A new year is just another series of days, isn't it?
ell, here we are. A new year. It’s actually just another day in a series of days – but, because we have invented time, and calendars, we get to have this thing called a new year, and along with it comes the call for a reset. That got me thinking about clean slates, and that got me thinking about forgiveness, which is something that is often on my mind.
As regular readers know, I am very much a fan of the human heart. Cultivating the courage to be as fully human as possible is an affair of the heart. And that is why Sue Monk Kidd’s quote about forgiveness really grabbed me. Because – and it pains me to have to admit this – I am a grudge bearer. Isn’t that an awful thing to have to own? But, I’m afraid it is true.
Thanks to my dear friend Elizabeth, I have been drawing solace from a truly great master of both human understanding and the artistry of words with which to express it: Jeff Foster. In his piece on forgiveness, Jeff has helped me towards a modicum of self-forgiveness for not being good at forgiveness:
“You have to fall to fly, you have to break to heal, and when it comes to forgiveness you have to feel the hurt, the sorrow, the anger, the despair of violated boundaries, before it can pass into love. You have to validate the part of you that burns, stings, aches, feels bruised and abused and abandoned now, drench that part of you with loving awareness, hold that vulnerable and precious child close.”
h yes, the vulnerable and precious child. That was a big clue. I’ve known for years (and years and years) now, that the force of something emotional is directly proportional to how historic it is. When I feel deeply hurt by someone’s behaviour, it helps to recognize that the potency of the feelings are being generated by the current incident’s triggering of something more primal. The more inflamed I feel by what’s happened, the more likely it is that the gnawing sensitivity I am experiencing is an old wound, re-opened.
It's so challenging, isn’t it, to be back there again: an exposed child in jeopardy, in the body of a – supposedly – grown-up person. The feelings that come along cause desperation: defenceless, powerless, unprotected, out on a limb. No wonder then, really, that the abreaction is to shield oneself as best as possible, from the harm. And what better way of doing that, it would seem logical in fact, than to close down one’s heart.
Ah! Right. Now I can access the self-compassion Jeff Foster’s advice calls for:
“You cannot ‘do’ forgiveness, no, you cannot jump to it, fast-forward to it, you have to allow yourself to forget about forgiveness and SLOW RIGHT DOWN and hurt first. This is the way of the Gods. You have to open your heart to your hurt and closed heart, soften into the hard protective place, tend to the beautiful injured self, grieve the shattered reality and slowly sink into this new and present one.”
n my case the shattered reality is that of not being seen, and known, and understood, by someone to whom I had entrusted that hope. It is, perhaps, a foolish expectation in the first place. But I long ago chose to be that fool. Because I do believe, whole-heartedly, in the saving grace that comes from that almost ineffable experience we can offer each other – that of being held in the generous embrace of another’s unshakeable acceptance and understanding.
And now to Sue Monk Kidd’s “evolution of the heart”. Because to crawl back from the frailty of the wounded child to the tenacious spirit of the wise crone takes some evolution to be sure. It takes recognizing the flawed humanity of the other, and offering it the very thing I craved for and keenly felt its absence. To see, understand and – aye! here’s the rub - to accept the other person’s inability to be with and know my frangible neediness…… well that would be a tour de force of being the bigger person, digging deep and coming up roses!
And so, as we enter 2023, one of slate cleaning practices I’m bringing in with me is to continue this faithful work of forgiveness’s reparative revolution:
Accept my own broken-hearted inability to forgive;
‘Tend to the beautiful, injured self……’;
Notice in time the softening and opening of my slowly-healing heart;
Turn my heart’s attention towards the unloved part of the other whose own inability is but a reflection of mine;
Clean the slate. Move on. Job done.
“Forgiveness is primarily self-forgiveness, a love that burns inside and radiates outwards in time. I love it when I forgive and I love it when I don’t. A fierce and forgiving Presence holds us all, always.” - Jeff Foster