Rumi said, “People want to be happy. Don’t keep serving them your pain.” Forgiveness can be one of the most difficult things we get to do. Stay tuned for why that serves us, not the offender. And how holding onto the dark days means that we keep serving up our pasts to everyone we come in contact with.
Stories are our lives in language. Welcome to the Love Your Story podcast. I’m Lori Lee, and I’m excited for our future together of telling stories, evaluating our own stories, and lifting ourselves and others to greater places because of our control over our stories. This podcast is about empowerment and giving you, the listener, ideas to work with in making your stories work for you. Power serves you best when you know how to use it!
Last week we looked at personal narrative research project I did and what I discovered about how we engage with risk. This week we are going to look at some ideas on forgiveness.
At an emotional intelligence conference I attended mid-year 2016, I and a couple hundred other folks from around the country, found ourselves doing work to release old wounds, old stories that didn’t serve us, events of the past that had caused us to put up walls. It was a particularly vulnerable exercise where the lights were off and people were allowed, in fact encouraged, to scream out their anger, to vocally set free and release pains they had carried… always with them over the years. As I watched and listened and participated I wasn’t as wigged out as I thought I was going to be if, as my friends and I had discussed earlier, “there was screaming involved.” In fact, what struck me so profoundly was how much pain everyone carries. Here was a large room filled with a hundred and seventy-something people from all across the country. Different races, religions, genders, states, socio-economic status, etc… but when the lights are down we are all the same – we are all carrying deep, deep pain. I was so struck by the human struggle taking place in the room when an idea suddenly became phenomenally clear to me, for the first time: Forgiveness is NOT about the other person– The one who hurt you. Forgiveness is about ourselves. When Christ said, in Matthew in the New Testament, that we are to forgive seventy times seven, I believe he was stating that there is never a time when it will be okay to burden our souls with pain, resentment, and hatred. There will never be a time when that will be good for us. No matter how many people do crappy things to us, or how many times a person hurts us, it is never enough for us to give them license to crush out our light and our love, which is exactly what carrying around anger and bitterness does to us. Let me repeat that… he was only stating that there is never a time when it will be okay to burden our souls with pain, resentment, and hatred. There will never be a time when that will be good for you. No matter how many people do crappy things to us, or how many times a person hurts us, it is never enough for us to give them license to crush out our light and our love. He doesn’t want us to have to be standing in that room screaming out the pain we have held onto. He doesn’t want us to carry around pain and anger and hatred that block out the light in our eyes and the lilt in our step.
Isn’t that a clarifying thought! All these years forgiveness was a difficult-to-implement concept that focused on people not being mad at each other and working through things that felt unfair. But this commandment, this practice of forgiving isn’t about allowing someone else to get off the hook. It has nothing to do with that. I know it feels like it, but it’s not about justice or mercy, (those things get worked out later) It’s a practice to free our own energy from the dark emotions that cripple and crush us right now. And even though sometimes it feels like forgiveness is letting the other person off the hook, it’s really getting ourselves off the hook – the hook that’s going to keep us dangling from the end of a line, held by another person, never moving forward.
The Dalai Lama said of forgiveness, “It would be much more constructive if people tried to understand their supposed enemies. Learning to forgive is much more useful than merely picking up a stone and throwing it at the object of one’s anger, the more so when the provocation is extreme. For it is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and others.
As I sat in that workshop and listened to the pains of all the unforgiven, I came to see the tragedy of not being able to let go of the old stories, the old grievances, the wounds that cut deep and never healed. Right in front of me was the thrashing of people wanting so badly to let their lights shine again in their own lives, and they were fighting for their lives. They were seeking release from the wounds that hadn’t healed so they could start to see with a brighter light and sprout wings.
I have this poster on my bookcase of Captian Jack Sparrow, and it says, “The problem is not the problem, the problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?” Here’s a hard truth: It’s never what happens to us, it’s what we do with what happens to us. Now, I say hard truth, because sometimes it sucks to realize that we are responsible for making the best of a bad situation. On the other hand, it’s completely empowering, because with this “Stoics” mindset – you are always in control of your emotion and your life because no matter what comes your way you get to change your perspective so you can find the beauty, or the joy, or the learning, or the opportunity.
“Our deepest wounds are sacred spaces,” said Katherine Woodward Thomas – I’ll bring her up again in a minute. I liked how she acknowledged the profound effect of our deep wounds. Our wounds are real – they wouldn’t hurt and wound if they weren’t hitting our vulnerable tender spaces. I find the verbiage of calling them “sacred spaces” as an acknowledgment of the role they play in our learning. They ARE spaces of learning. If you have experienced horrible things, and most of us have, we then have two choices – we are either crushed by the unfairness and the pain of the events, or we become a crazy warrior soul who fights for their life, in which case growth and progression is guaranteed. Those with the deepest sufferings are the warriors… really they have no choice: Fight and grow or be smothered by whatever event you can’t bear to let go of.
Those who hurt us have no control over whether or not we live a life of love and joy. That’s important to remember. We are the only ones who can decide that. Only you, only I, hold that power for ourselves. I saw this quote on-line yesterday: “Never put the key to your happiness in somebody else’s pocket.” While it seems counter intuitive – at least to me it always has, that forgiving someone else is done to save me; it is what it is. Take the key to your happiness out of the pocket of whoever hurt you, put it in your own pocket and start to shine again by breaking free of the anger, hate and pain. Easier said than done….I know.
Do you remember in Episode 1 when I spoke about reframing my victim story and finding a purpose, a meaning for the things that had happened in the past? It was this reframing of my story that allowed me to let go of feeling like a victim, even the little bit I held on to because I could see a potential purpose for my suffering. The wounds of my past didn’t change, I didn’t forget they ever happened. But now I could see that maybe there was either purpose behind them, or at least I could repurpose the events for a good cause. I can use my experiences to understand others better, to lift and carry, to inspire and to guide when given the opportunity. What greater use could we have for making it through the nightmares than to shine more brightly, to be more badass, to have a larger heart? Have you heard the song by Rascal Flatts “Bless the Broken Road?” If not, the words go: “God bless the broken road that led me straight to you.” A little country love song pointing out that he wouldn’t be where and who he is without that broken road he traveled, but it had purpose in leading him to the right place. Give it a listen – can be a bit of a tear jerker.
There is a neat book called Calling in the One, by Katherine Woodward Thomas – this is her work I referred to earlier: In her book, she says, “Our unhealed wounds are invisible prisons capturing us with their iron bars just as surely as if we were locked inside cold gray, concrete walls. Sometimes it seems, no matter how hard we try to escape, that we will forever be prisoners of our own sad stories, doomed to repeat painful dynamics over and over and over again, in spite of our wishes to the contrary.” She goes on later to discuss how, as much as we profess to hate our brokenness, that we often set up camp and put down roots and build our entire identities around our tales of woe. She then talks about the exact route that I found with my victim story – she acknowledges that we can’t actually get rid of our wounds, but we can find a way to make them meaningful, and when we do this, THEN we can move on. Move forward. Let them go.
She recounts a story from the classic Man’s Search for Meaning –by Victor Frankl. Viktor was a prominent Jewish psychiatrist who survived the camps of Auschwitz and Dachau. Viktor talks of an elderly man who came to see him a couple years after his beloved wife had passed away. The man was distraught with grief and couldn’t move on with life because he was severely depressed. Viktor had been through the worst types of suffering, so he understood pain. He sat quietly and listened to the man pour out his grief and sorrow. When the man finished Dr. Frankl asked him just one questions: What would have happened if you had died first and your wife would have survived you? Well, the man said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” To this, Dr. Frankl replied, “You see, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering, to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.” The man was so moved by Dr. Frankl’s words that he simply stood up, shook his hand, and left, never to return. Dr. Frankl then writes, “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”
While these moments that break our hearts are a part of everyone’s life experience, we have the power of choice in how we deal with them. You are the badass hero of your story! You get to find your power. You get to take back the key to your happiness and put it in your own pocket. The struggle with that dragon of forgiveness is often a mighty struggle- I won’t pretend like it’s not. Finding purpose in your wounds can sometimes be more than a one-person job, like it was for me in episode one. Letting go doesn’t happen in a day, but sometimes it does. For your own life, work with urgency toward this goal, so you can rise from the dark, let the heaviness flow from you, stand in the light and feel it warm your skin. That’s worth it.
And, back to Captain Jack Sparrow – “the problem is not the problem, the problem is your attitude about the problem.” All he’s saying here is that we assign meaning to the things that happen to us. The events in our lives are just events. The meaning these events have to us is created by us, through our lenses that we look through, our life perceptions. We control our perspective. If someone cuts you off in traffic you can decide if that person is a jackass or if his mother has just been hospitalized for a heart condition and he’s pushing his way through to be with her. If someone you don’t know yells at you, you can give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s had a really bad day, and empathize with him and cut him some slack because you too have had bad days, or you can confront and fight, or let the interaction ruin the rest of your day, or any number of potential responses, ….but the point is that you get to create your reality. You get to choose your response, even your interpretation.
There is that story about the man on the subway with his four children. His children ran all over, yelling and annoying other passengers. The father just sat there and let his children run around unchecked as he paid them no mind. When he was chastised by another rider he looked up, surprised, and then explained that they were just returning home from the hospital where their mother had just passed away and no one was dealing with it very well. I’m sure this story has been true in many cities, at many times. It illustrates how different a situation can be depending upon the lens it’s seen through. And, sense we often don’t have or know the whole story, it behooves us to give people the benefit of the doubt that everyone is doing the best they can. This perspective helps us not to create and carry around unnecessary irritation, but it’s also a reality check when bigger things happen 1. What’s the whole story here? 2. I get to choose the lens I see this event with.
Here’s another story. I work in real estate and a few years back I had a good friend who I was helping do a real estate deal. I had helped her purchase her first home, sell it, and we were working on the purchase of her second home. She had recently remarried after a difficult first marriage and divorce and I had been key in helping her to gain back her strength and step into her own power. We had been friends for years and I had gone out of my way to help her through a lot of difficult times. Well, as we worked on finding her a home in a city about a 45-minute drive away, we spent many days driving back and forth and she put in one offer after another on homes that she then backed out of. They waffled between building and she and her husband fought about how new the home should be, he wanted newer, but she was paying for it and she wanted it to be more affordable. Since we had been friends for years I joked that they shouldn’t build because building was hard on relationships and those two didn’t seem to be able to agree on anything. Well a few weeks down the road, and further along in the process, she was pulling out of another offer and asking if she could legally put in offers on multiple homes at the same time. I had a talk with her and we discussed ethics and consideration for the seller’s and I asked her to think seriously before we put in another offer on a home, as she needed to be serious about her desire to own that home. Well, this flipped a switch for her and she fired me, wrote a letter to my broker about why she should be let out of her contract, in which she literally made up a list of salacious comments about my work with her. The vast majority were straight up lies, while some were misunderstandings like my comment to her earlier about suggesting they not try to build a home together. This was infuriating to me. Here was a person, a friend whom I had done a great deal for over the years, a friend whom I had put in hours, days, weeks into helping them with their home purchase and here she was attempting to besmirch my reputation, attempting to provide no compensation for the time I had professionally spent helping their family, and worse outright attacking me in what was a very unexpected way. To say that I was taken aback was an understatement. For weeks I was shocked and for months I was angry. Her betrayal was so unexpected and so offensive, and to me, I could find no justification for it. As I’ve tried to look at this through other various lenses, I have come up with some theories – when she and I first met she was a woman with NO power. She was weak and victimized and her ex-husband was running over her everyday in every way. She was still mothering his children (not hers) and she was fixing his meals because she didn’t want to make him angry. He was pushy and confrontational, and she was a wilting flower. Over the years she found her strength and her voice. I’ve seen this happen more than once, where people who have not had a voice and then they take up their power, they swing to the far left. She went from having no voice to being an unreasonable bitch. She hadn’t found the in between yet. I think she was also embarrassed that I had seen her and her new husband, the supposed and sought after happily-ever-after, fighting so often as she rode over him repeatedly. While I was an indirect party to these parts of her life, this event, that was so unexpected and unrealistic to me, when seen through these potential lenses, at least sheds some light on her actions. Forgiveness to me in this situation is a freeing of the unexpected betrayal I felt by her. She wrote later and said she missed me and was sorry – exactly like that, 2 short lines. To which I so badly wanted to write a two-page tirade. But I did not. I let her go down her path, wherever that may take her and wish her the best on her journey as she figures out her middle ground of having her power and being able to maintain healthy relationships at the same time. I’m not suggesting this was the only course or the correct course; I’m sharing my chosen course and what it meant to me. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we welcome back the perpetrators into our lives. In fact, often times that would be very unwise, but it does mean that we don’t wish them a tortured death, and we let them move on down their path while we move on down our path with a lighter load. I’ll admit, it took me time. Forgiveness is always a process for me, but I’m understanding it better and better, and that’s called growth.
The key to your happiness is in your own pocket, and if you’ve left it in someone else’s pocket, it’s time to go get it back. If you take anything from today’s episode, remember this – there is never a time when it’s okay for us to let someone else crush the light out of us. This is why we forgive – to be whole, to retain our light, to move forward and past the dragons (episode 2) and on to the happily ever after!
Your challenge for this week is to find something you are holding onto in your heart – someone you haven’t forgiven, some pain that needs to be released. Start with just one, and start the process of taking the key of your happiness out of their pocket. Find a purpose or a lesson learned from your experience. Try looking at it through different lenses in an attempt to understand their perspective. Often this process – finding a meaning for your experience, a lesson you can take from it, and then considering the perspective of the other, can help you to honor those sacred spaces that are our wounds, and wash out any bitter infection that still festers.
On that delicious visual, have a great week out there considering your stories, and creating new ones. See you next week.