Here is a selection of items from my main pages of ideas, stories and questions that relate to issues of forgiveness. I hope you find them of help.
If you stand on the top of a cliff and look down at the sea where a fast boat is travelling you can see the wake spreading out behind. If you did not know better you could assume the wake was driving the boat. But you do know better, you know the boat has an engine and a set of controls operated by a driver. The wake is just what the boat leaves behind as it moves forward. (Wayne Dyer)
Substitute your life history for the boat's wake and the metaphor is complete. Our history does not drive our life, it only looks like that sometimes. You are the driver, you have control of the engine, you can choose the speed and direction you take. You can follow a path based on your history or you can choose to do otherwise. Your history is what you leave behind.
I have had counselling clients who get annoyed with themselves when a negative or critical thought comes into their head. In fact sometimes they get so cross they invest the thought with enough energy for it to stay around for quite a while.
There are disciplines that can help control thoughts that arise in us but for most of daily life it is sufficient just not to give them more space. We have a choice, not to dwell on negative things. If action is needed we can act, otherwise we can fill our minds with what is positive and life enhancing.
It's how you react to it.
If it were not so then everyone would experience the same event in the same way and we know that does not happen. So do we have a choice in our reactions to events? All I can say is our lives work better if we act as if we do.
If we knew the secret lives of those we sometimes want to punish, knew their heartaches and their troubles we would certainly not wish to add to the burden they are already carrying.
The Dalai Lama once said "My religion is simple, my religion is kindness". Now we each have to work out our own beliefs about life but I think this is a great standard against which to check both what we believe and how we act. One person who always benefits when we practice "random acts of kindness" is ourselves, that's not why we do them but it is what happens.
It's the differences that make life interesting and we develop most not through people who agree with us but through people who challenge us.
Contact with different cultures, different opinions, different lifestyles, they all help us to grow.
So let's welcome what is different, it's there to teach us.
This is a phrase you have probably heard of before but its familiarity should not blind you to its truth. Here is an interesting exercise to see if this idea works for you.
Write down one thing you feel you can give thanks for even if, right now, you don't feel very grateful. If you can't think of anything write down the fact that you can see, many people can't. Spend a minute thinking about this item and tomorrow add another and spend a minute on each one.
Do this every day for a total of five days, so five items and five minutes reflection. Spend five minutes a day contemplating the items on your list and if you find this makes a difference to how you feel then add items as the occur to you. If it doesn't work for you then file the list away, it will be there when you need it.
A traveller comes across a swollen river that he needs to cross but the current is too strong for swimming. He builds a raft that carries him safely over. On arrival at the far bank he picks up the raft and carries it on his back for the rest of his life in case he has to cross another swollen river.
Let's look to see what we are still doing that served us once but is no longer appropriate and yet we hang on to "just in case". The way we had of dealing with a childhood fear which we still practice although the fear, and our childhood, are gone. The attitudes we had when we were poor which we no longer need now we are more financially comfortable, or perhaps the reverse now we have met harder times.
I was taking the tube one Sunday morning and reading my newspaper. At the first stop three young children and their father joined our carriage but the children were so badly behaved I found it impossible to read or enjoy the journey.
A little cross I asked their father if he could control his children better. He replied "Oh, I am sorry you were disturbed, you see we have come from the hospital where their mother, my wife has just died" (Stephen Covey)
Covey writes about his immediate mood change, from irritation to "How can I help?"
We never know the stories of others, why they act the way they do but we could try assuming people have a reason which, if we knew it, would change our reactions to them from negative to positive.
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle" (Plato)
This is a story of a village where once a year all the inhabitants write down their sorrows, their problems and difficulties from the last twelve months. They then pin their list on a special tree, the tree of sorrows, for a day where all the villagers can read them.
At the end of the day each person has a choice to take home their experience of the past year or choose the experience of another villager. As the story goes they all choose to take back their own experience as that seems easier to bear than any of the others they have read.
We have little idea of the problems of most other people, particularly those who seem to be sailing through life. Let's suspend our judgements, to know all is to forgive all.
Our life is here to teach us and when we have learnt what we need we can move on. Others have their own path and their own struggles and may need a helping hand from us when we feel least able to reach out.
A woman comes to the Buddha pleading with him to revive her dead child. "If you bring me a mustard seed from any household which has not known death your child will live again" he promises. She searches for days but to no avail and on her return says "I understand now. Death visits every household and eventually each of us."
It's a story of both sadness and reality and as we read it we should realise that if we don't have a good reason for grieving we should be rejoicing.
When I was 12 there was in my class a boy who was very badly behaved. One day, after his lesson had been disrupted several times our much respected English teacher lost his temper and to the shock of the rest of the class hit this boy several times before sending him to the Headmaster for the cane (this was many years ago). We talked of little else that day.
The next day our English teacher came into the class and publicly apologised both to the boy and to the rest of my class for his loss of temper and for hitting out. We talked of little else that week.
This is one of the best lessons in my life. This teacher taught me many things but, unknown to him, this was his best lesson as far as I was concerned.
1. When you are wrong you need to acknowledge it and apologise.
2. You can grow in the eyes of others by how you handle your failures.
3. You never know what it is that you do which makes the difference.
An unemployed father of four walks towards his nearest town in search of paid work, as he has done every day for the past few months. Bills are piling up and his wife is getting depressed. His toes kicked something and bending down he picked up an old coin.
Arriving at the town he took it to a coin collector who paid him £30 for his find. Passing a hardware store he saw some wood and decided he would build his wife the shelves she had been asking for. On the journey home he was stopped by a furniture maker who offered him £100 for the wood and also a new cupboard for his kitchen. Carrying the cupboard home he passed a house which was being upgraded and the owner offered him £150 for the cupboard which he accepted.
Pleased with his fortune he stood at the gate of his house counting the cash when a man with a knife accosted him, took the cash and ran off. Seeing the attack from the kitchen window his wife rushed out, "Are you all right?" she cried. "What did he take?".
The man shrugged his shoulders and said "Oh it was just some battered old coin I stumbled across this morning"
Sometimes it pays to create the best possible explanation for things over which we have no control.
He awoke one morning convinced this was the day he would discover the secret that would change his life. He had been feeling it was close for many months and now was the time to take action. With few possessions he set off on his quest pausing to look back at his home and wondering how long it would be before he saw his own front door again.
He kept to a straight path despite many obstacles but many months went by and he faced and dealt with many dangers all the time convinced of his quest. After two years he arrived, tired and dusty at a plot of land that fitted the description in his mind. With the strength his travels had given him he began to dig and there, a few feet below the ground was the treasure he had sought for so long.
He lifted it up and straightened before prising it open. It was then he realised he was in his own back garden, his trip, right round the world, had brought him back almost to the point from which he had started.
This is a very old story and you probably guessed the ending before you got to it. I think there are two questions we can ask ourselves:-
1. If the back garden represents our inner life is it true we already have the answers within us?
2. Could our hero have just gone out of his back door and found the secret or was the journey away, and back, essential to the process?
I would answer "yes" to the first question and I think the journey is essential.
There were about nine hundred of us in the room. It was air-conditioned but without any windows so when the lights were switched off the blackness was total. On the stage the course leader struck a match and lit a small candle, it was surprising how much light it gave.
He used his candle to light those held by a couple of people in the front row and they, in turn, lit the candles of those behind them. Without any hurry and rush within a few minutes every candle in the room was lit as we all contributed to the powerful light that filled the whole area.
What struck me most was that nothing needed to be said to explain the metaphor.
He steered his motorboat upstream with the sun glinting on the water ahead of him. As his boat rounded a bend in the river he saw another craft moving steadily towards him. Unable to see the pilot because of the sun shining on the window he sounded his horn briefly to give notice of his presence. There was no change of direction and he cursed the amateurs who rented boats on this river stretch.
A long blast on his horn and a wave of his hand gave vent to his annoyance but instead of swerving away the bow of the other boat turned towards him and seemed intent of causing a collision. Swearing loudly at the pilot he wrenched his wheel to avoid the other craft and turned to give what he felt was an appropriate sign in the circumstances to the person who had nearly sunk both of them.
The other craft passed close and he could see there was on one at the helm. He'd been cursing a vessel that had slipped its moorings.
Think about this next time you get mad at the bad weather, the late train, the lost keys, the crashed computer etc. It's very rare that things are personal; it's very often that it feels that way.
After the 9/11 attack a man was heard to say to his son "I feel like I have two wolves fighting inside me, one is angry and full of vengance while the other is still determined to be gentle and loving." "Which one will win?" asked the son, "Whichever one I choose to feed" replied his father.
Feelings, good or bad, don't survive without care and attention and it's our choice as to which ones we feed when we feel a conflict within us. In the end the negative feelings tend to feed on us but the positive feelings tend to feed us.
None of us lives forever and none of us can know when our time will come. So if there is something that needs to be said, particularly if it is loving and supportive. Then say it. NOW!
The partner, parent, child, brother, sister, towards whom you have loving feelings you have not expressed for a while...just tell them...why are you waiting?
Perspective changes experience! Problems viewed when we have slept well can feel very different from when we are tired. We have choice over how we see things and it pays to look at situations from a number of different perspectives, even if, at first, we have to play 'make believe.'
This is one for the problem times in life, when we feel the world is closing in and the future looks bleak. The truth is most things pass, most things look and feel different over time. Look back on a problem that filled your life some time ago and see where you are in relation to it now, it may give a different perspective to your current situation.
So if you believe things may well be better in the future, why wait? Look forward to looking back.
Sometimes it's very difficult to say no to the requests others make of us. We can be driven by a wish to help and can feel guilty if we turn someone down. At those times this is a good question to ask about ourselves. If you say "NO" to this request what will that allow you to do that is of greater value? That's the bigger "YES" and it can change turning something down into a positive action.
This can be seen as a pointless exercise or as the start of an interesting exploration.
Go back to early childhood and imagine your life if circumstances had been different.
You may find:-
How the difficult times shaped who you are and that you don't wish to change them.
Areas of you life not fully expressed and realise you can do something about that.
Feelings that have trapped you which you could choose now to release.
Who knows what may turn up? There is only one way to find out!
Our imagination is a wonderful gift and with it we can summon anyone we want to help us.
It takes a little practice to get fluent at this, here is what to do:-
Sit quietly for a few minutes and then create a picture of yourself in a favorite location.
Imagine being joined by the person from whom you want help and advice.
Tell them, quietly in your mind, what your situation is and ask for their thoughts.
Then sit still until your imagination lets them speak and listen to what they have to say.
They can be real or fictional, experts or friends, family or famous, even from another planet.
It's OK to have fun with this.
Well, almost anyone, its a hazard of being human. People who think badly of themselves inside often try to boost their fragile egos by trying to put others down. It's good to remember when it happens, that it says far more about the person doing it than it does about you.
There's a difference between being put down and feeling put down, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt,
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent"
My guess is you are kind to them, offer to help them when you can, give them support when they are troubled, celebrate good news with them, forgive them when they are less than perfect, enjoy their company.
Now, how do you treat yourself? The same, worse, better?
Most people, if they are honest, will admit they treat themselves worse than they treat their friends, particularly when it comes to forgiveness. Why not start to treat yourself as well as you treat those you love?
It's so easy to blame others, parents, partners, big business, unions, government, but the result of this blame is that they are the ones in charge of your life.
However powerless you may feel it seems best to act as if you are in charge, at least it increases your chances of getting what you want.
We usually need make a lot of assumptions in order to feel upset about something. It seems as if there is a part of human nature which is programed to take things personally but it's not our best guide to what is going on.
We assume other people have the same reasons for acting as we think we would have if we acted in the same way.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when challenging the assumptions on the basis of which we react is this "It's hardly ever about you" So here's a question to ask when someone or something pushes your buttons, "If I assume it's not about me then what could it be about?" The answers could save you a lot of suffering.
While it's true that honesty is important in a relationship it's also true there are some things best not said. When your strong feelings are about your own issues, when sharing them with someone close to you is equivalent to dumping on them then it's best to be silent.
But you are still left with the feelings.
Here's a technique that can work for times like this..
Write your feelings on a piece of paper, it's best to write rather than type but, of course that's up to you. In a ceremony at your own creation set fire to what you have written and while you watch the paper burn let your feelings be released and rise with the smoke. You may need to do this more than once. The technique improved with practice. It can also be used for:-
1. Letting go feelings towards people who are no longer around.
2. Letting go of past damaging experiences that are holding you back.
3. Letting go of your failures, your disappointments, your setbacks.
A lecturer raised a glass of water in his hand, extended his arm and asked "How heavy is this?" Answers ranged from 300g to 500g. The lecturer replied "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long I try and hold it. If I hold it for a minute that's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance. In each case it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it the heavier it becomes.
So, where does this apply in life?
To an unkind comment someone may once have made about you.
To a time in your life when you didn't act as well as you could have done.
To a disappointment you experienced when an expectation of yours was not met.
To a difficult childhood, a divorce, a job loss, you can fill in the rest.
The burden gets heavier the longer you carry it.
You either say goodbye to the past or you say goodbye to the future.