Forgiveness is a pretty large concept for such a chaotic, relentless world. Lately, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this huge idea, not because anyone wronged me, but just because I now feel… mature enough [old enough] to accept it. Fully. No “but I” attached.
The first thing I did was track my personal experience with forgiveness.
Little girl phase: Forgiveness 101
“Sheena, your little brother said he’s sorry for taking your toy. Give him a hug.”
School-age phase: Intermediate Forgiveness
Person A: “I’m sorry I read that note.” Person B: “It’s OK. No big deal.” Person A: “Still friends?” Person B: “Sure.”
[For those who grew up with a religious background] “Jesus loved you so much, and he forgave all of your sins. Washed them away!”
Note: This is where things became a little confusing. Washed them away? But… my mom’s still upset that I talked back to my teacher, so God-slash-Jesus forgives me but my mom doesn’t? But it’s washed away? Am I getting this all down? [I learned the power of all of this later in life].
High-school phase: Forgiveness Angst
“Listen, I didn’t mean to kiss him. It just happened.”
College phase: Forgiveness?
Professor: “So actually, how your parents have been voting is completely wrong.”
So I’m in this phase now. I’ve spent a lot of time unlearning and re-learning lessons (I’ll call them “baggage”) that weren’t necessarily positive influences on my life. Is that forgiveness? I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with the “baggage” of my family members, friends, boyfriends, students, on and on. Is that forgiveness? In that case, a third party is involved. No one has directly “injured” me but I’m having to deal with the results of the injury through someone I love; so I too am called to forgive whomever / whatever caused the person I love to be the way they are.
I’ve come to the conclusion that forgiveness goes hand-in-hand with acceptance, which then frees me from guarding the wall I had put up.
Dr. Frederic Luskin, of the Stanford’s The Forgiveness Project, says there are “core components of forgiveness: taking less personal offense, blaming the offender less, and offering more personal and situational understanding of the offender and of oneself.”
I think the key words in his components are: taking less, blaming less, offering and understanding more.
There are many times I could have taken less [time, energy, focus, offense], while blaming less [you, me, time, God, love, bad day], and offering more [time, space, understanding, listening ears], in order to understand more [oh I get it now].
The problem is, our body has a physical reaction to whatever it may be, so we don’t have time to process. Our heart starts beating fast, our mind starts pulling examples from the past to put on as evidence, adrenaline and cortisol [released by our nervous system] shoot through our body, our muscles tighten, our breath quickens, and suddenly… we have the senses of the super hero! We can hear, see, smell, taste, feel anything. We are now in “survival mode.” What are you going to dare say next?
So see. Just like that we lose sight of a situation. Then we say and do things that will require more of this magic potion called “forgiveness” later.
I’ve thought about everything forgiveness could be: Glue, Water, Sunshine, Fairy dust
I’ve thought about all of the tools we use while attempting to execute forgiveness: A hug, a smile, a beer, a joke, a nudge, a gift, a letter.
But really, forgiveness is so much more than a thing that needs to be done. It’s more personal and intimate than that.
Dr. Luskin’s advice:
1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.
2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.
3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace.
4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.
5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.
6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.
7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.
8. Don’t focus your wounded feelings, thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.
9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.
[Read more about The Stanford Forgiveness Project here]
I am learning to let go of whatever object I’ve focused my wounded feelings on. Because, hey. I am tired of guarding the walls.
“To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness.”