Staying Strong Series


Exercise Number Eleven:   Forgive yourself.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
It’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen, American singer and song writer

Forgiveness is about imperfection.  When you seek perfection where it cannot be found, you can neither forgive another, nor yourself. The more you cannot allow yourself some cracks, the more you dwell in darkness.   In the dark, you miss the light in others; and in the dark, you miss or hold back from view what can shine through you.

We are born and bred with cracks.  As we grow, our cracks grow and new ones are added.  Sadly, we live in an age when we are told to esteem ourselves, but also face a constant push to be better.  It is not enough to be skilled at a sport for the fun of it, we must go for the gold.  It is not enough to be good enough to try out for the Olympics, we must make the team,  It is not good enough to win a bronze, we must win the gold; it is not enough to win the gold we must win more than any other.   The same applies to almost every aspect of our lives.

This quest for perfection is not evil in and of itself.  We want perfection in some things.  Without engineering perfection buildings would fall, bridges collapse.  Without near perfection found in the hands a skilled surgeon, more would die.  What is bad for our souls and our hearts is our fear of being imperfect; our ability to let our cracks show or at least to make peace with ourselves.  Peace within is about forgiving yourself for several things, not being perfect is one.

Many of you know I have a learning disability.  Read my blogs and a misspelling not caught by spell checking will jump out at the perfect grammarians, and jolt them.  Jolts me too when my mind works as it should and I see something I have written that makes no sense because one or another small word is misspelled.  Change a now to a not and you change the meaning of many sentences.

As I age the cracks are widening, the jolts more common and more  evident.  Lightening bolts, not sunshine comes through my cracks.  Moreover, it is the most painful part of my journey down hill.  How long will it be, before I cannot write at all.  It already takes twice the time to put out a coherent paragraph.

But the fissures in my mind have  also let sunshine, moonlight , and star glow into my life.  I learned at an early age perfection was out my reach.  I had to forgive myself lots of imperfections, and it was not easy.  I remember standing at the black board writing a sentence over and over again and having the teacher exclaim in disgust that at least  half of the sentences had one spelling mistake or another.  I couldn’t even copy a simple sentence correctly.  Was I stupid or defiant?  Neither, I was learning disabled.  A painful lesson in humility, but one that helped me accept that I was not perfect.  Other forces helped me accept that I wan, however,  good enough.

Step one in forgiving yourself is to strive for “Good enough”  and not perfect. You don’t have to do your best, go for the gold, be the air brushed picture perfect model, get all A’s, graduate with honors in all you do.  Good enough is good enough.

Step two: Do not darken your heart with the idea thoughts are  deeds. Believing we are good enough, however, is not always easy.  The idea that evil thoughts are the equal of evil actions. is one barrier.  Children think of thoughts as  the same as action.  This idea explains  why many children are often filled with shame despite parental and teachers efforts to  promote positive self-esteem.

It does not help that many religions see thought and deed as the same.   The Catholic Church views thinking about doing something  as a sin.  The Jewish religion speaks of putting fences between a thought and the possibility of sinning.   Most other religions do the same.  The full body covering of some women is such a fence.

It took me several years of analysis to free myself from the tyranny of believing thoughts were the same as deeds.  Thoughts are not actions.  Now, I can use nasty thoughts to vent and focus my self forgiving exercises on my deeds,  not my thoughts.

Step three:  Do not magnify your misdeeds.  Be realistic about where your actions fall on the scale of things.  Just  as we punish ourselves for thoughts, we also tend to magnify some misdeeds by treating  small infractions as if they were heinous crimes.    What are heinous crimes?  Across the centuries and across all cultures murder, torture, rape, physical assault, slavery top the list of heinous crimes.  Most heinous are when such crimes are practiced against the weakest—children, women, or the elderly or groups of people because of their race or religion or sexual orientation

History is replete with violations, violations the guilty justified by drawing circles around different groups and dehumanizing those outside personal  circles.  That the behaviors listed above are now called crimes against crimes against humanity speaks about a forward march of civilization.

Few of us are guilty of direct heinous crimes against others.  This exercise is not for people engaged in such behavior.  The one area we are probably need forgiveness is when we draw circles around another group.  It is human nature to see ourselves and those we love as different to put others outside our circle of care.  Moreover, many religions justify  heinous behavior by dividing the world by drawing circles around the saved and the damned, the believer and the non-believer.  Do not let your religion increase your tendency to care only about your kind.   Practicing kindness to all you meet avoids this sin.

Step four:  Do not minimize your misdeeds.  The tendency to minimize  misdeeds has many roots.  One is the effort to be more understanding of why good people do bad things.  As I noted in Exercise Number Nine: Forgive others; “To understand all is to forgive all.”  I think th is best applied to our efforts to forgive others, but we should be less forgiving when examining our own deeds.

We tend to minimize our actions when we engage in behaviors some call criminal.  We keep the wallet we find on the street;  we don’t correct the error made in our favor at the check-up counter; we fudge on our taxes, we spread malicious gossip, we keep all our money and don’t donate to charity, the list goes on and on.

Ranking your misdeeds maintains perspective.   The law breaks theft into felonies and misdemeanors.  So be realistic about where your actions fall: heinous, felonious, misdemeanor, bad manners.

Step five:  Focus on what you do more than what you don’t do. We tend to castigate ourselves for our “Crimes of Omission” and do not honor all we do.  We joke that our to do lists go on forever.  Exercise Five suggests honoring meeting small goals. Exercise Two reminds you to remember what matters.  Both aid in practicing forgiveness of self.

When it comes to castigating ourselves for what we don’t do, keeping in mind the legal stance helps.  Many people are not aware of the fact that to have knowledge of a crime and not to take steps to stop it can make you open to criminal charges.  If you know a crime is being committed and do not denounce it, refuse to participate, call the police or take direct steps to stop the criminal behavior you can be arrested as an accessory and be charged as if you had committed the crime.  Sadly, the world is most guilty of crimes of omission when it allows genocide, oppression and slavery, but  we can be equally guilty of doing the same if on a small level.

Sadly, this is not what most of us fuss and fume about when thinking about the need to forgive ourselves our shortcomings.  We worry about the dust balls under the bed, or that we didn’t make a polished presentation in a meeting or turn in the perfect paper.  Not helpful.  Those are small things.

Step six:  Work to balance the scales.  When you know you have done something wrong, balance the scales.  One of my ways of trying to balance the scales is by my political posting on Facebook.  I try to present both sides.  I also sign petitions, vote carefully, give to charity.  I can’t march off to war, but I can do what I can.  So can you.

Step seven: Practice this Forgive Your Self Exercise daily :

  1. List five behaviors you regret.  You can do this in your head at the end of the day.  You can make a written list.
  2. Pick the behavior you regret the most.
  3. Rank it.  Heinous, felonious, misdemeanor, crime of omission, bad manners.
  4. Plan a balancing behavior or what some call an amends.
  5. Visualize  carrying out the balancing behavior
  6. Take a few minutes to breathe and calm your body.
  7. Visualize or describe yourself asking someone you love to forgive you who you know will do so.  Sometimes that might be the person you wronged, sometimes another, for many that will be G-d.
  8. Name the behavior you regret.
  9. Repeat  the phrase , “You are forgiven.”  Some find writing the words useful.
  10. When you feel forgiven.  take a Calming Breath and say “Thank you.”

Warning: Part of forgiveness must include stopping the behavior even if it is bad manners.  Working at practicing kindness helps overcome bad manners.   If the behavior ranks higher than a misdemeanor  a crime of omission, or bad manners, professional help must be sought.

Agree or disagree, comments are always welcomed.

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