As I write this, Christmas decorations appear everywhere, reminding me that this is the season for giving. But for giving what? Children’s eyes may light up when they get a new toy, but the excitement quickly fades. Yet, one kind word may leave an impact on an entire lifetime. Aren’t gifts of the heart far more potent than gifts of the purse?
With this thought in mind, I believe one of the most valuable gifts we can give this season is the gift of forgiveness. You see, forgiving is for giving. When we forgive, we become godlike. And how does God forgive? It is described in the Sunni Islamic holy book, Mishkat Al-Masabih, “Whoever approaches Me walking, I will come to him running; and he who meets Me with sins equivalent to the whole world, I will greet him with forgiveness equal to it.” God’s forgiveness, then, is unconditional and unlimited.
In the same vein, Peter asked Christ how many times he should forgive someone who injured him. “Until seven times?” asked Peter. “I don’t tell you until seven times,” said Jesus, “but until seventy times seven.” Of course, Christ didn’t mean that our forgiveness should be limited to 490 times, but that it should be unlimited.
In Hindu Scripture, the message is the same: “One should forgive under any injury. It hath been said that the continuation of the species is due to man’s being forgiving. Forgiveness is holiness; by forgiveness the universe is held together. Forgiveness is the might of the mighty; forgiveness is sacrifice; forgiveness is quiet of mind. Forgiveness and gentleness are the qualities of the Self-possessed. They represent eternal virtue.” (Mahabharata, c. 400 CE)
Granted, as mere mortals, it is difficult to change from someone who is always bickering, squabbling, and arguing to someone who forgives ‘until seventy times seven.’ Yet, with a little effort and some baby steps, we can make progress. We can start by changing our focus from the hurtful acts of others to their kindness. No one is completely bad or good and we can choose which area to focus on. With practice, we can learn to stop blaming, condemning, and punishing others.
As we forgive others, we will come to realize that we are decent after all and grow to forgive ourselves. On this subject, Anna PATTY DUKE Pearce has this to say, “It’s toughest to forgive ourselves. So it’s probably best to start with other people. It’s almost like peeling an onion. Layer after layer, forgiving others, you really do get to the point where you can forgive yourself.” For her Online Center for Mental Wellness, see http://pattyduke.net/blog/
Perhaps the quickest way to learn how to forgive is by studying human nature. For when we understand why people misbehave, it becomes easy to forgive them. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1819 ~ 1892) put it, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” And what is true for others, is true for us. In other words, forgiveness is also the act of recognizing we are no different than others. We are no more guilty and no more innocent than our neighbor.
Tom asked, “Have you forgiven your kidnapper?” “No,” Mary replied, “I can never forgive him for keeping me captive for five years.” “Until you forgive him,” Tom answered, “you will remain a prisoner.”
Although Mary was rescued by the police several years ago, she remains in prison, shackled by anger, resentment, and bitterness. Does that make sense? Forgiveness sets one free. It is a gift we give ourselves. When we deny forgiveness to others, we deny ourselves the capacity to love. And we deny ourselves of the healing and peace that accompanies love. To remain bitter is to remain twisted, tormented, tortured and in a state of dis-ease. Besides, when we refuse to forgive others, we are simply giving them power over our lives while losing control over our well-being.
It has long been shown that because of the mind-body connection, negative emotions wreak havoc on the body and are a leading cause of disease. For more information on this subject, see: http://www.personal-development.com/chuck/stress-relief-tips.htm. A leading proponent of mind-body medicine, Doctor Gerald (Jerry) G. Jampolsky said,”FORGIVENESS is the way to true health and happiness.”
Doctor Jampolsky founded the first Center for Attitudinal Healing in Tiburon, California. There are now 120 such centers across the United States as well as in over 30 countries. During an interview of him and his wife, Diane V. Cirincione, Ph.D., they had this to say:
“Forgiveness is the key to happiness, the key to peace of mind. Unfortunately, most people miss the real point of forgiveness. It’s not enough to forgive someone for having done something you disagreed with. You have to go much deeper than that. You’ve got to forgive yourself for your misconception of that person — for judging that person and not seeing them as a loving human being. And that relieves guilt.” (Diane V. Cirincione, Ph.D.)
“Letting go of judgement really takes a shift in perspective. There are 360 degrees of everything that exists on this planet. So whether you’re looking at a flower or a human being, there are 360 different ways to view it. Unless you’ve explored every angle, there’s no way you can totally know that object or person. And without knowing everything about someone, you can’t possibly understand the reasons for his actions. So why not be open to that fact? Why waste your energy judging?” (Gerald G. Jampolsky, M.D)
In addition to dispensing healthy doses of forgiveness this Christmas, you may also want to give one of these five books as a gift to yourself or a loved one. Each book deals with the healing properties of positive emotions and the punishing effects of negative emotions on the body.
FORGIVENESS: The Greatest Healer of All by Gerald G. Jampolsky, MD, Beyond Words Publishing, Inc.,1999.
PEACE, LOVE & HEALING Bodymind Communication & the Path to Self-Healing: An Exploration, by Bernie S. Siegel, MD, Walker and Company, 1990.
DEADLY EMOTIONS, Understanding the Mind-Body-Spirit Connection that Can Heal or Destroy You, by Don Colbert, MD, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.
HOW TO LIVE 365 DAYS A YEAR: And Live 365 of Them Happily, by John A. Schindler, MD, Running Press Book Publishers, 2002.
TIMELESS HEALING, The Power and Biology of Belief, by Herbert Benson, MD with Marg Stark, Scribner, 1996.
Quoting Doctor Jampolsky once again, “Now is the only time there is, and each instant is FOR GIVING.” So, what are you going to do about it? (This last quote was taken from Doctor Jampolsky’s fifth principle of attitudinal healing. You can find his principles here.)