Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Forgiving others takes work

A deep, authentic forgiveness takes work. It doesn’t just happen by wishing for it. It can often take years. One person from my life took me quite some years, the result of work and some cursing.

Others have come more easily. But they have all taken effort.

I like to write. Obviously. And I find writing a helpful tool when I am working on things. I’ve found it especially helpful in dealing with my emotions around the challenging people in my life. Here is how I wrote some forgiveness into my life.

To begin, I made a list of people I wanted to forgive. The list was fairly short but spanned decades of my life. I was ready to set old wounds to rest.

For each person I wrote a stream of consciousness account of how and when they had hurt me. For one of these people this was long and detailed. For the others, the accounting was more about the consequences of the hurt, the impact it had on my life.

This next part, I think, is the most important. I wrote how I failed myself in the moment with each person. What I found with this is that I often failed to set boundaries, to say no. I tended, in these moments, to allow the other person’s bad behavior into my life. Then I wrote a promise to myself with specific ways I plan to do better on my own behalf in the future. This is likely the most important part of this whole exercise and calls for some time given to reflecting. The power to not be a victim often lies within us.

After penning this account for each person, and assessing my part in it, I also asked a trusted friend to hear my act of forgiveness. I read over what I’d written and then I declared, in front of her, my intention to forgive. There was something powerful about having a witness hear my intent, like the power in a wave or gust of wind, like a force of nature. And I was purged.

Forgiveness brings freedom, a deep-seated shaking off of the old, a release of old resentments. Once these old ghosts are released, the internal newsreel somehow stops, and I found that I was no longer captive to the actions of others and became more empowered to embrace my own path.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The transformational power of forgiveness, part II: forgiving others

I attend a weekly meditation practice here in Nashville led by Gordon Peerman and Kathy Woods. It enriches my life in so many ways, for which I am immensely grateful.

The format is thirty minutes of guided meditation followed by a thirty minute talk. Yesterday Gordon guided us through meditation which focused on compassion. It began with a time of compassion toward self, then compassion toward a loved one, followed by compassion extended toward someone we find difficult.

As I focused upon my chosen “difficult” person, I could feel resistance in my chest to the prayer I offered on this person’s behalf. “May she be free from suffering…” I could feel, as I offered this, a little interior tug, not wanting to completely embrace this freedom for this person. I was uncomfortable with this, thinking, “really? I want her to suffer?” This led me to think of her, of times she had shared her struggles, including a profound loneliness. As she became a more whole person in my mind, I could feel a movement toward compassion for her in my heart. And I felt freer.

I began this series on forgiveness with self-forgiveness, just as Gordon began our meditation on compassion with compassion for self. To some, this may seem selfish, but it is quite intentional. It is that old paradox that in attending to self first, being self-ish, it provides energy and heart space to attend to others. In this way, learning to forgive self teaches compassion for the self which, in turn, allows for greater compassion toward others.

We have, all of us, experienced some wound caused by others. It may be as small as a hurtful word or as large as a physical attack. None of us are exempt; it may be a betrayal, a lashing out, a lie, a manipulation, or a deeply traumatizing event. We have all been disappointed in another.

We can spend our lives absorbed by these events, swallowed by blame and resentment: he said, she said, he did, she did. But none of the blaming really matters because another person’s hurtful, wounding actions, regardless of the pain it may have caused you, is really about them.

Their wounding action has to do with their weakness, their fear, their greed, their need to feed their own ego. It is about their pain or their need. What it absolutely is not about is you. This truth may do little to lessen the pain it causes in the moment but this realization may aid in you being able, eventually, to let it go.

Forgiving another is a process. It takes time. And it is for your benefit. That is right, it is for your benefit rather than the benefit of the person who you are forgiving.

Forgiving someone doesn’t make what they did okay. It doesn’t justify thoughtless, hurtful, or violent behavior. And, it actually does very little for the person being forgiven.

But it does a great deal, spiritually and emotionally, for the one who forgives.

For me, forgiving the deepest injuries in my life have taken time, prayer and work. But my reward is a much lighter load, both on my mind and in my heart. Forgiving those who have injured me has blessed me. And it can free you, as well.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A simple tool to help with self-forgiveness

For some of us, getting to a place of self-forgiveness is a lot of hard work. This is a simple tool that I have used to help with the journey.

This is a written exercise so have a notepad or notebook handy, find a quiet place, and set aside some uninterrupted time. After getting settled, let whatever incident is bothering you come to mind. Let the emotions around it wash over you. Then start writing. Write down everything about the situation that is bothering you. Really pour it out. Let this be a stream-of-consciousness activity. Then bring your focus to your part in it. Write this all down, too. Ask yourself: Where was I responsible for the situation? How could I have made better choices on my own behalf? What are ways I didn’t take responsibility for myself?

Now carefully think about and write out ways you plan on taking better care of yourself in the future. What are ways you can do that? Can you begin to accept your own shortcomings so that you might live into forgiveness?

Then sit quietly and tell God that you release all of this into God’s loving care. Ask for help in the future and do your best to let it go for today.

I leave you with blessings for a joyous journey.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The transformational power of forgiveness, part I: self-forgiveness

I have a friend in the process of divorce. Married for over two decades, he is struggling to understand what has happened to his marriage and grappling with his part in its demise. I saw him last spring, when we discussed this soul searching. His anguish over his role in the breakdown of the marriage was palpable and at one point he said to me, “I need her to forgive me.”

My response to him was that he has no power over whether his soon-to-be ex-wife forgives him or not. The larger question for both his current and future peace of mind is this: can he forgive himself?

I’ve thought for some time that a key developmental task of middle age is to learn self-forgiveness. It sounds so easy, yet is so very hard. Like many of us, I am my own worst critic. I would never speak to another person the way I speak to myself. This harsh inner voice is a burden and keeps me from joy, from intimacy, from fully living. Like my friend going through the divorce, it is far easier to look for forgiveness from another than to delve into the murky depths where I might claim it for myself.

I am not speaking here of lightly dismissing when we wound others. We are, after all, so limited by our own humanity. When we wound others we offer our apologies, acknowledge our shortcomings, and then move on. Most powerfully, this involves giving up the need to be right. Because being right really doesn’t matter. When we let go of the need to be right, we suddenly have all the freedom to be our true, human, hurt, limited self.

When we can forgive ourselves our own mistakes and shortcomings, they take on the power of opportunity. Now we are offered the magical moment to really learn and grow. Mistakes, limitations, short-comings are simply grace in disguise. When we can get past the fact of our limitation, the fact that we are not perfect, that is when we can rest in grace and really learn. And amazingly, that is the moment we become our most true selves. That is the moment when we start to fly. It is then that we live into God and shine.

How can you begin the process of forgiving yourself today?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Giving up the isolationist mentality

Recently, I made a thorough job of personal isolation. And not in an “I need a little down time to recharge my batteries” way, either.

I’d had a pain in my side for a few months, like a stitch one might get when running. I’d discussed it with a friend but told no one when I went to the doctor. I didn’t want to bother anyone. I didn’t want to worry anyone. I didn’t want to seem alarmist over a little twinge in my side.

So off to the doctor I went and, as I thought she might, she ordered an ultrasound. That is how I found myself lying on an examination table, having one of the countless medical procedures that strip one of dignity, feeling frightened and profoundly alone. Afraid, I was being poked and prodded, while a very young woman watched my reproductive organs on a screen and periodically cleared her throat.

And I knew that the experience would have been entirely different for me if I’d told even one trusted person where I was going, what I was doing that day, and why.

In that moment, feeling frightened and lonely, I decided to stop. Realistically, about 90% of any heartache I have is of my own making. Why do I do this to myself? There are any number of people who would have gone with me that day. There are many people in this world who love me. I hurt by shutting them out.

And now I am going to work to open the doors to these people because this is all a choice.

Today, I am going to choose to let people into my life. I choose this, I choose who they are, and I choose to give up my own isolation.

And you can, too. Whoever you are, I guarantee that there are people in your life who love you and who want to treat you with kindness and respect. You have the power to choose to let them in. Or not.

Oh—and me? I’m going to be fine. It isn’t any of the big, scary stuff. And when I went to see the gynecologist, my sister was in the waiting room and greeted my good news with relief and pleasure. Because she loves me. And because I let her.

Who will you let into your life today?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

5 simple ways to practice gratitude

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it.” –Dalai Lama

I wanted to follow-up on my previous post by offering some simple ways to practice gratitude. Let’s face it, life offers challenges. Sometimes, too close together. Practicing gratitude helps me maintain perspective in the midst of challenges. This simple practice helps me keep a positive attitude which, in turn, helps me address whatever challenges I may be encountering.

  1. Keep a gratitude list. My list always begins with a roof over my head, my good health, my children, their good health, work colleagues I enjoy, my parents, siblings and friends. And that is just the beginning. See? It’s working already. My sister always includes coffee on her list. Anything is open for consideration. And I find that once I start, I begin to look at things in new ways. “A washer and dryer! I have a washer and dryer! In my house. Isn’t that amazing?” You get the idea, and this really works. Who has time to whine when one has a machine to do the dishes?
  2. Breathe deeply in this moment. Really. Take that deep breath and look around. Notice your surroundings. When I take a moment to do this I am struck by where I am. It goes like this: breathe in, notice patio. Realize I have a patio to enjoy. Enjoy it.
  3. Eat mindfully. How often do we race through our meals, another task to be accomplished in our busy life? I am so guilty of this one, often eating in front of the computer while I work or in front of the television to catch a little news. How very different my meals are when I sit down at the table and notice the smells and colors on the plate. When I take the time to savor each bite, I notice the taste and textures of what I am eating. Then I am grateful, not only for the nourishment, but also for the beauty of the arugula leaf or the vibrancy of the blueberry.
  4. Take a walk outside. This is a fast way to shed anxiety and worry. Look around and mindfully notice what is around you. See the plants, trees, and flowers. I so enjoy a stroll through my neighborhood, in part because of the self-expression found in other’s yards. People take such pride in their homes. I also find that the simple act of moving brings gratitude for this body and the ability to walk around on this earth.
  5. Make a list of all the people who have helped you. My list begins with my parents and goes on from there. The thing about this list is that I never get to the end. There is always someone else to include. I can add several people just from the day I had yesterday. And some people deserve to be listed repeatedly. Like my parents. And there you go: the endless list of people who care enough to help. If that isn’t love in this world, I don’t know what is. And for that, I am grateful.