Clearing the Heart of Judgment

Forgive Clearing the Heart of JudgmentThere’s an old saying that goes:

Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

I had the opportunity to ponder this saying at a workshop on forgiveness, lead by Eileen Barker, a mediator and local expert on forgiveness.

Eileen told us there are four levels of forgiveness: mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. Most forgiveness work focuses on the mental and emotional. But it is important to address the body as well.

I can see how that is true when I am unforgiving of myself.

My stomach tenses, my breath becomes shallow, my heart aches and I feel just plain awful.

Over the years I have developed many tools for shifting this state: meditation, movement, sound and one I described in my blog See How to Release Unwanted Feelings.

When Eileen invited us to split into pairs and share an injury that needed forgiveness, I thought I would talk about myself. The rest of the world seemed pretty good. My husband and I were getting on great, family ok, deceased parents forgiven, friends good. I was even feeling sanguine about the political sphere. No problems, I thought. Just me and me. But, when my partner started talking about her mother-in-law, I suddenly recalled an incident with my sister-in-law that had happened not too long ago.

The incident was a sharp comment directed at me in an otherwise innocuous and friendly conversation. It left me thinking of her as “PRICKLY” and “VOLATILE,” and to be treated with extreme caution and guardedness. In sharing the story, I could feel my body tensing, my indignation rising.

Anger toward another clearly has a physical impact.

However, it is different from getting angry with myself. There is a feeling of righteousness indignation, a puffing up and prepping for battle, an adrenalin rush. Only there is no battle and the bodily excitation has no outlet. This can have negative consequence for the body, if this cycle is repeated often or worse, habituated. It is possible, for example, for a body to stay in a continual state of defensive alertness if the injury is severe.

I noticed it was the “story” that precipitated my feelings. Before I told the story, I was completely relaxed and happy.

The story is a good place to start forgiveness work.

As instructed I tried to see the event from a different perspective — from my sister-in-law’s point-of-view. Were there things I was doing that made her feel threatened? Was I provoking competition? Was she mirroring a old family dynamic of my own? I noticed my chest relaxed a little and my voice soften as I saw her behavior in this new light.

Apparently, however, there is more to be done because when I imagine actually interacting with her, the tension returns. Changing the mind alone might not be enough. Like Pavlov’s dogs salivating when the dinner bell sounds, my body has been conditioned by this event.

The fear and defense response is encoded in the cells and wired into the brain.

This did not happen over night. The pattern likely goes back to early childhood conditioning, a template for handling angry adults. To release the body pattern a somatic solution may be needed, e.g. tapping, cranial sacral, sound healing or EMDR.

This may seem like a lot of work for a minor incident. But it is my belief — and now we are moving to the spiritual level — that the universe, divine wisdom, whatever, sends us these challenges situations to learn and grow. If I can clear with my sister-in-law, I will be healing much more than that relationship, I will be healing all the unfinished business that came before it.

My experience shows that one does not need to have a huge forgiveness issue to benefit from forgiveness work. Everything is connected. Find a thread and pull.


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