THE TWELVE DAILY EMOTIONAL FITNESS TRAINING EXERCISES
Exercise Six: Honor past gifts
God gave us memories that we might have roses in December.
J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan
This exercise asks you to pay special attention to memories of those responsible for all you have or are now. We are the continuation of all the generations leading up to ours. We are the continuation of the caring our immediate families were capable of giving. Some gave a great deal, others could not. Each gave according what they had been given and some gave more. We are also the continuation of others who have cared—teachers, doctors, nurses, neighbors, god-parents, coaches, mentors, class mates, and friends; some we met every day; some we met now and again. We are also the continuation of all others who sought to make the world better, safer, more just.
The most powerful way to honor past gifts is to focus on a memory of one person from your past who gave you a special gift of caring. You honor such gifts by taking a calming breath, shutting your eyes, and recalling a time you and the person spent together when you felt cherished, cheered on, comforted, or otherwise nurtured. Such times are gifts of caring. When you honor such past gifts, you give yourself the caring all over again.
Honoring past gifts is also a useful to heal childhood hurts. Childhood hurts are thought to create adult difficulties; unfortunately the bad is often what is dwelt on. Our brains want us to remember painful experiences so we stay safer. When it comes to past relationships, recalling the good is healthier. The bad should not be denied, but it needs to be viewed with a generous awareness of human frailness.
All do the best each can. Often a someone’s best is not enough, but it is the best that could be given. What anyone can give is limited by many things. Some do better than others, but each does what he or she can. When nothing can be done to change what has been, the healthiest path is the one lined with forgiveness and decorated with memories of the good that did exist. Here is how I honor my mother’s caring:
My mother did her best, but she was emotionally abusive. She had been physically abused; to her credit her abuse was not physical. Like so many problem parents, she was both abusive and loving. Through her loving she gave my brothers and I many gifts. Most days, as the sun was setting, she would pause and ask her children to watch the sunset with her. If the sunset was one of beauty, she would note its beauty. If the sky was gray and colorless, she would say, “Tomorrow will be another day, another sunset.” She gave us both her love of sunsets and the hope that no matter how gray one day was the next might be brighter.
This memory strengthens me. Your memory book has gifts of caring; otherwise you would not be seeking to improve your ability to care for yourself. If you have trouble caring for yourself as you should, perhaps like many others those who cared you were also abused in one way or another. You can dwell on the hurt or on the good. Remembering and honoring the good you have been given is healthier.
If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.
Thick Naht Hanh, Buddhist Monk