Originally appeared in Planet Jackson Hole

Q: Why does forgiveness matter?

"If you devote your life to seeking revenge, first dig two graves." - Confucius

Thousands of studies on the art and science of forgiveness from major American universities show that holding onto hurt feelings, resentments and harboring grudges backfires on our physical, mental, and emotional well-being, and blocks access to higher states of consciousness.

Not forgiving people or letting go of certain emotions increases blood pressure, suppresses the immune system, increases incidence of cardiovascular disease and cancers, and sets the stage for other debilitating illnesses. People who do not forgive are less content, more pessimistic and do not have the ability to experience higher states of awareness.

Conversely, people who are more forgiving have fewer health problems, greater vitality, stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, less stress, greater self-esteem, more optimism and more frequent experiences of higher states of consciousness.

To clarify what forgiveness is and is not, consider the following findings:

  • Forgiveness is not about the other person, letting someone off the hook, condoning hurtful behavior or denying your feelings.
  • Forgiveness is an inside job and is about releasing from your heart the constriction that hurt and anger place upon it. It's also about making yourself the hero/heroine of your story rather than the victim and no longer inviting the offender to come with you everywhere you go. Forgiveness is ultimately about experiencing an open heart and inner peace.

Here's a simple exercise to try on the feeling of forgiveness: Find a quiet place to sit for a few minutes. Close your eyes, take some deep breaths to settle in and relax. Next, breathe in gratitude for life. Keeping your eyes closed, try on the feeling of forgiveness without any content - just the feeling. Allow the feeling of forgiveness to permeate your entire body. This should feel both relaxing and relieving.

A great way to start practicing forgiveness is letting go of small annoyances. So next time someone cuts you off in traffic or someone doesn’t return your call right away, notice where in your body you hold even that small irritation and then simply let it go. If you'd like more resources on forgiveness research and proven techniques for how to forgive larger issues, you can send me an email. PJH