I have done a lot of personal work on forgiveness over the years and thought I had forgiven everyone I needed to forgive. But I recently realized I was still holding on to some old hurts and resentments and carrying a lot of old emotional baggage. Clinging to these had created a lot of internal stress, agitation and even anger.
One evening I was doing some self-examination work in my journal. I had been doing a lot of reading on forgiveness and wanted to connect what I had been reading with work I had been doing with my wounded child and victim archetypes. I centered myself and wrote at the top of a page "Whom do I still need to forgive?" I closed my eyes and waited. It wasn't long before I filled up 3/4 of the page with people who had in some way violated my boundaries and/or impacted my self-esteem, self-worth, or self-image. As a result of my encounters with these individuals, I felt unsafe, rejected, and unloved.
For a long time I believed that holding on to my grudges was a way to get back at the people who hurt me. There was no valid excuse or reason for their behavior - they did me wrong, so why should I forgive them? What I couldn't see was that by choosing not to forgive the people who hurt me, it was not them I was hurting. It was me. I was the one who was carrying around the weight of my anger and resentment; I was the one who was suffering.
It has taken me years to understand that I couldn't move beyond my painful past until I freely chose forgiveness. Carrying these old wounds around for so long constricted and hardened my heart, which also blocked the flow of unconditional love. Finally choosing to do the necessary work of releasing my old resentments, grievances, and anger, I've started the process of healing my heart.
We may feel resistant to the idea of forgiveness, or feel like it would be impossible to forgive someone who has hurt us. But we are all human. We have all made mistakes. We have all been hurt just as we have hurt others. We have all been in situations where we need do the forgiving, just as we've all been the one who needs to be forgiven. As much as I needed to forgive others for what they had done to me, I suspected that I was also being weighed down by what I had done to other people. I explored this idea in my journal too, asking "Who have I harmed?"
True forgiveness is not easy, quick, or surface-level; it's not as simple as saying that we forgive someone. In The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace, Jack Kornfield wrote that forgiveness is a process which may include grief, outrage, sadness, loss and pain. For some of us, the process of forgiveness is slow, deep work because we are peeling back layers of hurt that have been accumulating for years. Through the process, we need to acknowledge what happened, how we felt about what happened, and the hurt and suffering that resulted. We may find that we need to go through the process multiple times to move from anger to heart-based forgiveness. It may be helpful to use a ritual or other exercise to help us forgive and let go of the past.
We can use any number of writing exercises. No matter which we choose, we should write about what happened, how we felt about what happened, how it affected us and how we suffered. In The Book of Forgiving, Desmund Tutu and Mpho Tutu suggest that we write about what we lost through the experience, such as trust, safety, dignity, innocence, a friend, or something else we cherished. We can write what we wish we could say to the person who harmed us. We might write from their perspective too, to understand what may have led to their actions or what they might say back to us. To help us release the pain of the past, we could also explore how the situation has made us stronger or otherwise helped us.
We can explore these ideas in our journal, or we can write our experience as a story or in a letter to the person who harmed us. If we think we want to send the letter, we may need to write several versions of it first so that when we send it, it's coming from a place of true forgiveness, not anger or blame.
Regardless of how we decide to write about our experience, Tutu and Tutu wrote that at some point, we need to actually move into the step of granting forgiveness. This may include praying for or sending blessings to the people who have hurt us.
Once we have fully processed the event and our feelings about it, we might choose to speak it out loud. We could share our experience and insights with someone we trust, who will be supportive and listen such as a confidant, a close friend, a therapist or a spiritual guide.
In our forgiveness journey, we also need to forgive our self for things we did or didn't do, things we said or didn't say, how we harmed others, and our role in the situations with those who harmed us. We need to review, acknowledge, and take responsibility for our wrongdoings and mistakes. The final question I explored that night in my journal was "What do I still need to forgive myself for?" I filled pages with examples from both the recent and distant past.
It can be incredibly difficult to forgive and doing so does not change our past; we can't undo what's been done. But we can choose to forgive anyway. We can choose a new future. When we choose to forgive, we don't do it for the benefit of the other; we do it for our own wellbeing; we do it to heal and open our heart.
Whom do you still need to forgive?
Who have you harmed?
For what do you need to forgive yourself?
In the photo above, which I took for a daily photo challenge on Instagram, there's the face on the far right, looking up. The one I placed there intentionally when I made this collage a few years ago. Then there's the face in the center, that I didn't see until the shadow highlighted it and I looked at the picture on my phone much later.
The first time I became aware that we all had an interior “shadow” was a few years ago when I read Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr. I remember being curious about this concept and although I spent some time reflecting on what my own shadows might be, the significance of this concept eluded me. I’ve since read more about shadow work in various other books and each time, I’d still leave the topic feeling a bit puzzled. Reading about shadows and experiencing them firsthand are two very different things.
Our shadow is made up of parts of our personality that we’ve denied, buried, or repressed. Rohr defined it as “what you refuse to see about yourself, and what you do not want others to see.” This past year I’ve had many, many, (many!) opportunities to become intimate with what was lurking just beyond the light. The clues are in our behavior, such as:
No one really *wants* to know the ugly truth about herself. As unpleasant as it is, in order for us to grow spiritually, it is absolutely critical for us to contend with our shadows. Otherwise, as I discovered, these denied or hidden parts of ourselves will keep tapping us on the shoulder, begging for attention. And sometimes, what we’ve repressed will burst forth at unexpected and undesirable times.
Shadow work is not about fixing your weaknesses or abolishing what you don’t like about yourself. It’s coming into relationship with these repressed parts of yourself and transforming them into something positive. Rather than judging people, perhaps you learn to be forgiving. Instead of gripping tightly to control, perhaps you learn to relax your grip and go with the flow more. According to Rohr, “once you have faced your own hidden or denied self, there is not much to be anxious about anymore.” You’ve seen the truth. And you can get on with evolving into your True Self, your highest potential.
#presence #spirituality #lifepurpose #lifelessons #personalgrowth #spiritualgrowth #spiritualbooks #innerwork #reflection #shadow
"Creativity" is something I've struggled with for most of my adult life. My focus has been on achieving my goals, striving to maintain total control of my environment, and doing it all to some impossibly high (and incredibly unrealistic) expectation of perfection...only as a superwoman could. I was too hard on myself to endeavor into creative expression. I "didn't have time" to be creative, I told myself. In reality, I was too scared to let myself open up to the vulnerability that creativity requests; too afraid to come out from behind the veil of perfection and control.
Yesterday I attended a creative yoga class. Our intention was to keep the channel open and find joy in creative expression.... through the act itself, not by producing any particular or perfect end result. I cast aside all wishes of creating a perfect masterpiece and instead set a personal intention for openness and curiosity. I gave my Self permission and freedom to play. I had no ideal in mind, other than to enjoy the process and see what emerged. I chose to stand rather than sit so I could get my whole body involved and so I had the mobility to see what I was creating from multiple perspectives. I had to trust my inner guidance to know when I was done (a struggle for this recovering perfectionist...to know when something is done rather than ceaselessly striving and then over-doing!).
I wasn't worried about what wasn't getting done while I was creating. I wasn't afraid of what others would think of what I created. I wasn't looking around, comparing what I was creating to what was being created by others in the class. I was fully present with my Self and my art. When I was done, I turned around and said to no one in particular, "That was fun!" Something was ignited in me and the joy flowed freely.
And as if the Universe was making sure I had learned something deeper from this experience....as I was trying to get all of my still wet paintings loaded into my car at the end of the class, I dropped two on the floor. They folded up onto each other and onto themselves, altering what I had created. A year ago, the perfectionist in me would have been really upset that my creations were "ruined." The emerging artist in me today sees beauty in the flaws, like they were meant to be. There is no perfection in creativity. As there is no perfection in life.
There are many ways to be creative, and art is only one. We can bring creativity into anything we do. Creativity, and life, asks that we be open, be curious, and be fully present. It helps if we give ourselves permission to bring a sense of playfulness into all that we do. These actions may require us to lean into our vulnerabilities and fears. But presence helps us with this. The more present we become, the easier it is to let go of the fears that masquerade as control and perfection and that hold us back from reaching our full potential in life.
"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once (she) grows up." Pablo Picasso
We spend much of our life trying to force everything into discrete categories. Am I an introvert or an extrovert? Do I want to be successful at work or do I want to be satisfied at home? Do I focus on my self-care needs, or do I give unselfishly to others? Do I follow the rules or break them? Am I living in fear or acting in courage?
In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr wrote that the dualistic mind compares, competes, conflicts, conspires, condemns, cancels out contrary evidence, and crucifies with impunity. With comparison comes judgment and condemnation naturally follows. Dualistic thinking leads to a decision that one thing is good and the other is bad. Rather than seeing the whole picture, we see only a part of the story - that which affirms our view of the world and the story we have told. Forcing discrete choices with dualistic thinking is not helpful in most of life’s situations and may create turmoil in our relationships.
Non-dualistic thinking, on the other hand, involves wholeness. We move away from either-or in favor of both-and.
Non-duality is incredibly important when we are in times of change or deep personal growth. Real, lasting behavior change takes time; it does not happen overnight or over the course of a few weeks. When we get trapped into non-dualistic thinking, we see ourselves only as passing or failing, changing or not changing. In reality, sometimes we are going to be the person we want to be and act the way we want to act, and other times, we are not. We’re going to slip. We’re going to take two or ten steps backward. We are going to make mistakes.
But failing does not make us a failure. We are imperfect human beings, who throughout the day are subjected to any number of external situations and environmental issues that impact our behavior and the choices we make. As we learn to practice present moment awareness, we’ll notice more quickly when we are getting off track so we can try again. Rather than scoring ourselves pass or fail, we see that we are doing the best we can given the situation and grade ourselves an “A” for our best effort.
In A Course in Miracles, we are encouraged to look lovingly upon the present, for it holds the only things that are forever true. Focusing on the past, we experience anger, sadness, or regret. Focusing on the future, we experience anxiety, stress, or fear. It is only by focusing on the moment that is available to us now that we can fully experience joy, love, and peace.
Our past is important - it’s gotten us here. We need to know where we’ve been and what we’ve learned so we don’t repeat our mistakes. We also need to look ahead; we need to feel the motivational pull of our big visions, dreams, intentions and goals.
But when we are overly preoccupied with what has happened or what will happen, we miss what is happening now. So, yes! Pursue your dreams and create meaningful intentions and goals. Just remember that life is a journey, not a destination. As you hurry through each moment to get to the next one, don’t miss the beauty of what is unfolding around you right now.
Usually when we think of abundance, we think of it in terms of having more than enough money or wealth, a bigger house, or a better car. Or perhaps we think of it in terms of having plenty of time to get everything done each day.
What if we broaden the definition of abundance beyond financial or material matters? What if we used the term to describe how much love, peace and joy we experience?
When we are running low on love, peace, and joy, we sense an inner lack or emptiness and we attempt to fill it from outside.
So we put limits on our love, because we are afraid if we share it, we are giving it up. We tell ourselves that there isn't enough to go around so we guard it carefully. We only extend it if we are going to get it back, or if we have already received it from another.
When instead we experience an abundance of love, we see that it is limitless and we realize we can share it freely - there is more than enough to go around.
We don't allow ourselves to be happy, because we think we don't deserve it. And if we don't deserve it, we surely don't have the capacity to offer it up to ourselves. We aren't really sure what even has the capacity to make us happy, so when we go searching for it outside, our quests leave us unfulfilled.
When instead we experience an abundance of joy, right now, we see that in fact we do deserve to be happy and that true happiness comes from within. We stop seeking approval or validation from others - not because we don't care what they think, but because we know ourselves well enough to know what we need. We trust ourselves enough to follow our own heart.
We long for peace, but through our daily actions, we choose sadness, anger, and fear instead. We make up stories about why people do the things they do to us (That driver cut me off on purpose! My doctor is always making me wait for my appointments. My child never listens - she really knows how to push my buttons!). We don't stop to consider the alternatives (The driver didn't see me there because I was in his blind spot. My doctor is very thorough and always wants to make sure he answers all of his patients' questions. I'm not listening to my daughter and what she really needs).
When we instead experience an abundance of peace, we choose it now and always; we don't let petty annoyances or frustrations ruin our day. We stay open to possibilities about why things are unfolding as they are. We stop seeing the other as the enemy who is out to get us. We pause, we breathe, and we inquire so we can better understand and see the real truth of the situation.
There are no limits to how much love, peace, and joy we can feel any given day. That which we long for is in abundant supply within us, right now and always.
This has been my journey. To stop searching for love, peace, and joy outside of myself. To see that they are already here, right now. I'm not perfect. It's not always easy. Emotional reactions happen quickly and I've got 40-some years worth of unlearning to do. But I'm tired of holding myself back. So I'm allowing small miracles to happen every day. Each time I choose love over fear, joy over misery, and peace over stress, anxiety or anger, I get one step closer to living a truly abundant life.