To forgive and to be forgiven each benefit our health

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Thoughts of unforgiveness aren’t good for us.  They affect us like water in our car’s gas tank – we don’t run right.  And those we won’t forgive can be affected too.

The health-giving effects of forgiving have been well documented, to the point of becoming common knowledge.  Back in 2004, a Harvard Medical School publication summed up:

“Researchers found that mentally nursing a grudge puts your body through the same strains as a major stressful event…a link between forgiving someone for a betrayal and improvements in blood pressure and heart rate…those converting anger to compassion felt less pain and anxiety than those who received regular care.”  (See also 11/23/11 report by the Mayo Clinic staff)

And that’s just about the body.  Of course forgiveness can heal relationships and bring more peace and happiness.

Writer Harriet Brown, in a post on Oprah.com called, “How to Forgive Anyone–and Why Your Health Depends on It“, shares her journey to forgiveness working with Dr. Fred Luskin, director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project.

(See recent Luskin interview by my California colleague.)

Brown writes, “Forgiveness…is not about pretending you don’t feel angry or hurt.  It’s about responding out of kindness rather than rage…Even toward someone who’s hurt you deeply.

From my spiritual study and practice, I’ve learned that I always have the right and capacity to forgive.  No one can take that choice away.  Not even someone who seems unforgivable.  It’s often not easy.

But if just the thought of someone negatively alters my normal compassion and bodily systems are disturbed – then I’ve allowed my true nature to be distorted.  Forgiving can help preserve the integrity of my heart and harmony of my health.

I had an experience which illustrates how the mental act of forgiving another can actually benefit their health, as well as ours.  While no longer outwardly angry with someone who had wronged me, I continued resenting him, and soon became quite ill.

I knew that prayer was needed – turning to God to find a more spiritual thought.  A phrase from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, was my answer:  “…be just to yourself and to others.”

I forgave him with all my heart.  I welcomed kind and compassionate thoughts toward him.  The side-effect of that kinder, forgiving thinking?  Sickness left within minutes.

But that wasn’t all.  When we met again, he apologized and said he had become ill shortly after our incident.  And he described how his sickness had suddenly disappeared.

That was a humbling wake-up call to challenge negative thoughts about others, including when it means forgiving them.  In our fast-paced world of many cultures and opinions, following the universally known Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – often requires forgiveness.

What makes all the difference is to mentally live by the Golden Rule – to think of others as I would want them to think of me.  Forgiveness naturally follows.  And a great thing is, so does better health all around.

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