[1/10/22] Mind Body Monday: Forgiveness (part 1)
So, why forgiveness as a topic today? Well, When I began my practice in Body Mind healing I remember the first quote I learned which comes from Eastern medicine, was: “Show me a body wherein lies disease, and I will show you a body wherein lies unforgiveness.”
I have seen this made manifest in every person I have ever worked with. If you google health and forgiveness you will see a number of corresponding statements, in fact John Hopkins Medicine has a quote on their website that simply states, “Forgiveness: Your health depends on it.” It goes on to say that studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep, and reducing pain, blood pressure and levels of anxiety, depression and stress.
So, in every facet of the mind, emotions and body, forgiveness helps us heal.
In the field of Psychology there is a dynamic referred to as a “fundamental attribution error”. It is based on the generalizations we make about a person’s quality of character and/or their motivations. It is referred to as “state vs trait dynamic”, and without our awareness it can lead to numerous reasons why we might be unforgiving of people in our lives. I begin this chapter diving in to this someone complex theory, because I think it holds a subconscious yet substantial grip on our minds, thus our words, then our deeds and ultimately our health and our lives.
So, thank you for your patience as we begin. I assure you I will make this make sense, and you will be grateful if somewhat abashed to learn about it, as I was. As simply as possible, State vs Trait means that we perceive our own mistakes and errors of judgement or inappropriate social behavior, as being due to a particular and unusual state of being at a specific moment in time. However, we tend to attribute the behaviors and errors of others to a characteristic pattern of thinking, or a flawed personality trait. Thus, we can excuse our own mistakes and misdeeds while we hold on to those of others with a sometimes iron fist of unforgiveness. Does this make sense? As an example, let’s say someone cuts you off in a grocery line or on the road, you would think they were clearly a very rude and inconsiderate person. However, if we were to do the exact same thing and someone pointed it out to us, we would explain to them the reason for the behavior was motivated by whatever was going on with us in the time. Certainly, not a personality trait of ours. In other words, we were late for work and afraid we would get written up. Or we’d left our kids were in the car, because we were sure it wouldn’t take more than 5 minutes if we did it ourselves, and 30 or more if we brought them in and had to deal with them. Or maybe we didn’t think the person in front of us had made up their minds, or all of the above, etc.. Thus, our mistakes are excusable, understandable, if given have a change to explain, certainly people would be forgiving, but, we do not apply the same mentality to those around us. We generally do not have the cognitive load or brain power to consider a myriad of reasons why someone would be rude to us. It is simply easier to just think of them as rude people. You might of heard the phrase people only ever consider themselves, Victors or Victims, never Villains. I think this is one of the primary reasons why. We don’t consider ourselves villains because we have excuses and reasons for everything we do in our lives and thus can often walk away from a confrontation with someone feeling righteous in our anger or our upset. Our understanding of the motivations of others and application of compassionate grace would take far more time and knowledge then we often have. Thus, “they” are the villains of our stories. Because we attribute our own behavior as due to our current temporary “state” and theirs to the personality “traits” they have. But the truth is we simply don’t know the reasoning behind the acts of others and are thus less likely to find their inconsiderate behaviors forgivable. Now you may be thinking, okay perhaps this excuses the women at the grocery store who cut in line, or the man on the freeway who cut us off, or the rude remark or the callous disregarding look, or any other small and temporary insult we feel we are subjected to on a daily basis when we have to deal with other people. But does it forgive the larger insults and injuries that we store away in our hearts to bring out and nourish and nurture in our confusion and our pain? No, but it is the beginning. When we start looking at everyone around us as people that are suffering for things we may never know, we begin to feel more compassionate. Maybe that mother that staring at her phone in a restaurant, and letting her children act out is not selfish or uncaring, but rather inwardly processing a deep grief that she cannot show them. Maybe that man that throws up a finger or mouths an insult as he cuts us off, is terribly afraid that he will not arrive somewhere in time to prevent a perceived emotional tragedy, and our momentary inattention reminds him of other people who seem not to care about the world around them. Let me assure you that whether or not it is clear, everyone you will ever meet is suffering in a way you will never know. We are all desperately afraid of something. We are all grieving something that we often cannot even fully acknowledge. We are all distracted by our worries. We are all depressed about the past we cannot change, and we are all afraid of the future we cannot name. We are all reacting out of trauma rather than responding out of rationality, more times that we could possibly want to acknowledge.
By coming to this awareness, we can stop reacting out of own victimhood and making others into villains. Instead, we can look around at those that annoy us as sisters and brothers of courage as they seek to make something matter of their lives, just like us. By shifting our thoughts to compassion we shift our words, we shift our deeds, we shift our habits, we change our health and our lives. And slowly, and often subtlety these small compassionate forgivenesses of simple everyday mistakes, become a way of thinking, a way of allowing, and a way of forgiving. A way of life. Of looking at every time we felt ill-used, or put-upon, these feelings were in fact the result of someone else’s trauma, or someone else’s “state” of being. Then we begin to apply this everyday forgiveness to our lives, and our past. We stop applying a lens of self-innocence or a caricature of some callous villain to those that we feel wounded by. Of course, it doesn’t feel natural at first. If we have nursed these wounds into reasons, it becomes even harder. By that I mean, if we have claimed consciously or subconsciously that we are who we are (generally in the ways we don’t like) because of the actions of someone else, why it is much harder to forgive. We would have to rewrite at least a part of our story at that point. We would have to give up being a victim and claim our freedom and independence. Because that is the true gift of forgiveness. We get to release them from our minds and hearts. Release them from our reasons and excuses. And when we begin to let others off the hook of our pain, then next comes ourselves.