Today in yoga class, my instructor had us do the Swaying Palm Tree pose. It’s not one of my favorites because it’s not very challenging for me, but I appreciate what it brings to the table: it strengthens joints; stretches ligaments, side abdominal muscles, back and spine; improves balance; and increases mental focus.
My instructor usually has something to say about each pose, and often mentions during the Swaying Palms pose that we can learn to sway and bend without being broken. Today she said she wanted to focus on forgiveness. Uh oh. That’s something I’m not so great at. Once I get mad, I stay mad — sometimes for years. I have been unforgiving about a certain issue with certain people for a long time, and thanks to my know-it-all yoga instructor, it’s time to change that.
Ms Know-It-All said that when we don’t forgive or sway or bend, we can become brittle and hard, and that we can sway without becoming uprooted and we can bend without foregoing our principles. Great. I can’t argue with that. It became clear that I needed to pay attention. I needed to listen to what the universe was telling me, even if it’s something I don’t want to hear. One of my favorite things about yoga is that it makes me think about things I don’t want to think about and it makes me hear things I don’t want to hear. The Bhagavad Gita said, “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”
I definitely did not want to think about forgiveness today, but the yoga gods had other ideas.
My instructor cautioned us againstthinking that forgiveness means forgetting. She said that few people can go from suffering an injustice, whatever that may be, to forgiving and forgetting easily. It’s a process. A journey. A journey through the self, in my case.
She then asked us to consider the price we pay for holding a grudge, for refusing to forgive.
It’s big. Holding a grudge can cause stress and toxins to accumulate in our bodies. It can raise blood pressure, impair the immune system, encourage stress hormones, and increase inflammation. It can also contribute to anxiety and depression.
The last thing I need is more stress, toxins, and inflammation in my life. Perhaps it’s time.
Time to let go of the anger and injustice. Time to move away from heartache and toward happiness.
Noted ethicist and theologian Lewis B. Smedes was an expert on forgiveness. He asked, “Will we let our pain hang on to our hearts where it will eat away our joy?” He’s the expert, and according to him, we don’t need to excuse the wrong, or even stop feeling angry about it, to forgive the wrongdoer. We just need to change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.
Like the Buddha said, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” There are plenty of things I like to drink; poison is not one of them. I’m setting it aside and beginning the process.