allow the offending person to control our emotions. So, letting go is not only for their benefit but also for our own, so that we may get on with our life. Forgiveness brings peace – not just peace with fellow humans but inner peace as well.
We may never completely put out of mind what was done, but we can forget in the sense that we do not hold it against the offender or bring the matter up again at some future time.
If someone else made mistakes, we might learn to forgive them or at least let go of the anger. But, when it comes to forgiving ourselves, we often struggle. That is because it is easier to forgive others. We all make mistakes, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that when we’re in the midst of them.
Perhaps we are overwhelmed by thoughts of past sins or mistakes that we have made. Some individuals continue to harbor guilt over sins for which they have actually been forgiven. We may feel guilty without really being guilty.
But, guilt is not a ‘useless’ emotion. Psychoanalyst Gaylin says: “Guilt is the emotion that shapes much of our goodness and generosity. It signals us when we have transgressed codes of behavior that we personally want to sustain. Feeling guilty informs us that we have failed our own ideals.”
Regret is a powerful emotion and our mind has a hard time distinguishing between true mistakes that we can learn from, and little blunders that are really just a part of everyday life. Beside this, forgiveness is often today confused with condoning or lack of accountability.
In order to let the past mistakes go, we must forgive ourselves officially.
Choose to see life as a classroom, not a testing center. We are all humans on intertwining roads to self-discovery, searching for a greater purpose. On our roads, we will inevitably make mistakes – every one of us.
Dr. Claire Weekes commented: “To let past guilt paralyze present action is destructive living.” Most of us hold on to past mistakes and let them affect our self-esteem for way too long. This is not healthy and does not serve anyone. Healthy psychology is to acknowledge a mistake and cope with it. There is value in being aware of our past mistakes, but we cannot focus on them.
We can try to do our best, but we will never be perfect – We live in a world with high-performance standards. People think they need to be perfect. To err is human. We’re always going to make mistakes. Accept that we may have made a wrong choice and then forgive ourselves.
Joretta L. Marshall, PhD points out that people often try to forgive themselves for the wrong things. According to Marshall, “people don’t have to forgive themselves for being who they are – for being human and making human mistakes. Forgiveness means being specific about what we did that needs forgiving.”
Letting go our mistakes is like a technique we use to correct a problem with our computer. It is as close as we come to a system-reset button – we lost the mistake, but not the data in the memory.
Many people have little sense of what it means to have love and acceptance for one’s self. This is not the self-centered love of the mythological Narcissus. It’s not being selfish – it’s being selfish not to love yourself. It is necessary to love yourself before you can love others.
Loving yourself is all about accepting your strengths and weaknesses and even going a step further by loving yourself the way you are. Modern psychology knows this. The great psychoanalytic theorist Donald Winnicot said, “Only the true self can be creative and only the true self can feel real.“
Can we look in a mirror and love ourselves unconditionally? People often learn to love themselves based on the feedback they receive from others. But this is conditional, not unconditional, self-love; self -acceptance based upon external achievements.
But unconditional self-love is learning to accept and love the unlovable in you. Learn to be kind to yourself in situations where you usually have been harsh. When you are down, talk to yourself as if you were your own best friend and move from criticism to self-compassion.
Yes, we can find inner peace. Rather than turning our attention to the past, we must keep our eyes focused on what is yet ahead. Life is a choice – the bad experiences in our rearview mirror are meant to be valuable lessons. Although it is not wrong to meditate on the lessons we have learned from past experiences, we need to maintain a balanced, realistic view of the past.
Letting go is never complete unless people and relationships are transformed in the process. At some point, we reach a turning point. Something shifts – we feel less burdened, we have more energy. We live longer and have better health.
We live in exciting times. Wonderful events are happening now and more lie just ahead.
Jack Kornfiel: Meditation for Beginners, 2004, 2008, p.61
Six Keys to Personal Success – Awake!— 11/2008, p.7
www.ns.umich.edu/Releases/2001/Dec01/r121101a.html (Dr. David R. Williams)
www.seekingwellnesstogether.com/does-your-attitude-affect-your-wellness/ (Dr. Hans Selye)
forthright.antville.org/stories/782226/ (Dr. WilliamSadler)
forgivenessfoundationinternational.org/what-you-need-to-know/latest-discoveries/ (Professor Carl Thoresen of Stanford University)
wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/2000488 (The Toronto Star)
nytimes.com/1983/11/29/science/guilt-or-why-it-s-good-to-feel-bad.html (Psychoanalyst Gaylin)
www.scribd.com/doc/168686686/Claire-weekes-hopeAndHelpForYourNerves-by-Kuryuka (Dr. Claire Weekes)
www.webmd.com/balance/features/learning-to-forgive-yourself (Joretta L. Marshall, PhD) Donald Winnicott, The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment, p.148