Another New Year has arrived and though this is traditionally a time to assess our goals and aspirations for the future, I prefer to focus my attention and intentions on the present moment. In reality, we can only make changes right here, right now in this instant in time. So as I look at what is most needed in my life and on the planet at this moment, I have chosen forgiveness as the act I believe will create the most impact.
Each time I practice forgiveness, I release energy that has been stuck in the past, harboring old resentments and anger. When that energy is freed up it becomes available in the present moment and can set in motion a wave of positive emotion and wellbeing for me and for others around me. Right now on this planet there is a desperate need for positive change and hopefulness everywhere, and it seems to me that forgiveness is one powerful act that could bring this much-needed positivity to the world.
But forgiveness is not easy to undertake and requires deep commitment to carry out. In fact, forgiveness is a BOLD act because it takes courage and fearlessness to accomplish. And most of us have not had a lot of practice with this challenging process so we may not know where to begin. Here are some tips for why, when and how to practice forgiveness:
1. Practice forgiveness for your own health.
Studies have shown that people who forgive have lower blood pressure, less stress-related illness, greater emotional wellbeing, and overall better health. You owe it to yourself to reduce the negative effects of chronic anger on your health.
2. Practice forgiveness to improve your relationships.
When you release others in your life from blame and bitterness you will open the door to renewed connectedness, enhanced communication and greater joy. Deeper and more fulfilling relationships play a role in better physical and mental health and increased longevity too.
3. Practice forgiveness on a daily basis.
In order to make progress toward freeing up your old resentments you are going to need a strong commitment to the idea of forgiveness. By working on it a little each day you will gradually find it easier and easier to let go of your anger. And while you are working on forgiving the past, you should also be determined to forgive in the present moment, by refusing to hold on to anger when things don't go your way. In this way you will reduce the burden of unforgiveness you'll need to process in the future, by minimizing the addition of any new resentments.
4. Use journaling to help you forgive.
One technique to get started with forgiveness is to journal on a daily basis about the people and events in your past for which you are harboring bitterness. Make lists of who and what you need to forgive so that you can realistically look at the load of pain you are carrying. Pick out a few of those people or events to begin with--perhaps start with something easier to forgive in the beginning so that you can build up your "forgiveness muscles."
5. Try the "4-View" Process for forgiveness.
In this journaling exercise you will write about the event you are trying to forgive from 4 different views (this might take a few days to accomplish):
1) Third person: write the story of what happened using only facts and no emotion. Tell it as if you are a news reporter writing an article about the event
2) Second person: write about the same event from the perspective of the other person involved. How did he or she see what happened and what emotions were experienced?
3) First person: now write the story from your own point of view, but include your history in the story. When have you experienced something similar in the past? How has this episode triggered old emotion for you?
4) Galaxy view: in this final exercise you will write about the event from the perspective of a wise elder from another planet perhaps, who sees this event as part of a much bigger picture. How has this experience helped you grow? What have you learned? In what ways could this event have actually been the perfect thing for your life?
6. Create a ritual to symbolize letting go of old anger.
Rituals can be very powerful symbolic acts to help you resolve or complete the process of forgiveness. Choose a ritual that has meaning for you and plan ahead to carry it out whenever you feel your preliminary work with forgiveness is finished. Consider planting a special forgiveness garden or even purchasing a forgiveness houseplant you can tend and care for indoors; release helium balloons that contain written messages of forgiveness; scatter flower petals in moving water and watch them be carried away; light candles and recite a poem or prayer that signifies forgiveness for you; or write your list of former resentments on pieces of paper and burn them in a fire. Any sort of ritual that is symbolic for you can be helpful as you acknowledge and reinforce your new attitude of forgiveness.
If you decide you'd like to join me on this journey of bold forgiveness in 2016, the best time to get started is now. Don't wait another moment--stop right now and recognize that you have been carrying around your old anger and bitterness for long enough. It's time to let go of those negative tangles of emotion and time to release others from your blame.
You will feel a weight lift from your shoulders and a new burst of energy the moment you begin this process. Let's get started and help lift the weight of anger and resentment from humanity as a whole--we might just be able to save the world, one act of bold forgiveness at a time.
To learn more about how to forgive, sign up here to receive the Forgiveness Toolkit.
About the Author:
Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician and the author of the award-winning book "What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying." She is a frequent keynote speaker and radio show guest whose profound teachings have helped many find their way through the difficult times of life. Learn more about her work at www.karenwyattmd.com.