Several years ago, I had the good fortune to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak, and I immediately fell in love with his easy grace and joi de vivre. He laughed so easily and deeply, and seemed to be someone genuinely happy that I couldn’t help feeling happier just for being in the same room with him. I’ve started the book that he co-wrote with the Dali Lama, The Book of Joy. He’s said a lot about forgiveness over the years, but I love this quote from the book,
“Forgiveness is the only way to heal ourselves and to be free from the past. Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound to the chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness, that person will be our jailor. When we forgive, we take back control of our own fate and our feelings. We become our own liberator.”
I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve been paying a lot of attention to what people carry in their bodies. I’m not an expert on yoga either, but in the reading I’ve done and the conversations I’ve had, I’m learning that people actually store memories in their muscles, among other places. Part of the aim of some types of yoga seems to be releasing these traumatic events. But even as a personal trainer, I see how much people’s “stuff” affects not only their bodies but their well-being. (And as I keep saying, chronic stress causes elevated Cortisol levels. Chronically elevated cortisol levels do some very nasty things in the body, not the least of which are slowing the metabolism and storing body fat, and reducing the quality of sleep which in turn means the body can’t do it’s healing work. Nasty, nasty business!) Your stress (of which anger and frustration and dissatisfaction and grief are certainly a part) has huge consequences for your body!
Sometimes, people have really big “stuff”. Sometimes nagging annoyances turn into big stuff. But either way, nothing good is coming from carrying it around.
I’ve had some pretty ugly stuff happen in my life (but haven’t we all?) and I carried it for a very long time. For too many years, I was a hollowed out version of myself. I remember not laughing very much during those years, and I’d be lying if I said those same years didn’t have a lot to do with my body weight and/or my struggle to get rid of it. I’d have to go to a chiropractor and get massages because my muscles were doing ugly things. (In hindsight, I wonder if that wasn’t my body’s way of managing the hurt I insisted on carrying with me. It was definitely my body talking, but then I didn’t know what it was saying.)
It wasn’t until I began to really force myself to deal with my baggage that I started to come out of that funk. The more I was able to set down and let go, the more my life began to take a positive swing. It wasn’t that I was necessarily trying to forgive, it’s just that I finally got really good and tired of the heaviness I was carrying (soul heaviness as well as body heaviness.) I think maybe I did it backwards. I just wanted to be rid of what wasn’t serving me any more, and in the process of trying to heal and become the vibrant, passionate, joyful person I had been, I began to forgive.
These days, I make it a practice to try to forgive quickly– just for the fact that me feeling nasty and hateful isn’t a very nice feeling– and it sure isn’t helping me do anything useful. I’m not always ready to pick things up right where I left off, and may want some space– but I work hard at not carrying it around. The quality of my life has improved immensely!
I don’t know how I came across this picture, but it haunts me and nags me and reminds me to get on with the business of forgiving. It was a statue that was created as a part of the Burningman Festival in Nevada. It’s two fighting adults, and their two inner “children” that just want to hang out and connect. Nobody really feels good during an argument (and probably truthfully, nobody really wins.) But sometimes even after a disagreement is over, the resentment is still there. Sometimes maybe we feel vindicated in not letting it go and maybe it even feels good to hold on (and hold out) for a time but I can promise you that it’s not really serving you.
We have so much to carry around with us– worrying about money, or the future, or this decision, or that. Don’t add to your load by carrying around anger. One of the secrets to Loving your Life, I think, is to set down as many heavy things as you can and to travel lightly through life.
Today is a great day to start setting down your “stuff.” Forgiveness doesn’t always come easily, but it’s absolutely worth the work! Your life will thank you, even if the person who wronged you never apologizes or makes it right.