This week, in the midst of holiday shopping, travel plans, kids’ programs, and parties I feel compelled to bring our attention to what could arguably be the most important action on your to-do list this season: forgiveness.
Take a moment and observe your body as you say the word. What happens? Does something tighten? Does your breathing change? Does anything feel heavy? Does life feel expansive and joyful when you say that word or do you feel dread and constriction? It’s definitely a loaded word for most people.
We shy away from it because we feel a little guilt about the grudges and judgment we hold. We want to roll our eyes at people like me who are calling for us to let go of this thing that feels impossible to relinquish. Living with the ideal in mind and choosing to stay where we are creates such an exhausting dissonance that to close the gap requires us to either forgive or decide it’s not important. So if we can’t picture letting go then our only other obvious choice is to convince ourselves we don’t need to.
Why I’m choosing to write about this today is because I want you to make room for what 2014 can hold for you. And it’s hard to invite more love, connection, peace, creativity, intention, health, and joy into your life when judgement and anger are taking up space, consuming your energy, holding your subconscious hostage. It’s hard to sincerely say to God, or the Universe, “I want a more abundant life”, when our very actions are showing that we want to sit here and hug this rock of anger a little longer. It’s hard to show up with love for the new people we meet when the story we play in our heads sings an unforgiving tune of “People disappoint me. I should be wary. I need more protection.”
There are many motivations to forgive people, but the one I care about today, for you, is that I want you to have more amazing connection in your life in the year ahead. I want for you more love, more laughter, more revealing, more play, more touch, more understanding, more empathy, more affirmation– all the things that come with being truly connected to others. I want that for you so very much.
But you can’t move forward with both arms open wide for more connection if you’re still looking back, trailing a bag of rocks behind you.
Who to Forgive?
- Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for what you didn’t do that you wish you had done; and for what you did do that you wish you hadn’t done. Forgive yourself for playing too small because you were afraid and for dreaming too big because now you’re disappointed. Forgive yourself for the actions you took that don’t reflect the person you want to be. Forgive yourself for acting out of insecurity and fear.
- Forgive the obvious other. This is the person(s) who we know off the top of our mind that we’re mad at. We were hurt and deeply disappointed by their actions. Just thinking about them makes us sick to our stomach. We feel like we lost a piece of ourselves in that event.
- Forgive the subtle other. This one can be slightly more difficult to admit because, as I talk about at length in my book, we often feel guilty admitting we need to “forgive” the people we love because the things that cause us angst aren’t “wrongs.” We might be mad at her for getting married, jealous that she gets to retire with plenty of financial security, hurt that she moved away, or frustrated because she whines about her marriage but doesn’t do anything about it. But remember– if you feel angst then forgiveness is the answer to peace.
- Forgive life. It sounds silly, perhaps, but we have to forgive God, too. Again, we’re not forgiving because wrong was done, we’re forgiving to bring peace to us. I’ve had to forgive God for letting things happen to me, for not creating a “fair” universe, and for not answering prayers.
How To Forgive
There are entire books on this process (and re-read chapter 9 in my book for more ideas and context) so far be it from me to summarize all that wisdom here, but here are three steps I go through this time of year to make sure I’m processing what is being felt and stored in my body. By admitting all this we are only acknowledging what is already there in us, and bringing it to consciousness is the only way we can access the wisdom from those experiences and choose to eventually move away from the pain of them.
- Be Clear Where There is Angst. Start with yourself. List every area of your life where you feel any angst at all– romance, finances, body, etc. Now write down every thought that comes to mind when you answer the questions: What do I wish I had done differently? Why am I disappointed in myself? Where might I be blaming myself? This is an exercise of reflection so you don’t need to filter yourself or talk yourself out of putting something down. To list something doesn’t mean it was wrong, it just means you feel some angst and we want to listen to that. For example, in the area of tight finances– I might list things like “I have to forgive myself for not making more money,” or for “Choosing to be self-employed.” It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be self-employed or that it was a mistake– it simply means that I acknowledge my role in where I am, and that I still need to come to peace with something in that area.
- Glean Any Wisdom or Information that Could Be Helpful. Keeping with that example, once I see my thoughts on paper I can then ask myself– are these things I wish I had done differently? Is there wisdom to learn here? What information can I take with me that might help me in the future? What could I do, if anything, to feel more peace in this area? Is there an action I want to take right now? Is this a circumstance that needs to be/can be changed or is it more important that I change how I look at it?
- Lean Into Willingness. Sometimes in journaling, I’ll sit with the pain and it’s just as clear as day that I am ready to let this go and feel peace. It can be that quick. It can be this ah-ha that has been waiting to happen and my body just knows that I have now harvested the best from that situation and that there is no more value in bringing it with me. But sometimes I am so not there. The very idea of letting it go scares me and feels way too big. Sometimes I feel like I’m letting myself or someone else off the hook and that something in me will die or be lost if I do it. In those moments, I lean into that very still and small voice that knows that forgiveness will ultimately bring me peace and all I ask myself to do is say “I am willing to come to forgiveness.” It may not be today. But I’m willing. I’m willing to get there. And that’s enough for now.
After you process your own angst… continue your list by doing the same steps for the others in your life that you feel some angst with.
Maybe schedule an evening or a weekend early-morning to just sit, sip a favorite drink, and journal.
The goal is to get to a place where we continue to whisper to life “We are willing to let this go so that something more abundant can enter my life.” For that is so very much what I want for you as you go into this new year of your life.
And it truly is the biggest contribution you can make to your life and to others this Christmas season. Be the gift of one more person showing up with love.