Posts Tagged ‘growth’

It’s Stronger to Forgive

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

032In stillness, when the silence seems almost magical and we sit by ourselves in a comforting, peaceful place…we can sometimes hear the whispers of Higher things. One of these is forgiveness. Make no mistake, however; though its voice is soft, forgiveness brings us power and strength beyond comprehension. Although many think forgiveness is a sign of weakness, of submission to or acceptance of injury from others, nothing could be further from the truth! Forgiveness comes from a highly evolved soul, one which knows that we can pardon others’ hurtful behavior while at the same time not remain a victim of it.

Forgiveness reflects love of self, so to find it we must turn our attention inward instead of outward. It is within every person’s reach, and yet impossible to achieve without at least some willingness on our part to feel it. In other words, to forgive is a choice, and some of us need to go through the pain of not forgiving before we’re ready for its healing effect.

The Pain of Anger

Why is it painful not to forgive? Because without forgiveness, hate is like a ball-and-chain, keeping us bound to the thing we loathe. In a very real sense, we give up our power to whatever we hate. Consider all the pleasures, happy thoughts, and creativity that could fill the hours we spend brooding over some person or situation we resent. Hate also breeds retaliation, causing more injury, destruction, and sadness…and of course, more hatred. Simply put, anger and animosity only lead to more of the same, and our entire lives can pass beneath this dark cloud of negativity.

Unlike the gentle tones of forgiveness, the voices of hatred, vengeance, and bitterness are loud, adamant, and raucous. They noisily grab our attention with promises of immediate gratification, causing us to say and do things we feel guilty about later on. Unfortunately, however, besides being the loudest voices, they sometimes yield short-term rewards. When we act out our resentment, we gain a false sense of power, righteousness, and superiority. In the anger equation, we are right and someone or something else is wrong! And let’s face it, who doesn’t love the satisfaction of being right? (Of course, we’re “right” according to our own view of what that is…) Also, if others cower to our bullying, we feel mighty and in control.

In its extreme form, intense anger demonstrated by tantrums, yelling, and physical aggression can be a physiological stimulant that accelerates our heart rate, breathing, and muscular tension, among other bodily effects. These sensations can actually be a “high” to some, who unconsciously look for a “fix” again and again. In this way, anger is like a drug, and one to which many become addicted. Like any addiction, however, the behavior and feelings often must be escalated to achieve the desired release.

Even on a lesser level of intensity, dwelling on the people and situations that are unacceptable to us can take up so much of our time and emotions that it becomes a distraction from dealing with other less compelling but very real emotions and problems. Things we might unconsciously wish to avoid are non-glamorous aspects of being human, including fear of close relationships, anxiety in social situations, confusion, low self-esteem, boredom, lack of motivation, feelings of failure…the list goes on and on. Like any escape from reality, however, anger blocks pleasurable feelings as well, like satisfaction at reaching a goal, appreciation of beauty in the world and people around us, and gratitude for the gifts we have in our lives. The saddest consequence of clinging to antagonism is that we become “stuck” – unable to grow emotionally and spiritually.

Working on Forgiveness

To forgive, we sometimes need more than just willingness. We actually have to work on changing our attitudes. Depending on how gravely we feel someone has injured us, this process can take time. The good news is that if we persist, we will always – ALWAYS – succeed in forgiving. Furthermore, even if we can’t forgive someone fully yet, we’ll feel better immediately just by taking small steps to try. Think of forgiveness as opening a window just a crack in a stuffy room. The fresh air we let in revitalizes us so much, we will want to open the window even more.

It’s crucial to understand that we cannot forgive others until we have forgiven ourselves. You’re probably wondering what you must forgive yourself for… The answer will be different for each one of us. What are the things you need to look at about yourself and your behavior that are or have been harmful to others or to you? It’s time to come clean about these things – write and talk about them, take responsibility for them, and make amends if needed. Now, here’s a real challenge: if you’re in conflict with someone else, say, a person you simply can’t stand, apologize to him or her for your part in the dispute! Sound crazy? You won’t believe how you’ll feel if you give it a try. Amends can also take the form of simply making better choices in the future. In many cases, we ourselves are the ones to whom we owe the greatest amends.

The hardest job is to develop more love and compassion toward yourself, but when you do this, the ability to forgive others comes naturally. If you get mired in resentment toward a particular person, here are some tricks you might try. One is to silently wish the very best for them (even if you know you’re lying initially). Do this every time you get caught up in anger at the person, and you’ll find the feelings loosen up and disappear over time. Another strategy is to make a short list of the person’s positive qualities, and read it to yourself daily or whenever negative thinking threatens to take charge of your brain!

One other fully guaranteed bitterness-buster is to make a list of the things you’re grateful for in your own life, apart from your anger at anything or anyone else. This is basically a positive displacement exercise, because if your mind is full of gratitude, there’s no room left for destructive thoughts.

Spiritual Help is Limitless

Alexander Pope said, “To err is human; to forgive divine.” In just these few words, Pope expressed that the act of forgiving requires more than just our mortal ability. As human beings, we make mistakes, have misunderstandings, and hurt each other. That’s where all the anger and hate comes from in the first place. Without something more powerful than our own limited mental and emotional capacities, we frequently aren’t able to forget or let go of that which has caused us pain. This is where we must reach out for spiritual help, and once we do, we are ultimately granted the strength to forgive no matter how deep the hurt.

What is your “something more powerful?” Many call it God, but others prefer terms like Universal Order, Higher Power, or Spiritual Center. It really doesn’t matter what we name it, as long as we are aware of two critical things: that He, She, or It has infinite power over the world and every single one of its troubles, and is a loving force that cares about us deeply as individuals.

Forgiveness and love are something we’re all born with. It is “life,” people, and painful circumstances that then start chipping away at us, teaching us to fear and to build protective shells around our core. If we didn’t have to create these insulating layers between ourselves and the world, we would all be able to trust, and freely love and forgive each other. It’s food for thought, wouldn’t you say? Maybe the true challenge and goal of life is to find your way back through all that accumulated defensiveness and hatred to reconnect with your whole, forgiving self. Seen in this way, the return journey is worth every step.

Thoughts on Hope

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

Hope is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all…   — Emily Dickinson

Hope. Even hearing the word brings to mind comforting thoughts of relief, satisfaction, serenity. Hope is something encouraging and enduring, filling bleak spaces with strength beyond fear, triumph over crises, and light amid darkness. The presence of hope can be the difference between joy and depression, persistence and giving up, success and failure – even life and death.

Hoping for something is not the same as wishing for it, as the things we wish for are usually more illusive. When we wish for something, there’s often regret over or denial of an unfortunate reality, like wishing you could sing as well as your favorite rock star, or wishing you’d studied math instead of history in college. Hoping, on the other hand, generally refers to more realistic things in the present or future, so there’s no sadness over past things that cannot be changed.

The dictionary defines hope as “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.” However, be careful about this, because if hope comes with strong expectation, it can actually be destructive. When we don’t acknowledge that hope for something is not a guarantee of its being realized, we set ourselves up for pain and disillusion. For example, we hope our children will be healthy…we hope our finances will be stable…we hope our love relationships will last forever. But what if our children become ill, or we are laid off at work, or our marriage fails? Our hopes instantly transform into disappointment, often leading to bitterness. Reeling from the impact of these crushing emotions, we’re prime targets for the opposite of hope – despair.

Wearing us down and clouding our perspective, despair holds us back from moving toward the happier places of acceptance and gratitude. When we despair, it’s impossible for us to see the gifts that actually come from not getting what we hoped for!

If you’ve ever experienced your hopes “crumble,” chances are you have learned to be careful about allowing yourself to hope. Perhaps you’ve found that making outside, external things or situations the center of your hopes is not worth the anguish of being let down. But that doesn’t mean that you should give up on hope altogether. Doing that would make you hopeless!

Consider this: a new way to hope. Focus your hopes on yourself instead of on things, people, and situations around you. You were born with the light of hope inside you. The truth is…it has never left. Maybe it’s been buried under mounds of sorrow about things you hoped for that didn’t come true. No matter what or whom you’ve lost – no matter what fact, crisis, or circumstance you think has stolen your hope, you only think you’re out of hope. You aren’t. There is an abundant, infinite source of hope that you can see if you’re willing to look for it. This is the unfailing force giving you the power to keep walking forward when all the chips are down, the ability to enjoy a hug from a friend or the smell of a rose during troubled times, and the strength to see future possibilities ahead instead of looking backward at the things you wish had been different. What you focus on grows in strength. Focus on the hope within – the hope for your potential to grow through anything and everything “life” hands you. In the strangest of ironies, the most painful things in our life can actually help us practice the most profoundly healing application of hope. What an awesome opportunity!

Remember that hope looks forward, and regret looks behind. To look ahead or back is your choice. Yours, and yours alone.

Big Sister, Little Mother

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

What the world would have us believe about childhood is usually at complete odds with the real experience of our early years within the family unit. Unfortunately, we have no perspective on this until we’re older and most likely struggling to resolve problematic personal issues by looking back on those days.

Like all infants, my universe was the people in my immediate family. They were everyone and everything. Their faces, smiling or angry; their words, gentle or shrill – what does a child have except instinct to guide him or her to sources of comfort and security in those preverbal years? So it must have been instinct that drew me like a magnet to my big sister. I was completely taken with her, probably way before the time my mind was even capable of storing memories.

With a delightfully round face and enormous brown eyes, my big sister was gentle and harmless. But best of all, she had endless time for me! Time to talk to me, play secret hiding games with me, giggle about mean grown-ups and strange kids with me, watch TV with me, and fight with me.  She was inseparable from my world as I knew it, and from me.

Honestly, one of the things I liked most about my sister was her size. Despite being two years older, she was still shorter and smaller-boned than me. We would spread our hands and fingers apart, then bring them together – hers against mine. Always my fingers were longer, and my hand entirely eclipsed hers. I felt bigger and stronger than she, able to dominate if it came down to fisticuffs. And with my wild and tempestuous nature, it did indeed come down to that often enough. Being physically superior to my sister gave me a sense of having some power. (It seems to me that survival within a family is sometimes no different than in the jungle, where the brawnier animals secure their position over those more frail.)

Big sister – I needed her gentleness even while sometimes taking advantage of it, a dependency that helped and hurt. But allow me to endure, she did… We gave each other comfort on those nights when we lay only a few feet apart on our twin beds, listening with fear and anguish to our parents’ yelling voices. Mercifully and reliably, she was by my side when we found out that our beloved kitten had been killed by a fan-belt blade while trying to keep warm on the engine of a neighbor’s car. And hers the first face offering consolation and the possibility of redemption when my butt was sore from a spanking and my spirit bruised from shame.

Mostly, though, we played and teased and made endless entertainment from nothing at all. Boring car rides were perfect for tickling and poking and uncontrollable laughter. In our bedroom, a cast of stuffed animals had names and lives of their own as they talked to each other in the voices we gave them. At the beach, adrift a few feet offshore in our “floatie,” I was “Cap-i-tan” and she was “Mate-y” as we adventured on the high seas. And how can I forget our “foot wars” as we watched television on our parents’ big bed – lying flat with the bottoms of our feet joined in the air, each of us pushing against the other with our backs arching up off the mattress?

In the later years, we would lay side-by-side on her double bed listening to “Mystery Theater” on the radio; in the darkness we talked and giggled about boys we liked, grievances with petty girlfriends, and the elusiveness of belonging to the “in” crowd at school. It was a routine I grew familiar with, until it was over forever.

Inevitable it was that my sister – my closest confidante, partner in fun and crime – would grow past me and dive fully into fascination with her peer group. To compete was impossible, and slowly, painfully, I became aware that I was nothing more than an inconvenience to her. She drifted away and was absent from my life in what seemed like seconds. Probably this was normal and natural, of course; she was older than me. But its suddenness was acute, magnified by a tragic absence of anyone else in my life to fill the gap. Outside the family I was shy, introverted, and unable to make friends easily. How I wished for just a small portion of my big sister’s poise and social skills! Feeling abandoned, alone, and inferior, I was paralyzed with fear and choked by grief that I could not even identify.

With no wisdom or experience to draw on, I began a decades-long detour of trying to imitate what I believed to be my big sister’s superior qualities and ideals. Looking back, I suppose this made sense at the time. After all, she had done a better job of winning my parents’ and others’ approval than I ever had. My sister, therefore, became the model of whom I should be; her life the template of what my own life should look like. With my faulty illusions in complete control, I strove to fit myself into someone else’s formula for living.

The next 30 years – though rich and fulfilling in many areas – were marked by my harsh and unrelenting self-judgment, countless disappointments and unmet expectations, and an abundance of negative drama. Inside me was an enduring undercurrent of unhappiness. It all finally culminated in the deterioration of my marriage, after 17 years together and having three children with the person I had chosen for a husband.

The wonderful thing about crises, however, is that they can result in positive, fundamental changes in a person, depending on how the individual responds to them. In my case, I finally became humble enough to be teachable. And did I ever have a lot to learn about loving myself! The lessons continue today, and I keep paying attention because they are directly related to my peace and happiness, not to mention my continued survival. Thank God.

My big sister – I love her still and more than ever! But the way I love her today doesn’t compel her to be my mother or my perfect-life model anymore. Bless her for being that when I needed it. In a very real way, I owe her my existence. Our childhood bond gave me joy that I could remember in later, sorrowful times.  It was my sister who taught me that love could be simple, could be full of freedom and laughter.

I’m grateful to God and my big sister for these early lessons in love, which I suspect are most easily grasped by a child anyway.