Tag Archive | forgiveness

Ahhh…grist for the mill of awakening

I pulled into the parking lot of our local grocery store a few months ago and noticed these dogs in the car next to me…so friggin cute

Thanksgiving is a few days away, and for many of us this can be a time of intense emotions and feelings: happiness, anxiety, joy, sadness, contentment, loneliness, inner peace, anger and resentment, compassion, disappointment, belonging, rejection, anticipation…and at least for me, the “negative” emotions are doubly charged because I don’t think that I should be feeling these…especially around the holidays. But I’ve come to know that part, if not all, of the pain is the result of me resisting what is happening or what I am feeling in the moment…thinking that things/people should be different than they are/were, or that I should be different than I am/was.

When I find myself in the middle of this negative thought, I try first of all to acknowledge the feelings…not fight with them…and then, if I can, I try to find a different/new way of seeing.

This isn’t easy with old wounds. If I can catch myself in a new situation that is challenging, and I don’t let it gain momentum, often times it transforms…but with those old experiences that I didn’t have the tools or the desire to handle in a higher way, I unconsciously built up a stories and told them (even if just to myself) over and over until my version, my small little painful version, seemed like the only truth. There is a part of the mind that strongly balks at the idea of seeing painful situations in a new light…especially if we feel we were the ones who were “innocent”.

When my father died in February and had cut off communication with me for the last 6 months of his life, I had a pretty strong resentment against him and his wife, Jane, who didn’t let me know about his condition, and left it to her daughter to call me after he had died. During that phone call, she casually told me that my father was very important to her and that he only wanted her there during his last days. I didn’t even know this woman. It felt like the final insult from all of them, and yet, I knew a different story.

While my father was alive, and we were communicating, he would say to me, almost every time we met, “Jane is very hard but I’m too old to get a divorce. I have to go to her family functions. They don’t mean anything to me.” He was tired. He didn’t want to fight with her so he gave up and gave in. My father was a good actor and he was dishonest in so many ways, but I still loved him and I knew that he loved me.

So, several months after his death when I still felt angry and indignant, I made a decision to see things differently. I didn’t try to see a new angle, but I wanted to be out of the pain of resentment so I became willing…I became a little bit more open. Shortly after I made this decision, while on a walk, I had a huge insight and saw the last 6 months of my father’s life in a new way, “He was sick and dependent on Jane. There was no way that anyone was going to see him except they go through her. He was sparring me that! Oh my god…I knew the truth of it. Maybe it was cowardly on his part, maybe it wasn’t a healthy way of dealing with our relationship but it was his way of protecting me and it was the best he could do.” As I continued on my walk, I thanked him and I could feel his energy and smile…I heard him laugh. I got it.

But now I needed to see the situation with his wife and stepdaughter in a new way, because I didn’t feel the love with them and never had a positive history to draw upon.

I’ve watched myself over this past year with several resentments…thinking they are gone and then finding the angry thoughts back and as intense as ever. I’ve even exclaimed in exasperation, “I wish this could just be gone once and for all! I am so sick of thinking about ____”. But was I really?

Being honest with myself, I had to say no, I wasn’t. There was something that I was getting out of these resentments and the rehashing of the past. In the AA literature, there is a line that has always stayed with me,

“In a perverse way we can actually take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us, for it brings a comfortable feeling of superiority.” (The Twelve and Twelve, page 67)

Did I feel superior to Jane and her daughter? When I asked this question, I had to say that yes I did. I knew their history…I also knew how Jane and my father had met and it was extremely embarrassing for him.

Had I forgiven her? No. I’d only given it lip service.

Ouch. Now I could see it clearly. Forgiveness is a spiritual law…if I don’t do it, then I don’t feel it. Period. I could hold onto these resentments forever and not allow myself to grow or I could do the very big work of allowing a new way of seeing. This is where my immature adolescent girl rears her head. She would rather say, “F  you. You hurt me and now I hope that you are miserable. No way I want you to feel happy and blessed. I want you to suffer!”

But my higher self says, “You are the one who is suffering, Mary. It is time to let go. It is time to forgive so you can be free. The choice is yours. You want it to be easy but maybe it isn’t. Is that OK with you? Are you willing to go through the fire as the petty, vengeful, thoughts burn away?”

And I answered, “Yes I am. Help!” A few days later I was helping Jack clean out an old trunk at his store and he handed me a book, The Gentle Art of Blessing, that I’d given him a few years back. I opened it and read the following passage,

“What is appealing about the spiritual path, as the American spiritual teacher Ram Dass has stressed, is that everything is ‘grist for the mill.’ Absolutely everything—a traffic jam, an illness, a theft, a noisy neighbor, a flat tire—becomes an opportunity to learn, discover, progress, repent, rejoice, unveil, awaken, love more, and wonder. The smallest detail of life, every single encounter—be it with a saint or a snail—can sparkle with tender interest and become aglow with enchantment.”*

These few words helped me to reframe my resentments…why not simply call them “grist”. I loved that thought. If the grinding feelings inside can be redirected from telling the same old painful story to a feeling of productive energy then why not give this a try…and I did. Instantly I felt lighter and more open. Who doesn’t want to “sparkle with tender interest and become aglow with enchantment”?

This lovely little book opened a door for me…a door that I was ready and willing to walk through…what a relief…. not that I’m done with this work…maybe it will go on for as long as I am alive. Fine. I’m human too. Sometimes I feel so inadequate to the task…but sometimes not.

So, as this season of Light approaches, I wish for you all open hearts and open doors…and if you’re not ready to walk through them yet, fine…I love you anyway, just as I am loved as I walk, and sometimes stumble, on this path of awakening. I love you as I love myself because you are human too and you and I have egos that sometimes act like spoiled kids…and sometimes we can just laugh at this…but we keep walking.

 

 

*The Gentle Art of Blessing by Pierre Pradervand

a 15 minute trip…the destination is your choice

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He Holds the Universe in His Hands (painting available on my artwork page)

Several nights ago, Jack and I got into a lengthy discussion about our relationship. After 20 minutes of “honestly” telling each other what we felt was missing, how we had been disappointed, discouraged, angry, hurt, and generally dissatisfied, we both felt horrible. The more we talked about what was wrong (in an attempt to correct these shortcomings) the worse we felt.

I know this truth: look for what is wrong and you will find it. Attempt to solve problems or clear misunderstandings from a place of unhappiness and all of the negative, crappy, old complaints will jump on that train and take you on a ride to hell.

As we sat on the couch feeling more and more deflated, we decided to try something different and began to talk about what we appreciated and loved about each other. Within a few minutes, our energy lightened, and just like when we talked about what we didn’t like, and more examples popped up to confirm that we were in fact a mess, as we talked about what was good, fun, loving, caring, wonderful, surprising, delightful, and happy, more memories, stories, and occasions presented themselves as well.

In 15 minutes, we went from discouragement to actual happiness about where we were as a couple, and even where we had been.

 

15 minutes.

 

What I know is that anyone can do this. You do not need special training or any skill other than a genuine desire to see yourself and “the other” with new eyes. If you can’t sit down with the person who you believe is causing you so much pain, then do this in your mind. Imagine having the new, positive, conversation and do it until your energy changes.This is what I believe true forgiveness is.

There is a self-defeating human tendency to not want to think anything good about the person we blame for our unhappiness. It can almost feel like we will loose our leverage (anger, resentment, etc.) if we see the good in them or forgive them…especially if we don’t think that this will be reciprocated. But if we don’t do this, we will end up bitter, small, and more fearful, believing that we need to protect ourselves from further injury.

Love is the only power strong enough to protect us from harm, and the field of Love is accessed through the open mind…and heart.

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

A visitor bearing gifts

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It has been a long time since I posted a picture of either myself or Jack on the blog…so here we are sending you so much love today!

Several days ago, I found out that someone close to me had betrayed me in a way that quite literally sent me into shock. For hours, my body shook and my heart felt like it would explode. Later that same night, as I tried to sleep but found it impossible…thoughts about the hurtful event felt like spears being shot into my brain and I didn’t think that I could stop them. Feelings of anger and confusion made sleep, the one thing that I thought might bring some temporary relief, impossible.

I tried to say, “This is happening for me, not to me”, but it felt empty and pitiful compared to my feelings…it felt like utter bullshit.

At about 2 a.m. as I lie there in my cocoon of hell, the word, “kindness” came into my mind. I kept repeating it and as I did, I became aware that the angry thoughts, and the reliving of the betrayal, were such unkind things to do to myself. They felt like daggers, because they were just that….and I was doing this to myself.

So I started repeating,

“Be kind to yourself. Think kind thoughts, or no thoughts. This is so hard but don’t become hard. Become soft, stay kind. Let this open you up to more love, life, and goodness. Don’t close down. Don’t become hard.” The sense of relief that I experienced was small and I felt powerless as I was then overwhelmed with sadness instead of rage, but I knew that deep sadness was appropriate and that anger was a cover up.

In the past, anger had been a default emotion for me. I thought that I was in control (or it felt that way) if I was angry…but sadness? Sadness was frightening. Sadness seemed like it would render me useless, pitiful, and unable to move. Anger felt like it contained within it the energy to change and so I had been reluctant to turn away from what felt like an old ally. But I had the awareness that the sleeplessness and sadness were working something in me…similar to the feelings that I’d experience on a vision quest many years earlier. I was in a new place and I needed to trust it, even though it felt awful.

Sleep still did not come and so at 5 a.m. I got up, made a cup of tea,  went outside, and asked to see my part in the betrayal. I could not have asked that question 12 hrs. earlier, and if anyone had said, “So how did you bring this into your life? Or “How did you attract this?” (both legitimate and good questions which I know to be the truth), I would’ve become enraged and probably shot back, “How dare you insinuate that I had any part in this?”

But I was ready to ask myself, and within minutes an answer came; I saw how for several years I’d had so many negative and unfriendly thoughts about this man and in that moment, my heart opened and I sobbed uncontrollably. There was no blame of him or myself; there was only the space that an epiphany creates. There was room for something new to emerge and I sensed that it would heal me in a way that I could never do by trying to change myself. It was Grace…my part in it was simply to stay open (simple but certainly not easy).

We all know people who have been so hurt by others that they shut themselves off from life. They become hard and closed-down in an effort to shield themselves from the inevitable pain that happens as we live these human lives. There is going to be pain. There are going to be betrayals, or what we believe in the moment are betrayals. There is going to be loss or the feeling that we have lost something/someone, but what we do in these moments, holds the key to our freedom and happiness. One of my favorite quotes by W. Clement Stone is, “Big doors swing on little hinges”. Deciding to refuse anger and blame and ask what my part was seemed small at the time.

During the experience that I just went through, I could see these 2 paths clearly and I knew that the old way for me was dead. I made a decision to stay open, not knowing that a light would shine so quickly on the new path, bringing with it a great feeling of relief. I didn’t know if I would get an answer at all, or if it did, when it would come… an hour, a day, a month?

The pain that this incident caused was my wake-up call. It was a gift and I recognize it as such.

I now believe even more in the concept that we do not heal ourselves. Healing happens when we metaphorically speaking, stop pouring salt in our wounds: stop blaming anyone, including ourselves, for the unhappiness in our lives. Stop looking to others to change toward us so we can be happy. Stop looking at anything outside of us for wholeness. We live in a field of Grace…it does the work if we let it.

I’m so grateful to be able to share this with you. If you are ever in a situation like I was, I hope that something here will help you to see a new way too. I wish you freedom and deep peace today.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Rumi
(translation by Coleman Barks)

 

 

 

 

A soft, gentle, feeling

Noah and Luke

Noah and Luke

Last week, I was given the book, Testimony of Light, by Helen Greaves. For a long time, I’ve held the belief that those who’ve left this physical plane still exist (and can communicate with the living). Yet as I started to read this book (and especially the first chapter which seemed like it was really trying to convince the reader that this communication was real) I felt skeptical. I almost put the book down, but something deeper said to push past that skeptical mind. The feeling was more like, “Don’t give in to that small, cynical voice”.

I seem to be in a period of my life where lots of books on life after death (and near-death) experience are coming to me, and as I read them, one message stands out: Love. Now. Don’t waste your time here re-hashing complaints, grievances and stories of who did you wrong, or wallowing in guilt over who you have hurt. Criticizing anyone, including yourself, is a waste of time. Be prepared to forgive everyone for everything (including yourself) and do it now.

Maybe this is coming to me at this time because I am ready to hear it. I used to think that forgiveness meant contacting someone, talking it out, and re-establishing a friendly relationship with that person, but I’ve come to see that this is an immature view of forgiveness. Some people are not ready for a face-to-face connection, and may never be. Forgiveness happens in our own hearts. How do I know that I’ve forgiven? When I am clear, in heart and mind about “them”. If they walk into my life right now asking for forgiveness and I cringe, then I haven’t forgiven. If I think I’ve forgiven, but have really just shut them out, I’m fooling myself.

There is a beautiful scene in this book where Frances (the woman who has crossed over) is praying with others for someone who is in very bad (emotional and spiritual) shape. As this “group” gathered, the thought was,

“Let us feel a gentle, soft, healing Light, God’s healing Force, of the utmost sweetness and gentleness pour out from our souls to his. Let us ask that Light may come into this place: that it may touch him, comfort him…”*

I knew, when I read this prayer, that until I could feel this way about everyone, I still had work to do, and truly I am happy to know this. It is an important part of my work here…maybe the most important “work” that I will do. What is the purpose/mission/goal/meaning of my life? It is simple. Love. To Love myself and all others. Forgive myself and all others. To be my true self; happy, joyous, free, and peacefully alive.

Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.” Marianne Williamson

*pages 50-51 from Testimony of Light by Helen Greaves

Clearing the air

Eleanor resting her chin on the arm of a chair

Eleanor resting her chin on the arm of a chair

A few years ago, I had a falling out with someone professionally. I was very upset and hurt by what I saw as their disregard of my contribution, and told them how I was feeling. During the correspondences that followed, they apologized and tried to correct the misunderstanding….basically calling it a misunderstanding. But I didn’t see how it could be that.

To be a misunderstanding, it had to have several different (legitimate) perspectives. I only saw mine, and I didn’t want to see their’s. I said (in words) that I understood, I accepted their apology, and wanted to put the whole thing behind me, but in my heart it wasn’t clean, or clearly let go of. A woman whom I was friends with years ago used to say, “I forgive, but I never forget.” At the time I thought this sounded cleaver, but over the years, I saw this woman become heavier, slower, darker, and much less appealing to be around. Forgiveness, as lip-service, is relatively easy.

The other day, Jack and I were talking about how to deal with hurtful behavior by others, and this situation came to mind. My next words were, “We are just as wrong when we don’t let someone clear the air and make things right.” I realized that in my own situation I had not wanted to clear the air.

I was actually (and not really consciously) more comfortable thinking that I had been wronged then I was stepping into this person’s perspective. I had been wrong too, maybe not in our initial interaction, but in my reaction, and while the other person had tried (when I brought to her attention what had happened) to correct it within hours, I’d held onto this long-term grievance for several years.

I knew that I needed to make an amend but wasn’t sure how to go about it, and my pride was having a fit with thoughts like, “You didn’t do anything wrong! You don’t need to apologize.” …but I did. I sent an email, telling her what I had seen in myself and apologizing. I didn’t know if I’d get a response or not, but it didn’t matter. When I composed my letter and hit “send” on my computer, I took a deep breath. I was clear, I had seen myself clearly and it felt so good. I did receive a reply and it was open, gracious and lovely.

I wish that I was fully enlightened. I wish that I wouldn’t ever hurt another person again. I wish that I was always open and joy-filled and free. But that probably isn’t going to happen, so the best that I can do, is the best that I can do, in the moment that I see it. I choose to be open to everyone, to not hold grudges, to be friendly, kind, and loving. When I’m not like this, I know it, I see it, and I reaffirm my intention to do better in thought, word, and action. I forgive myself for falling short of my ideal, and begin again.

We live in a world of imperfect people, who annoy, hurt, and disappoint and us at times…as we do them. This just seems to be a part of this journey of being a human being. Oh well…so be it. I still choose to be a part of it, to accept life on life’s terms, and to laugh at the absurdity of it all at times. We humans can be such lug-heads can’t we? Why not laugh at ourselves, forgive ourselves, forgive others, clear the air, and step into this new day ready to be the best imperfect people that we can be.

“Life is an adventure in forgiveness.” Norman Cousins

Doing our part to change the world

Fred napping in his "sleeping cube"

Fred napping in his “sleeping cube”

A number of years ago, I co-led a day-long retreat on forgiveness. A woman (who didn’t end up signing up for the retreat) wanted to talk about what it would be like before committing. As I explained the basic format, and how I imagined it unfolding, she kept saying things like, “How could anyone forgive the atrocities  ….” and then she went on to name notoriously horrible crimes, situations, and individuals. I kept trying to bring her back by saying things like,”What we will be dealing with, is who (or what) you are having trouble  forgiving”. I didn’t say this to put her off, but to keep her focused.

But she wouldn’t go there. She wanted an answer to a question that (at that moment in time) she wasn’t being asked (by the larger part of herself) to deal with. I don’t understand how people can forgive some of the crimes that have been committed against them or those they love either, . …but I understand that each one of us must forgive what has happened to us and to those we care about.

We are each given our own situation to “forgive” …it is as if we all have our own “corners of the Universe” to redeem, and when we do our work, no matter how small or insignificant our part seems to be, we help all of humanity.

As I think back on that retreat, I’m not sure it was very effective. I thought I knew a lot about forgiveness. I certainly had read a lot of books, participated in many retreats, and talked to many others about it. I just hadn’t finished my piece yet. I still struggled with feelings of resentment and anger at both of my parents and deep down (although I didn’t consciously admit this) I didn’t think it was possible to be free of these feelings. I witnessed what long-term resentments did to others, I just didn’t realize how much my own lack of forgiveness, toward my parents, was effecting my life and my current relationships.

The change came for me when I realized that time and age would not eliminate the resentments. I saw so many people around me at ages 50, 60, and into their 80’s, still carrying around resentments from childhood, and I could see what it was doing to them. Energetically, they looked like beings with huge, old, army duffel bags strapped to their backs, lumbering though life, weighted down, as the loads got heavier and heavier.

Sometimes it is easier to see in others, and  I just knew that it was time to do my work, if I wanted a life of inner peace and freedom.

How do we forgive? We  commit to do our part to clean up our own past. We make a commitment to ourselves, to stop blaming others for the way our lives turned out. We make a decision that nothing is more important than our own happiness. And then, almost like a miracle, something larger than ourselves comes in and helps us. We open the door by being willing to forgive everyone, and find out that the work is being done for us, and through us….and then we refuse to take it back again.

“I knew that my heart and mind would always be tempted to feel anger–to find blame and hate. But I resolved that when the negative feelings came upon me, I wouldn’t wait for them to grow or fester. I would always turn immediately to the Source of all true power: I would turn to God and let His love and forgiveness protect and save me.
― Immaculee IlibagizaLeft to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust

P.S   If you had asked for an affirmation (Monday’s post) and I missed your comment,  please comment again and I will choose an affirmation for you.