Friday, July 18, 2008

Learning about that F-word

Technically, if I were going to stay "It all started when..." I'd have to say it all started one sunny Labor Day back in 1982 when Susan Elizabeth Weston Wallace gave birth to an eight pound zero ounce squalling baby girl with a head of curly black hair. That girl came unknowingly into a world of cruelty to learn many very important lessons, and forgiveness was one of them.

More recently, though, it started with a movie my father gave to me - a documentary on Forgiveness when I had no idea that I needed it most. I watched it and was overwhelmed, driven to go looking for more learning on the subject. Forgiveness manifests in every religion with different rules applied to it. The Buddhists say that we forgive so that we can clean up our own minds of negative thoughts, for our own karmas. Hinduism sees forgiveness not as weakness but instead as a great power. I told you what the Jewish religion thought about the F-word in a past blog – it’s my favorite interpretation thus far. Psychological and scientific studies on forgiveness have only begun recently – like, 1980s recently. Science has learned that when we originally refuse to forgive, it's actually a survival mechanism. It gives us the adrenaline we need to deal with a situation, and keeps the body moving away from the negative situation. However, when the resentment is held on to over time, it becomes detrimental to our bodies. People who are more forgiving live longer and have healthier as well as happier overall lives when compared to people that hold onto resentment.

When I wrote about it last, a few people asked me to talk more about it when I'd learned more. Forgiveness is so important and so beneficial and something I never thought I would be big on. I never saw myself as a "forgiving type." Those of you who know me well will surely have no problem understanding this. I would like to stress that I am not an expert (and it turns out there are Forgiveness Experts who by the way travel around giving seminars) on anything at all due in part to my twenty-five short years, and I'm just going to tell you what my experience of it has been.

It's awesome. It's completely different from what I originally perceived it to be. I had thought forgiveness was something you gave someone, granted someone, did for someone to help them, to make them feel better, or to somehow grant some magical pardon or... I'm not sure what I thought it was, but I thought the verb "to forgive" was something you did to or for someone else. It is not. It is not. It is not. Forgiveness is something you do for yourself that just happens to impact someone else. Forgiveness does not mean you forget that so-and-so is an arrogant and insensitive punk. It means you accept that they are arrogant and insensitive, and you let go of all resentment you have attached to the fact. You do not feel anger over their actions. Maybe you can feel disappointed, but even that's probably not so great an idea.

And I know that I still have miles to go before I sleep... and miles to go before I sleep... but I know now at least what forgiveness is and I've been practicing it with great results. Shoot - ask me about the fat man at the lake that I ignored at first and then told I forgave for screaming at me that I was an ignorant bitch for swimming near him! Forgiveness is letting go, it is the opposite of holding onto resentment. Acknowledge what happened, acknowledge why it happened and the person who is responsible for it... and let go. Realize and recognize that what happened was negative... and refuse to let it impact you any more. Forgiveness is not Forgetting - forgetting only sets you up to be hurt again and again. Remember, but remember at an emotional-arms-length. Forgiveness is practicing peace in your heart and your consciousness. Forgiveness is saying no to negative thoughts.

A week or two after my father sent me home with that movie, the package from my mother arrived in the mail. My mother, my greatest heartache, the woman I have not had a relationship with for eight years because I could not allow her negative influence in my life anymore. I've resented her for the way she treated me, for the things she did. I've resented myself for allowing her to hurt me. I've resented the other people in my family for not stopping it. And it isn't healthy and now I know this and I am daily practicing thinking of her and the whole situation without negativity.

We may or may not ever have a real relationship again, but that doesn't mean I have to let it bring me down. Someday I hope to tell her that I have forgiven her and to truly mean it. I cannot rush into this - again, those scientific studies stress that premature forgiveness is unhealthy - but I am working toward it every day.

This is what I've learned thus far. Now you know. Now tell me what you know.

1 comment:

Nance said...

Okay, so this is an ad, but a good one.
And it speaks loudly to me about the f-word and my repeated decision to recognize that the potential of others is closely tied with my own.

I just decided to peek at a random poem of yours before turning in for the night. I'm glad I picked this one!