Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies. –Nelson Mandela
As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison. –Nelson Mandela
I well remember the moment I realized I was, in fact, bitter. My father had frequently accused me of it–akin to sucker-punching someone and then later accusing them of being bruised–but I didn’t take him seriously.
The moment came in my Jewish-American Lit class. I was an undergrad, probably about 20 at the time. We were reading Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus, and one of my classmates commented on the protagonist’s being bitter. I responded that no, he was perfectly normal, with just a little resentment about x, y, and z.
When all my classmates seemed to agree that Neil Klugman was bitter, and only I thought he was perfectly normal, I had an aha moment. Normal for me was bitter. I’d been marinating in bitter for pretty much my entire life thus far–it was my milieu.
I also remember very well the moment I decided that something had to change. It was years later, I was still explosively angry, and of course that anger had a way of showing up out of all proportion to the current situation.
I was at the big post office at the airport buying stamps (God love you if you’re old enough to remember when we used to have to buy stamps all the time, so we could pay our bills and write letters to people). When I left, my stamps set off the alarm. I took them back to the cashier to have the sensor deactivated. I then left again–and set off the alarm again. At which point I lost it–in a way that seemed quite normal to me, and was very consistent with what I’d witnessed growing up. But the wide eyes up and down the long line of those waiting for their own stamps clearly indicated my reaction wasn’t proportional to what had occurred.
At that moment I decided I was quite tired of carrying that much anger around, and something had to change. Perhaps you’ve decided that too.
The answer, of course, is forgiveness–but it’s not what you think.
For years I resisted forgiveness, because it wasn’t what I thought either. It seemed weak. Not at all–forgiveness requires strength.
Forgiveness is not letting anyone off the hook. I think the first, most important thing to realize it that’s it’s not you or I who has anyone on the hook to start with. Yes, you have been wronged. But (and hopefully you are relieved to hear this!) you are not the ultimate arbiter of justice.
My belief is that a universal and inescapable law of karma exists, bigger than you and me, bigger than all the wrongdoers and evildoers, bigger than this little planet where it all went down.
And that law says that if you hurt someone, there will be consequences for you. What you do will come back to you, no exceptions. When you throw someone’s life off course, there will be major consequences for you. Those consequences could last multiple lifetimes. If what you put out there is unpleasant, what comes back to you will be equally unpleasant–most likely even more so. And if you put love out there, it will come back to you multiplied. You either pay your karmic debts, or game over. Those are the choices.
The universe says, I got it.
So your concern is you, not the other guy. And it really all comes down to this–are you going to let what happened ruin your life and your health, or are you not? It is just that simple.
Forgiveness is taking your power back. If there is bitterness in your heart, that is like giving a piece of your power away to someone else. Someone who very likely should have less power, not more. Forgiving fully enables you to inhabit the fullness of your own personal power. And letting go of bitterness is a decision–one only you can make.
For me, the process looks like this …
- Understand that you are bitter. That’s not mother’s milk you’re soaking in!
- Understand that bitterness doesn’t serve you. It is not now, and never will be, your friend.
- Decide to release it. I’m not going to tell you it’s easy, but I am going to tell you it is so, so worth it!
- If you’re not sure how, ask for information about the right tool for you to flow to you. Information is abundant, one of the easiest things to manifest. Breathwork (sometimes referred to as rebirthing) is a tool that has worked for me in letting things go. I’ve done the therapy thing twice–once in my 20s and once in my 40s, once for each parent it seems–but for me it was a tool for understanding and making sense of things, not necessarily for releasing bitterness. Meditation is also a wonderful tool for letting go of unhelpful things like perfectionism and judgment, and brings you into the present and out of the past. I started meditating after I went through this process.
- As you release bitterness, watch the importance of your ‘enemy’ shrink. What a small person he turned out to be!
- Now that you have it back, get on with your beautiful life.
This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage card Forgiveness + Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela is a true hero to me, not least because he forgave so well. I was inspired by mindlovemisery’s Prompt 46–Bitter Loathing.