As you may recall I was doing some reading on forgiveness. As you may also recall, I started back at university this week, seeking a second degree in education. I’ll write more about the experience of going back to school tomorrow, however what’s pertinent for today is that my externally-assigned reading for school is getting in the way of my self-assigned reading on forgiveness. It’s not all bad – a lot of what I’m reading for class is interesting – but I am suddenly remembering why I read a lot of glossy magazines during my student days. I used up most of my brainpower absorbing information from textbooks.
I’ve been thinking, though, and it occurs to me that forgiveness is ultimately not about reading, it’s about doing. That is to say, it has more in common with learning to knit than with learning about English literature. You can gain some valuable insight from books, and from talking to other people, but in the end the only way to get better is to practice. To that end, I’ve started my own forgiveness practice.
My philosophy is that when you’re starting something new, it’s generally best to start small. To draw on my knitting analogy again, my first project was a garter stitch scarf, not with an intricate lace shawl. In the same way, when it comes to forgiveness I’ve decided to target the little, petty grudges I carry around with me. Trying to make my peace with difficult aspects of my childhood, or with events that still frighten me, is probably too much. Working to forgive the inevitable small slights from the people I see often and care about a lot feels more realistic. What’s more, it will likely have a bigger impact on my quality of life in the long run.
Right now, my forgiveness practice is essentially an exercise in mindfulness. When I find myself listing all of the little things that my husband has done wrong, I try to bring awareness to the situation. I take a few breaths, and then think of each infraction and tell myself, “I forgive him.” Then I picture that slight floating away, like a bubble, until it’s gone. Then I do it again 15 minutes later when I fall in to the same trap. And so on, and so on, and so on.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t try to talk things out with my husband when I’m feeling hurt, or having a hard day. I am in a relationship with him, and that requires constant communication and work. Sometimes we each need to express how we’re feeling in response to something that happened. However, the truth is that calling to mind something that Jon did when he was 19 years old and holding it over his head just isn’t helpful. It’s in the past – the long-distant past, in fact. My forgiveness practice is about learning to let go of those things that we have already hashed out over and over and over again, and that aren’t actually even relevant in my life today.
I’m not very good at all of this, yet. I still wouldn’t say that I’m a terribly forgiving person. All the same, I am noticing that bringing awareness to the situation, and seeking to let go of old baggage by forgiving the people around me for their past actions is having a positive effect. It’s small right now, but it’s growing, and I think it’s a good thing.
Have you ever tried to practice forgiveness? If so, what does it look like for you, and how did it impact your life? I’d love to hear!