Stay centered through the beautiful powers of gratitude and forgiveness.
by Tessa Bender
Life brings to us many difficult experiences that challenge our ability to stay centered. Whether it be an irritating comment made by a co-worker, difficulties with your partner, or an unfortunate diagnosis, life is full of unexpected challenges. Learning how to meet those challenges with grace and ease is one of the greatest tasks we can undertake in this lifetime. Though not always an easy journey, the practice of meeting yours and others pain with gratitude and forgiveness can help you to heal old wounds that are ready to be released. It’s easy to hold onto pain, or a story about your pain. What is the harder, but more fruitful, choice is to meet it and see it clearly for what it is with kindness and humanity. Forgiveness and gratitude are virtues of the heart that require the courage of vulnerability. The wounds we carry come from our childhood, stories we have been told about ourselves, stories of our ancestors, past relationships, trauma, etc. Staying in our habitual, protective way of being only allows the wounds to fester and never to heal. Develop patience as you work on gratitude and forgiveness; it is a lifelong journey to self-heal.
Retrace your memory and think of a time where something unfortunate happened, but it ended up leading to something positive. We are so often trapped in the overwhelming story we tell ourselves about the negative experience, that we cannot widen our perspective to see anything positive that could come from it. Shifting your perspective in this way liberates you from being overcome by negativity and gratitude practice can help you to get there. This requires a bit of mindfulness to take a step back and take note of what is really happening. Let’s say you’re in an argument with your partner. They claim that you’re not listening which activates a wound in you from childhood from your father not ever listening to you. When your wound is prodded, it makes it incredibly challenging to stay calm. However, if you pause for a moment, take a deep breath and examine the situation at hand, you will see your partner across from you, someone who likely only wants the best for you. In this recognition, you can begin to see the lesson that this tense experience has to teach you. Perhaps, it was meant to help you notice the signs and symptoms when you feel triggered so that you can learn to self-regulate better next time. Or maybe your partner wanted to shed light on a real challenge they are facing with you that if you worked on as a couple, would make you even stronger. Once we take a moment to acknowledge that there is a lesson in every negative experience, we can have an authentic sense of gratitude. Next time something challenging happens, try your best to shift your perspective to see the story you’re telling yourself, look for the lesson and be grateful. This process in itself will begin to heal your wounds.
Forgiveness is a radical act that acknowledges that we’re all human. It gives space for the messy existence we live in, full of people with pasts, and stories, and ancestral traumas. We are all carrying burdens and sometimes those burdens manifest in ways that we’re not proud of. Rev. John Watson said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” One could also propose the quote to say, “Forgive, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It is the battle of being human, figuring out our own morals and ethics, dealing with the chaos that sometimes makes up our internal landscape. To forgive someone who has hurt you or wronged you in some way is an act that takes courage and vulnerability. Surprisingly, it is not always the person who wronged you that will experience relief from your forgiveness as they will still experience the karma of their actions. Rather, it is you who will be healed by your own act of forgiveness for this virtue lies within your own heart.
Imagine for a moment someone who you may need to forgive and examine all the reasons that you don’t want to forgive them. Maybe you think, “They don’t deserve my forgiveness”. Do you know who deserves your forgiveness? You. To forgive does not mean that you forget, and it is not an endorsement of the actions this person took against you. However, if you forgive them, it is you heart that will benefit from being able to lay down the heavy burden of bitterness. Release this burden and your heart will begin to heal.
The hardest person to forgive sometimes is our self, as we tend to be self-critical with near-impossible expectations. Beating yourself up about something you said, did or didn’t do can create anxiety and even depression. Instead, try self-compassion as an act of forgiveness. Self-compassion acknowledges that we are all human, and we make mistakes from time to time. Research shows that self-compassion is more motivating and better for our wellbeing than self-criticism. If we can forgive ourselves for our human foibles, it becomes easier to forgive others. Imagine what you would want from a friend or loved one if you messed up. To forgive is not to make excuses or acknowledge behavior that was not aligned with our values. However, it is to acknowledge our humanness and to motivate us to be better next time around.
Imagine living on a planet that had more gratitude and more forgiveness. Can you feel the potential it holds to not only heal individual wounds, but cultural and collective wounds as well? Healing of this kind begins with you. Make one radical act of gratitude and one radical act of forgiveness today. Shift your mindset, and liberate your heart.
Photo: Olia Nayda