Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.
– Mark Twain
As I wrote in an earlier post, one of the gifts of autumn is letting go. Deciduous trees model this quality each year when they release every life-sustaining leaf they’ve made, trusting they will be able to once again thrive in the spring. The wisdom of nature is to keep only the most important things in Autumn and let go of the rest.
Letting go requires no small amount of faith, trust and acceptance. Letting go – or forgiveness, for I believe they are indelibly intertwined – has proven a monumental task throughout my life. Perhaps if I had grown up with the similar-titled song from “Frozen,” it would have been easier.
For years, I was bothered about the seeming injustice of letting go or forgiving transgressions. I found (find) it hard to forgive the person who tailgated me on the freeway, much less in a situation where I had been backstabbed, betrayed, or broadsided.
What forgiveness is and what it isn’t
As I thought about writing this post, I realized that the topic of forgiveness has many interwoven layers. My first step in forgiving more readily occurred when I realized what forgiveness truly means. I questioned my outmoded and limiting understanding of forgiveness after attending a workshop with Robin Rose, a three-time terminal illness survivor and trainer/speaker on how to effectively handle high-stress situations.
Forgiveness does not mean excusing, condoning, forgetting bad actions, or even reconciling with the person who committed them. It’s letting go of the negative emotions that can take over when you replay the offending situation in your head – or retell it to (yet) another person. It’s stopping the continual replay of the story. Forgiveness is for your own inner well-being, not the other person. In Robin’s words, “Applied to other people, forgiveness is a process through which we seek to free ourselves from the bondage to another person that is maintained for as long as we stand in judgment of them.” We can never overcome a grievance or a grudge as long as we allow the memory of the situation to hijack our emotions.
What story are you telling yourself?
You might have heard the phrase that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. When something painful happens, what story are you telling yourself? Maybe you haven’t noticed you have one. For example, if someone slights you, do you think to yourself, “Hmm. That’s not like so-and-so. She must be upset about something else. I’ll ask her about it later.” Or, does your story go something like this? “I can’t believe she said that to me! And here I was trying to do something nice. What an ingrate!” If you are upset or angry about a situation, you can bet there is an underlying story playing out in your mind.
That internal story is about perspective, and more importantly, reveals where YOU are. How you treat others is likely how you treat yourself. Do you give others – and yourself – the benefit of the doubt? (“They must be upset about something else,” not “I always say the wrong thing.”) Do you give others space for error, knowing they are doing the best they can at the time? Do you do that for yourself?
When we honor our needs, practice good self-care, and treat ourselves as our own best friend, we place ourselves in a position to more easily forgive. Robin writes:
“The ability to forgive is linked to our self-esteem. The more self-esteem, belief in our own worth and sense of our own potential we have, the easier it is to release the pain we experienced while interacting with another. Self-esteem increases as we improve our self-care and spend time uncovering and then doing those things that add joy, health and happiness to our lives. When we love ourselves and our lives we have more love to offer others, even those who have disappointed us greatly.”
As with many (most? all?) things, the best place to start is with yourself. What is the story that keeps playing in your head? Could there be a different one? A truer one? A more loving one for yourself?
Here is a (partial, I’m sure) list of things I actively work on forgiving in myself. Feel free to use it for inspiration if you need to tackle a stockpile of grudges and grievances. If you are already excelling in this area, you’ll forgive the transgression.
I forgive my desires,
I forgive what I said.
I forgive what I didn’t say.
I forgive what I did.
I forgive what I didn’t do.
I forgive my higher standards and double standards,
I forgive my mistakes,
my missed opportunities for loving connections
and new directions.
I forgive unintended slights,
grievances great and small,
a thousand disappointments.
I forgive my shortcomings,
my unlearned lessons,
my fall from grace,
my unrealized dreams and unmet goals.
I forgive my impatience and stubbornness,
my hypocrisy and ignorance,
my fear and doubt,
my darkness and my light.
I forgive my frequent inability and unwillingness to see
the beauty and wonder all around me,
the daily miracles,
the abundant blessings,
the radiance and brilliance of myself and others.
I forgive myself.
I forgive because I can. I forgive because I choose to forgive. I forgive because it is the most loving action I can take for myself.