Ongoing Self-Forgiveness: Live Free and Clear
Have you noticed how we human beings bind up our energies by getting stuck in small and large ways we can’t forgive ourselves? In other words, in not forgiving ourselves, we're not free. It doesn’t much matter whether it’s some seemingly huge, shaming event—the affair, the ugly breakup, the fiasco at work—or something minor that’s been blown up in our minds—the rampant p.m.s. the other day, the rude moment with a customer service person on the phone: either way, we get all tied up with some past vision of ourselves that we allow to define us. We give it the power to limit how we can show up here and now and who we can become next.
Simply put, we can’t be present when we’ve got feelers out to some old story we think we have to keep checking in with and referring to. If that past story involves something unforgiven toward ourselves, we walk around feeling like a bad person, like there’s some wrong in our lives that colors everything else, like we're not worthy of better than this. We can't dance with our potential. We can’t even be at ease.
At the School for The Work, I heard Byron Katie talk about moving without a trace from one moment to the next. Her words struck such a chord inside me. I felt like I never did that—like it wasn’t in my repertoire! It was as if some Velcro or another always kept me stuck to something or many things that should be bygone. I saw for the first time how this kept me from being fully present—or fully free, fully me, fully anything!
Just try to get through a human life without having done some(sizable)thing, that could bring on shame when put under a microscope. Just try to get through a month—sometimes a day or an hour—without some little moments that just aren’t the most sterling examples of the levels of lovingkindness and serenity you’re capable of. What if you gave yourself full permission to be human? Can you let yourself witness your bad moments without judging or attacking or shaming yourself? You might learn from your observations if you just allow those moments and get curious about them.
I had one of those nights with my children recently. I growled at my son (really, I felt so frustrated that I just let out this warped, oversized feline growl), and I railed to my daughter, overriding the look on her face and the knowing in my gut that I'd completely departed the realm of clean communication. I'm sure I said what I needed to say three times over, instead of the once that would have done or, better, instead of waiting for a calm moment another day—like most space-sharing issues, it was nothing that wouldn't keep. And I'm sure I didn't speak sweetly. Okay, you know that harsh-Mama off-key strident tone that you just don’t want to hear coming out of you? When I went to bed, I felt all disturbed. I felt mean. Mean and rotten.
Lying in bed, I said my forgiveness prayer, which is a reconstruction of something I heard Marianne Williamson teach some time ago. Let me be clear: I have no idea what her words were, but I learned the concept from her. Also, because she elucidates A Course in Miracles, her language is full of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. My version drops all that. I have people send it out to whatever God or Higher Power they connect to, the Universe, the Force—whatever: God or current resident.
Here's the prayer applied to the self: “I forgive myself. And where I can't or don't know how, Universe, you forgive me for me, and hold that while I catch up to it. I acknowledge that it is done. Somewhere beyond time and space, the forgiveness is complete.”
After I said the forgiveness prayer that night, I witnessed my behavior in my head retroactively. I saw very clearly that I had simply exhausted myself that day by walking far more than my body was ready to walk in the wake of hip surgery. That failure in self-care cost me my patience with my children. (It's very good to notice what your lapses in self-care cost you and others.) I looked at the good reasons I had walked so much (the innocent motive* for the lapse: my son and I were on a joyful mission to find him some boots) and I told myself I would be more careful henceforth to figure in my limitations—because that works better and is kinder for all involved. What follows is important: in the name of not telling myself lies, I put specific application to this broad concept. I decided to check in with myself on school nights (this could mean lying down!) at least half an hour before time to cook dinner. After that, I felt as caught up to the forgiveness as I was going to get that night, and I slept well. The next morning, when I woke my beautiful son, he was just my son: he wasn't the boy I'd been mean to the night before.
Thanks to The Work of Byron Katie and the School for The Work, I no longer tolerate holding on to grievances against myself. It's too painful, and I don't like pain. And it disrupts the peace that I love to cultivate on an ongoing basis. I'm stunned at the self-loathing people allow to take hold in them, to take up the air waves in their heads, to fill them, body and soul. Actually, I recognize it quite well, and for years never imagined it was possible to be without it.
It's possible. It's even imperative. Do whatever you need to do to question your thoughts about any punishment you deserve, anything that's proof you're not worthy, anything that you must hold on to—perhaps to make sure you never do it again. Find (or at least notice that it's possible to find) a way to manage what you do or don't do again without the stress of never forgiving yourself. Forgive yourself daily for everything large or small you or anyone accuses you of. Because when you can move without a trace from one moment to the next, you can feel free and clear; you can spend a whole lot more time in peace and love; and you can do a whole lot more good both to yourself and to others on the planet.
*Note that my friend Jude Spacks, a talented personal-growth coach, especially for creative types, is the one who taught me to think in terms of innocent motive. Whenever I use this term I think of her, and I'd like for you to think of her as well.