Editor’s Note: Andrew Weil, M.D. is a world-renowned leader, best-selling author, and...
In Egyptian mythology, there is a story that says that when a person dies, the soul travels to a different dimension to undergo a life review. In that timeless, spaceless realm, the god Anubis places the recently deceased’s astral heart on a scale to weigh it against the feather of truth. If the heart is lighter than the feather, then the soul is liberated for eternity. If the heart is heavier than the feather because it is filled with regrets, resentment, and remorse, then the soul is sent back for another lifetime of learning and evolution.
This ancient myth offers a powerful message to lighten up . . . to let go of the emotional burdens that weigh us down, disturb our peace, and make it difficult to be fully present. For many of us, one of the biggest emotional burdens we carry is a lack of forgiveness – for others and for ourselves.
When we hold onto a grievance, shame, anger, or pain from the past, our entire bodymind suffers. Our body produces excessive amounts of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which over time can compromise our immune system and contribute to cardiovascular disease. Hostility is an inflammatory emotion and, as researchers have found, the number-one emotional risk factor for premature death from heart attacks and strokes. Hostility is also linked to autoimmune disorders. It’s not a coincidence that we speak of people “dying from a broken heart” or describe a betrayal as “a stab in the back” or say that a deep loss was “gut wrenching.” As we’ve known for more than three decades, the body and mind are inextricably connected.
Fortunately, the bodymind is incredibly flexible, and when we let go of the emotional toxicity, our body immediately begins to return to homeostasis, which is a state of self-healing and self-regulation. On an emotional level, the benefits of forgiving and releasing the burden of judgment are valuable beyond compare. In forgiving, we free ourselves from attachments to the past and we clear encumbrances that constrict our heart, expanding our ability to love and be loved.
It’s common for people to resist forgiving another out of the belief that forgiveness in some way condones that person’s actions. In our perspective, forgiveness isn’t about condoning an action that caused pain for us or others. It doesn’t imply that we tolerate a thief stealing, our partner cheating, or our child lying. We can forgive even if we refuse to tolerate someone’s behavior and no longer want that person to be part of our life.
Ultimately forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. We can benefit from forgiving even if the person we forgive isn’t aware of our feelings or is even no longer alive. We can find inspiration in the words of Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned by the South African government for twenty-seven years yet emerged without bitterness for his captors. He stated, “As I walked out the door toward my freedom I knew that if I did not leave all the anger, hatred and bitterness behind, I would still be in prison.”
Even knowing the value of forgiveness, many people doubt whether they will ever be able to forgive and let go. Be assured that we all have the ability to forgive, for it is the nature of life to release toxicity and return to wholeness. At the same time, forgiveness often doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. Particularly in cases of deep violation, forgiveness is a process that requires us to forgive a layer at a time. Sometimes we have to forgive someone many times before we finally let go of all the emotional residue of the past. Once we take steps to restore peace in our heart, we will feel a shift. We will feel lighter as we expand our capacity for love, compassion, and healing.