Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. ~ Suzanne Somers
I just love it when someone the media portrays as a ditz says something I think is true. It helps me remember that sometimes people surprise you and sometimes when the air makes me a ditz I can surprise myself. Changing my view on forgiveness is one of those personal surprises and it helps me with those bad air days.
In the past, I’ve thought about forgiveness in terms of the other person. Forgiveness is a gift I’ve decided to give them. Only recently have I come to realize that actually I’m the one held hostage by anger, blame, and fault-finding. Even if someone did do something abhorrent to me at one time, there’s a very good chance they really don’t care what I think or how I handle the outfall or even know they did anything. Being angry only holds me to them in ways that are negative and energy expending.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that when I think of something I judge to have been a grievance, I let it go. I forgive the act and the person. I don’t have to forget. That would be antithetical to learning and I definitely want to learn from experience; however, I don’t have to agonize over the lesson. I don’t have to think about it constantly. I only have to put the experience into my memory bank for future reference. For example, filed under the category “character,” I would remember what kind of person would do something that would hurt another person or me. Filed under the category “circumstances,” I could remember under what conditions someone would do something hurtful. Filed under the category “personal insight,” I would remember what I did that created the situation in which I found myself hurt.
These memories lend themselves to creating knowledge. I might need to be more aware of circumstances or I might need to be more aware of people I can trust or I might need to be aware of my gullibility, naiveté or codependency. None of this requires me to hold anger so tightly. In order to heal, to learn, and to move forward, I have to forgive. I have to lose the negative emotions and allow myself to move forward. This sounds easier than it is so I talk myself through the grieving process. As silly as it sounds, even letting go of negative emotions can feel like a loss and in many cases that loss still needs to be grieved.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross listed 5 phases of grief for people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness: denial, anger, bargaining, depression (sadness), and acceptance. There's some controversy over whether there are actually 5 phases, whether people go through phases at all, whether these phases can be applied to other loss circumstances. Truthfully, the criticisms don't bother me. It's a tool I've found useful in helping me understand where I am on any given day when I am aware I've experienced a loss, felt hurt, or am detecting regret. There are other tools, I'm sure. This one fits me.
My goal in using the 5 phases is to get to the other side of emotions I've decided are keep me from achieving my goals. For example, I’ve never made good decisions when I'm in denial. I usually make my worse decisions when I'm angry. If I'm trying to bargain with fate or some spiritual entity or an outcome, I'm not likely to be very objective and consider all the facts. And when I'm sad aka depressed, I'm at my lowest point for seeing a solution, being creative, trying something new, or overcoming obstacles. It's only when I'm accepting my present conditions for what they are and in a positive, hopeful frame of mind that there is fertile ground for good choices and life decisions.
Frequently for me, I am feeling hurt because of a person's actions, but when I take the time to reflect, it's actually a bigger, broader problem that I've conveniently placed on that person. So here are three of the big things I've identified, and yes, I've gone through and done a mental and sometimes journal checklist for what I'm denying about the issue/person/situation, what makes me angry about it/him/her/them, what I've been doing in terms of bargaining, what makes me sad about it/them, and how can I accept it/them and in the best case, be happy about it.
Reincarnation and karma. I have forgiven reincarnation and karma for being so barbaric and for people throughout history using it as a way to appease those who feel like they've been victimized and justify others who were born with all good things and have had an easy life from the first intake of breath. Specifically, I've forgiven celebrities (and other well-meaning people, including pastors, preachers, gurus, etc.) who spout their beliefs about reincarnation and karma everywhere. Tit for tat. Do bad and get punished. Do well and get blessed. Well, I'm here to tell you that sometimes there is no tat for tit, that good people lose everything while nasty people game the system and go live on a tropical island serviced by young good-looking beach twenty-somethings with a drink tray in his/her hand. I am genetically predisposed to chemical sensitivity and have found myself living in a house filled with mold. What previous life wrote that script? More irritating than my personal experiences are the people who were born rich, stayed rich, always had someone there to bail them out regardless of what they did to mess up their lives and are attributed with having done something in a prior life so good they "earned" this easier existence. Really? You're telling me that the baby in the Sudan with vultures on his heels messed up in some long ago time and is now paying for it? Now THAT's messed up. I believe in cause and effect. Can't drop an egg too many times and watch it splatter across the kitchen floor without understanding that concept. I'm willing to concede that sometimes we return and are damaged by people we’ve damaged in a previous life. I'm also willing to believe that sometimes we do things to people in this life and then we get a taste of it in our own lives. On the other hand, maybe, just maybe we've returned to experience what we've done to that person in another life and show them how to set boundaries, how to rectify mistreatment, how to fight injustice. Maybe we're the person they mistreated in another life and here we are again going at it so we can learn a higher level of forgiveness, a better way to assert ourselves, a deeper kind of love, or additional strategies to combat bullies. That doesn't mean the rest of us get off the hook. Quite the opposite. When we see someone struggling, it may be that that person agreed to test us in a far more significant way-- our ability to have empathy, our willingness to put ourselves out in order to bring justice, our level of generosity, and our depth of compassion. When we see the child in the Sudan and do nothing because it's his "karma," maybe we're seeing a saint who is allowing us to lift ourselves up into a higher spiritual existence by helping him. Acceptance isn't accepting an evil or unjust situation. It's accepting my action or non-action. In reflection, only I know when and how to act on any given situation. Acceptance is also accepting another person's action or non-action. I can't know what another person's life lessons are. I can only accept what they've done and my response to it. I can even accept karma so it directs my actions because in my next life, I don't want to come back as a cloud.
My childhood. There's always so much angst about parents. So, I generally forgive whatever happened in my childhood. Some of it was good. Some of it was bad. Some of it was affirming. Some of it was humiliating. Some of it was traumatic. Some not so much. Whatever it was, I can choose to let it impede me or empower me. I can accept it for what it was and use that experience to be a better person and share with others or feel victimized. My choice. I can also choose specifically to forgive my parents regarding their choices. If ever there were two people who represented their culture and the time in which they were raised, it was my mother and father. The best response to so much of what they did is to accept it and shake my head in wonder. In all honesty, they really were doing the best they could with what they had. I can also forgive having been a child at a very strange time historically and culturally. It was the best of times and the worst of times. Can't change that and it's always been true. Accept it and move on.
Work in general and co-workers in particular. I can forgive myself for not taking advantage of opportunities that I now see would have been really great. Hindsight is wonderful. Let it go and accept that I made choices based on a lot of things going on at that time. Life is a hologram and memory is a pinpoint within it. Specifically, I forgive some of the nasty people I’ve worked with. I not only forgive behaviors that were unnecessary and downright cruel, but accept that many of us weren’t raised to have insight into our actions. Most of us could stand a couple of years of counseling. We bring ourselves into the workplace and for those people who were back-stabbing, greedy, gossipy, mean-spirited, well that's who they were all of the time and not just to me or in the workplace. I don't have to deny it, be angry about, bargain with myself for how I responded or them for who they were. I don't have to be sad for the lost time, energy, and opportunities. Most of these people were acting at work like they do at home and that's curse enough for anyone. Their plates were pretty full of the anger they hold toward themselves and the world. I don't have to help them by holding on to that anger. It only makes my body acidic and that leads to health problems, which with chemical sensitivity is a lot of work all by itself.
That’s pretty much it. I’m not one to hold grudges. I don't feel the need to tell anyone, "Hey! I forgive you for that!" What I need to do is release the situation, and thereby release the specific person. Forgiveness benefits me. It is a gift. Paraphrasing Suzanne, “Forgiveness is the gift I give myself,” which is surprisingly substantial.