FORGIVENESS AND GRATITUDE
During Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, two of the more prominent and important Jewish Holidays, there is a call to action that is directly related to forgiveness. You are supposed to make amends with anyone you may have harmed and ask for forgiveness, face to face, eye to eye. If the person does not grant you forgiveness, there is a catchall that I love. You are supposed to ask two more times and if you are still not granted forgiveness, you are forgiven because if you sincerely mean what you ask, God apparently thinks that this is the point. Intention. Courage. Humility. Like all religion, there are various interpretations. These can be symbolic gestures too, maybe you need to forgive someone else and you just simply begin the process in your own heart without even having a conversation. Maybe the person you harmed or have been harmed by has passed away or the relationship is beyond a face to face — meditating, breathing, sending that person light and surrounding their aura with love may be the start of forgiveness. I look at the directive as an opportunity to pay attention and make a motion, even if it is just a baby step, to move towards love.
I have never been violently abused, I don’t know how the possibility of forgiveness is possible in these situations. I have never been harmed in such a way where forgiveness does not even seem like it is place to even walk towards. I cannot speak to this, but I do know that when I move towards forgiveness even if it is just in my mind, I am the person who feels better. It is not about the other person, it is about my own heart. Forgiveness is not meant to change the person on the receiving end, it is the person looking back in the mirror.
If I have hurt someone unintentionally, how is that I would even know to ask for forgiveness? This is where a kind meditation can be helpful. A deep breath surrounded by some conscious quiet saying to myself, I ask for forgiveness for any harm or hurt I may have caused to anyone intentionally or unintentionally. I open my heart to forgive and be forgiven and I ask for only goodness and love to move between us. Another one that is even easier is to say I FORGIVE YOU and see the person in your minds eye. If it is you that needs the forgiveness, I FORGIVE MYSELF. I have even read that it is helpful to look at yourself directly in the mirror and say, I FORGIVE YOU. And then really sit for a moment and feel the feeling, then do it again. I have tried this and it is powerful to notice the self talk that comes up by staring at yourself in a mirror contemplating.
Sometimes this small movement of consciousness and awareness can lead to an opening. Openings are good, much better than closures. Closures of the heart are anger and resentment and this eats away at your soul. No matter what the harm, soul eating is not good for my health, for sure. Resentment as it relates to health may as well be like eating Big Macs and French fries every day three times a day for life, a heart doctor’s worst nightmare. Stress from resentment has far reaching consequences on blood pressure, headaches, immune systems, and emotional weariness that does not induce well being.
What does FORGIVENESS have to do with GRATITUDE? I mean it is Thanksgiving, not Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah, not New Years where I make my list of goals that include action items for personal improvement. This isn’t an Alanon meeting day where I am on Step 5, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” (https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/en_step5.pdf)
This is not confession day at church behind a screen where a priest is listening to the Forgive me Father for I have sinned. In my opinion, gratitude goes hand in hand with forgiveness. Sometimes the first step of forgiveness is to simply train your mind to consider what you are thankful for. An interesting exercise is to sit quietly and take a few deep breaths. After you have done this, think about something you are angry or resentful about and place it in your mind for just a moment. Notice how that thought makes you feel. Does your face get scrunched up, are you frowning, feeling revved up, heart racing? Now try to allow that thought to leave you, put it in a box and place it in a river and watch it float down and away. Then simply take a few breaths again, quiet your mind and think of a few things you are thankful for, grateful for. Shelter, your children, food on the table, your health, whatever comes to your heart. Hold those thoughts and notice the feelings in your body now. Relaxed, calmer, more peaceful? Do you realize that both feelings were choices you just made? Powerful.
I believe that gratitude is like exercise or learning how to play an instrument, you have to practice it daily or else you simply will not improve, and neither will your health and way you see the world. Gratitude can lead to forgiveness, but the first step is all about taking it. And it is free. This is the gem of gratitude and forgiveness. They are both free. You just have to show up.
Holidays are loaded with layers of stuff. Family dynamics, expectations, guilt, and these holidays can push buttons that trigger behavior in sometimes out of the blue surprising ways. Often not planned, not anticipated, but they can come at you with a force of strength and set you on a course that is anything but thank-full. But I have learned and really believe that behavior and my response to it is a choice I make. It takes two to make conflict. I have a choice to engage or disengage. I don’t have to read the email that is going to make me feel bad, I can just delete it. I don’t have to go on social media and allow myself to be exposed to discussions that don’t make me feel energized and happy. These are all choices that I make often. I want to feel good. This is a choice. Gratitude and Forgiveness make me feel good, great actually.
Today I am grateful for anyone who reads anything I write. Writing is my personal forgiveness and I am so thankful for its presence in my life. May your day be filled with the choice of kindness and humility so that your being is calmer and more peaceful as you make your way, “Over the river and thru the woods to grandmother’s house you go,” where sometimes the big bad wolf awaits, but you don’t have to be eaten by him.
Happiest of Thanksgivings to you.