The weather was New England horrible. Pouring rain on top of slushy snow, chilly temperatures with just the right amount of dangerous fog. It was 7:00 am and I was headed to a medical appointment a distance away. My husband offered to come with me as travel companion and I was grateful for the offer!
As I backed out of the garage our trip immediately came to a crashing halt. I cut the wheel to turn around in our driveway, as I always do, and hit his car. He had moved his car from the regular location in our driveway because of the storm to make way for the plow. I was acting on my habitual pattern, not paying any attention. Luckily, I was going very slow and caught myself pretty quickly but not without some damage to both of our cars.
My apologies came streaming out of my mouth as Stan looked at me in disbelief. “Oh, babe…” was all he could muster. Explanation and justification continued without him saying a word in response. When he finally put up his hand in pause and said, “It’s not the end of the world. I forgive you.” I could feel my body slump in gratitude for his forgiveness and kind words.
Forgiveness is certainly an arena that deserves attention. I know I’m not alone in considering what even the smallest act of forgiveness asks of us and the reciprocity when we are forgiven.
According to Karen Swartz,M.D., practicing psychiatrist and clinical programs director of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center:
“If someone is stuck in an angry state, what they’re essentially doing is being in a state of adrenaline. And some of the negative health consequences of not forgiving or being stuck there are high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, not having a good immune response. You’re constantly putting your energy somewhere else.”
When we hold on to our anger or resentment it’s like dragging a boulder around strapped to your back. It’s heavy, burdensome, making it challenging to move forward in other directions. We frequently justify our right to judgment and may even continue to deepen the initial experience by sharing and lamenting to others about it.
Forgiveness is an act of generosity. Brene Brown, in her recent book “Atlas of the Heart,” states that “Generosity is extending the most generous interpretation to the intentions, words and actions of others.” When we extend that interpretation, the burden of the boulder drops away or at least it may feel a bit less heavy.
Forgiveness can take time. I’m not saying it’s a snap of the fingers. We all, hopefully, have a long journey to make together as friends, family, colleagues, and inhabitants on our planet earth. How can we make it one that has more ease, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, love, and shared responsibility?
We all deserve that. We all make mistakes. Is the greatest mistake we make in not forgiving one another?
As referenced in the quote from Dr. Swartz, it’s an energy drain and it keeps your adrenaline pumping in a high state of alert, a fight, flee or freeze state. We hold this experience not only in our hearts but in our bodies. We all know what that feels like and as resentments go on for days, weeks, months, and years. The repercussions are harmful to our well-being. It is always with us lurking in some hidden, dark crevice of our mind, body and spirit. This charge of resentment towards someone impacts other areas of our lives due to this state of hyper arousal. Always ready to defend, pick a fight, or being on the lookout for ways to confirm our righteousness.
Positive psychology says that gratitude and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin. The more we regularly practice gratitude, the easier it is to forgive. Gratitude opens the heart, a reminder of all the good around us, and expands our view of humanity and the suffering of others.
Forgiving isn’t about forgetting, reconciliation, or even reestablishing relationship with someone. But it is about taking care of your own heart. Releasing resentments so you can carry on and live a happier, healthier life.
Your big heart vibe will be felt by others radiating out to create a ripple of love and compassion for all the errors we have made and will most likely continue to make.