When I was younger I didn’t know how to fulfill my own heart. I thought my place in the world was something I had to find – or that it would find me. Nobody ever told me that I should just do my best to make a place for myself in this world. Because that’s as home as you’ll ever be. #thinkinganddriving
The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible.
The sound of a fork and knife gently rapping against a dinner plate gave me a yearning for the kind of domestic bliss you both love and take for granted at the same time. Hearing this felt like the kind of perfect summer’s breeze whose bliss catches you with the kind of sudden wonder that makes you happy to be alive; it wasn’t just the sound of grilled asparagus being consumed, it was the sound of my hopes and dreams. Within me is the perfect picture of a summer’s dinner on the patio balcony at sunset.
We’re existentially alone on the planet. I can’t know what you’re thinking and feeling and you can’t know what I’m thinking and feeling. And the very best works construct a bridge across that abyss of human loneliness.
David Foster Wallace David Foster Wallace wrote that “Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.”
Tonight, I thought of this as I watched a dog awaken from his slumber beneath a patio dining table with the sullen look in his eyes of a lonely child who wakes up to an empty room.
Seated above him was a family of four, warm and loving, noshing on their sushi and quietly enjoying the evening together. The dog, while surely a member of the family, was physically present but gave off the energy of someone deep in their own world – like catching a glimpse of someone on a walk alone, a snapshot of a face far away in thought – and whatever the subject of his thoughts may have been, like all thoughts, they were encoded in a cryptic language, their contents known only to the thinker himself; a citizen of his own skull; a box of bones no one else would ever know.
For a moment I saw what an outward projection of that unspoken belief [that deep down we are different] looked like. The dog knew that he was different from everybody else; he was – to me – a self-aware animal; he was not like the others, the others weren’t sleeping on the sidewalk during dinner. How I wanted to take that dog home and make him my equal. Maybe I would talk to him on long walks along the shore, nice thoughts.
Perhaps he was a spirit animal, a guide destined to remind me of some ancient ineffable truth; perhaps it was written that I witness him wake up and look around at the cool lonely evening. Maybe my perception of his disposition was merely a projection of my own. Questions that can only be answered by the ether of the universe, playful questions.
Would the dog have reminded David Foster Wallace of the loneliness of his own existence – as it had reminded me of mine?
David Foster Wallace wrote a lot of beautiful things on loneliness as it was an element of his life which his psyche would render him deeply familiar with  . And while I never knew him – I feel like I did. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer who is fond of illustrating “what it means to be a fucking human being” – or maybe, in borrowing the words of TLC’s Fanmail - it’s because Just like you, I get lonely too. Either way, his ghost haunts me because he was not altogether unlike me.
He was a messenger, someone who could speak for a certain intellectual sect of the populous in quirky and unapologetic sentences that tested the limits of the English language. He did not apologize for this, nor did he filter his writing to sanitize his output for easier digestion. Just watching an interview with him, it’s apparent that his mind had a few more gears than most. Now, I can hypothesize as to what the accompanying costs of a mind like that would have been, but even in my own hubris I do not claim to match the intellect of the late Mr. Wallace; however, I can only imagine the psychic burden of possessing such a deeply philosophical and analytical mind – especially one that ran at a pace as electric as Mr. Wallace’s.
And nonetheless, I entertain myself in asking whether – instead of taking this transportive journey in my head to some timeless space where the present reality becomes a lens through which I see the world – were I a different person with a different mind, would the thought merely have been: “cute dog”?
I suppose I’m parsing my thought process into an existential hypothesis that really has no bearing here beyond hemming and hawing over my own cognition. In light of the fact that I’ll never be able to comparatively measure my own thinking against anything other than behavioral output, I must admit that this has no application beyond a speculative thought exercise. I suppose the real tangible benefit then is whether this somehow is going to allow me to better understand my own psychology – a quest which I pursue through my writing in order to more effectively manage my own psyche.
I guess what it boils down to is that life can be a bit more mentally all-consuming for those quote intense thinkers for whom paradigms abound and life is constantly being interpreted through new lenses, moment by moment. Whether this contributes to loneliness, I’m not sure – but, as David Foster Wallace did, I too have struggled to reconcile with certain aspects of my psyche – namely a sort of sexual-like frustration at not getting out my thoughts and feelings, a condition David Foster Wallace described as being ‘marooned in our own skulls‘. Comparing a kind of intellectual loneliness to sexual frustration is an odd and potentially perverse choice of similes to the non-artist I suppose – but to the individual who regularly seeks le petit mort / catharsis / actualization through art, I hardly think drawing a parallel between sexual frustration and a sort of enigmatic artistic frustration is by any means a stretch of the imagination. Is the means to the end of each [art and sex] not meant to stave off loneliness – to recharge some fleeting part of our sanity by discharging our emotions? Are we not touching at the heart of Freudian catharsis?
I recognize that the previous paragraph is borderline mental masturbation  – save for the fact that it’s a clever reminder to the importance of creative expression – but, my point is: creative function serves to produce more than the output of creative works; it’s the act of creating itself which allows the artist to reconcile the tangled meaning of his inner-world through his conscious expression in the outer world. If he fails to do this, who will understand him? How will he fully understand himself? Will he not be lonely? Will he not then be left to chase away the loneliness he has failed to confront in his art? As I grow older the value of leaning on art (both composing poetry, and prose, and digesting it + music) has become one of the paramount pillars of my mind – allowing me to deal with feelings and moods too dark to chase away in the real world.
In arguably one of the David Foster Wallace’s greatest quotes, he distinguishes between things that chase away loneliness and things that treat it:
Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties — all these chase away loneliness by making me forget my name’s Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion — these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.
As someone who has personally found solace in precisely the things which David Foster Wallace lists as places where loneliness can be treated, I find this quote reflects a universal truth about the choice we have, our personal agency in deciding whether we are going to chase away loneliness or confront it, transfigure it, and treat it.
Loneliness untreated is a ticking time bomb, and there will be consequences to yourself and to those you love should you attempt to chase it away rather than treat it. The habit of chasing away loneliness is simply not something one can sustainably maintain; eventually every shred of the false comfort and security that you manufacture by chasing away loneliness is ripped away upon your inevitable and necessary return to reality. And when you have been stripped of the temporary refuge you sought, you will be left facing the very same loneliness you tried escaping: the scab comes off, you bleed again.
Ugly words, but not nearly as gripping as David Foster Wallace’s description of facing substance addiction from Infinite Jest:
–and then you’re in serious trouble, very serious trouble, and you know it, finally, deadly serious trouble, because this Substance you thought was your one true friend, that you gave up all for, gladly, that for so long gave you relief from the pain of the Losses your love of that relief caused, your mother and lover and god and compadre, has finally removed its smily-face mask to reveal centerless eyes and a ravening maw, and canines down to here, it’s the Face In The Floor, the grinning root-white face of your worst nightmares, and the face is your own face in the mirror, now, it’s you, the Substance has devoured or replaced and become you, and the puke-, drool- and Substance-crusted T-shirt you’ve both worn for weeks now gets torn off and you stand there looking and in the root-white chest where your heart (given away to It) should be beating, in its exposed chest’s center and centerless eyes is just a lightless hole, more teeth, and a beckoning taloned hand dangling something irresistible, and now you see you’ve been had, screwed royal, stripped and fucked and tossed to the side like some stuffed toy to lie for all time in the posture you land in. You see now that It’s your enemy and your worst personal nightmare and the trouble It’s gotten you into is undeniable and you still can’t stop.
The quest to chase away loneliness is indeed a slippery slope for many, one that can easily morph into the kind of toxic and dangerous, enslaving type vices; before too long, your escape becomes your morphine and you become a mouse seeking more of that substance / thing / feeling on your quest for an even mental keel. Vicious cycles are one of the few things that prevail in the battle to combat loneliness.
As David Foster Wallace further elucidates in Infinite Jest: Most Substance-addicted people are also addicted to thinking, meaning they have a compulsive and unhealthy relationship with their own thinking.
It’s one of those opaque truths that define the way we operate in life: our relationship with our own thinking and whether we are in the habit of chasing away loneliness or treating it. David Foster Wallace talked about how to prevent going through life alone by choosing how to construct meaning from experience, by ‘learning how to think’:
Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliche about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.” This, like many cliches so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger. And I submit that this is what the real, no-bull- value of your liberal-arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.
But what happens when you fail at this? As Dave Wallace said, you will be totally hosed.
I imagine that for those beautiful minds who fail to live in a way that effectively treats their loneliness, they simply arrive in the place that many find unendurable.
For someone like David Foster Wallace, who had battled severe depression, this meant hanging himself and betraying the words he had once written: “That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.”
For the millions of Heath Ledgers and Junior Seaus of the world, single moments indeed are unendurable. And it’s not just chasing away loneliness that can be disastrous – but perhaps even viewing the world in a way that gives way to loneliness.
In saying: Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else, was David Foster Wallace projecting his own egocentric paradigm, which reflected his personal thoughts and belief that deep down he was different from everybody else? It’s our differences that separate us and it’s separation that creates loneliness. And so it’s tragically ironic that David Foster Wallace himself told once an interviewer:
“The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever, almost made me die.”
I certainly do not presume to decipher someone’s suicide, nor do I desire to; there exists a certain smugness to the idea of laying claim to knowing why someone choose to end their own life that I just don’t like, but David Foster Wallace didn’t cloak his struggle with depression in secrecy – something I find very brave of him. He eloquently describes both depression and loneliness throughout his writing, so much so that Salon.com called him The defining voice of depression.
It’s rare that minds like his open up, but when they do it becomes a doorway for the rest of us to journey into a world within ourselves that we wouldn’t otherwise be capable of understanding. This is quite a gift – as only someone who has passed through the mental gates of their own personal hell can accurately describe what the unrelenting grip of depression and loneliness feels like; without people like David Foster Wallace, depression and loneliness remain the elephant in the room; it’s there, but no one dare talk about it or try to transform it.
It’s this aspect of inherent generosity within David Foster Wallace’s writing that has benefited me in my attempt to better understand my own life. And because of this the substance of his writing remains an asset do me; it makes me less lonely. An objective which he had intentionally strived to achieve:
There are a few books I have read that I’ve never been the same after, and I think all good writing somehow address the concern of and acts as an anodyne against loneliness. We’re all terribly, terribly lonely. And there’s a way, at least in prose fiction, that can allow you to be intimate with the world and with a mind and with characters that you just can’t be in the real world. I don’t know what you’re thinking. I don’t that know that much about you as I don’t know that much about my parents or my lover or my sister, but a piece of fiction that’s really true allows you to be intimate with … I don’t want to say people, but it allows you to be intimate with a world that resembles our own in enough emotional particulars so that the way different things must feel is carried out with into the real world. I think what I would like my stuff to do is make people less lonely.
When we think of loneliness we construct our understanding of it around proximity and relationships, but as DFW wrote, “Loneliness is not a function of solitude”, and loneliness is not remedied when two people from subjective viewpoints intersect at the same point in space and time. Loneliness is something we experience when we are unable to express our inner-world; when we can’t reconcile the meaning of our internal truths through the lens of our external relationship with reality.
As Carl Jung stated in his biography:
Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.
David Foster Wallace echoes Jung’s sentiment about communicating the unseen in his views on writing fiction:
…writing fiction becomes a way to go deep inside yourself and illuminate precisely the stuff you don’t want to see or let anyone else see, and this stuff usually turns out (paradoxically) to be precisely the stuff all writers and readers share and respond to, feel.
Isn’t that called vulnerability? Okay, I’ll give it a try:
Having previously admitted this – yes, I sometimes get lonely; however, I do not over indulge in self-pity (at least I feel compelled to have to tell myself this). I might indulge in under and over sleeping, in mild agoraphobia, and in occasional culinary gluttony (an Oreo shake sounds delightful right now), but I do these things with a healthy dose of balancing guilt that prevents them from evolving into something more than unhealthy and immature defense mechanisms. We all slip up (don’t we?). For me, the cycle might be: 1. Feels like crap > 2. neglects health > 3. Feels guilt for neglecting health, gets ‘back on track’. Perhaps that’s simply self-abandonment, self-neglect. Either way, I’m not adverse to discussing the parts of me that make me human. As an adult I realize that there is no such thing as a hero without flaws. It’s not that I celebrate my flaws, but I believe in self-honesty; unfortunately, as David Foster Wallace one remarked: Genuine pathological openness is about as seductive as Tourette’s Syndrome.
Now obviously that’s simply the ego driven part of me acknowledging that sometimes my writing goes to places vulnerable that I cannot go to in real life (outside the bubble of a therapist’s office), and that by nature this kind of free, unmasked prose is antithetical to the ethos of American success culture and American machismo, but so far I am unable to produce this kind of writing without inserting an apologetic and excusatory clause such as this; although, I suppose I apologize in vain, as I long ago accepted that I would not be the kind of person who cared more about outward appearances than the authenticity of his own art; alas, the emperor knows he wears no clothes, for I am naked but only slightly ashamed.
But that’s what you sacrifice in art, you sacrifice what you have to to not be lonely.
1. I’m taking a lot of liberty in saying this, and were he a living writer would I say this? I don’t know. I don’t query myself this because of his suicide, but rather because it’s typically not couth to draw inferences about someone’s real life from their fiction. David Foster Wallace had been in treatment for depression for twenty years and wrote beautifully on loneliness in a way that has connected with me deeply; he painted loneliness as only the lonely artist can.
Coincidentally I’m taking a break from working to write this, but I wanted to get this message down.
Essentially, we all have to work in life – well, at least those of us not born into the lucky sperm club – but, even then, there’s a certain brand of satisfaction that comes from working, from doing something you enjoy, that you can’t get anywhere else. Fuck all the noise about doing what you love – I mean by all means, it’s something to strive for – but the truth is, if you want to do what you love then you better work your ass off to do whatever that is – just don’t forget how satisfying working can be in the meantime. I’m not where I want to be yet, and some would call me crazy to know the journey I have been on, but I am getting there.
It’s easy to turn on the TV, or go on social media and see stories of people making a killing doing something they enjoy – and there are people who get paid to do just about anything you can imagine having fun doing, from yacht captains and travel guides, to exotic car dealers and artists. And that should be inspiring to you, but don’t let the television or the internet fool you into comparing yourself to anyone, because it’s easy to look around and feel like everyone is getting rich, or doing what they love. In the business world we call this Survivorship bias.
Survivorship bias is the fallacy of looking at all the visible successes, “the survivors”, and drawing a conclusion based on that evidence. The fallacy in this case arises from the fact that the parties who did not ‘make it’ aren’t visible, and thus, seemingly logical, yet highly erroneous conclusions are drawn based on
poor incomplete evidence.
An obvious example (and one that I think most people are aware of) is Hollywood, because – as everyone knows – for every successful actor, there are literally thousands of people hitting their forties who just never made it (Remember that the next time the barista at CBTL fucks up your drink – he wanted to be the next Gerard Butler and all he got awarded was his dog in the divorce). But beyond ambitious waiters, there are numerous other instances in life where Survivorship bias clouts our estimations of what it means to make it and what it takes to become successful.
I don’t tell you this my dear reader to discourage you, but rather to help you figure out the differences between those who make it and those who do not – ironically, the biggest pitfall of Survivorship bias is that it causes people to fail because they falsely attribute success to the wrong factors.
I’m not saying that the friend of mine who is going to make a million dollars this year pod-casting got lucky – not at all, but those who do not recognize the inherent blind-spots posed by survivorship bias might think that [luck] is precisely the case. No, he ‘got lucky’ because he moved the needle from unlikely to likely, from improbable to probable. He picked up the phone when he was Joe Schmoe and called the biggest names, and asked to interview them – and he kept at it for months. There is no such thing as luck; you make your own luck, and every successful person I have ever known has put themselves in a position to succeed. They created something of value and then worked just as hard to get it in front of the people who could benefit from it.
I’m getting closer to being able to call myself a survivor, but I want to make it clear that I paid a price that few people would be willing to pay. I’ve got stories.
It’s the quote of: “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t to live the rest of your life like most people can’t”.
Work is going to have it’s ups and downs – just today I had a very terse phone call, which led to me saying some not nice, but ultimately very empowering things. A sign from the universe I suppose. But that’s neither here nor there – the point is that you have to have a big vision. You have to enjoy being on your path. You have to just laugh it off and get back to work.
I don’t know what kind of plans G-d has for you, but if you don’t have big plans for yourself and you aren’t sacrificing harder than the guy who is going to make it, I can’t help you.
And I don’t care what you do, I don’t care how much money you have, etc., etc., – but what I do care about for you my dear reader is that you are having a satisfying life. That means different things to different people, but to all of us it means being as well-equipped mentally and as psychologically bolstered as we can be to succeed at being a fucking human being.
There’s a lot of uncommon common sense out there, but no one wants to hear that you have to pick up the phone, that you have to live in a dump, that you have to work harder than everyone else. They just want to make their mind up about why everyone else made it and they didn’t.
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar
Serendipity is one of the few experiences that has given me something akin to palpable spirituality.
I need to remind myself of this, because this post isn’t about spirituality or serendipity, but it’s important and it’s meaningful to me, and without spirituality or serendipity, I wouldn’t have had the impetus for waking at 5am this morning and thinking about forgiveness, which this post is about.
But first, let’s briefly return to serendipity; for me, serendipitous experiences have always been born out of intuition. Not the serendipitous event itself, because the ethereal and spiritual coincidences that I call serendipity were never the actual path, which intuition led me down, but rather the happy accidents that I found on the path. Almost as if in trusting my intuition, the universe answered the question, which lay dormant inside of me, unbeknownst to all but my subconscious and the ether of the night sky under which I sleep.
And so it was, (in grand anti-climactic fashion) that yesterday evening, for no reason at all, other than the intangible sense there was something philosophical to be learned, that I felt compelled to watch The Lion King.
So, I procured a digital copy and did. There was nothing that particularly stuck out to me about the story or the dialogue, but nonetheless, it was enjoyable – and I felt no regret having spent the time watching it.
I then hung out with my girlfriend, and watched Game of Thrones, and then went to sleep. (I’ll get back to The Lion King Later.)
Then at 5am this morning I awoke with the impetus for this entry. And it was forgiveness I thought of. Forgiveness towards others in relation to forgiveness towards ourselves. And it wasn’t just a momentary thought, it was an overwhelming feeling that awoke me; a flood of thoughts.
My initial thoughts interspersed with this morning’s sleep were that in forgiving others we could open pathways to forgive ourselves and that in doing so we could free ourselves from many of the traps that an absence of forgiveness creates in life. For example: people often commit the same transgression for which they didn’t forgive another for in their past, i.e., a tragically ironic situation where a cycle of childhood hurt is continued, or, when someone is unfaithful to a partner, when the same had been done to them in a previous relationship (as the saying goes, hurt people hurt people). And, to this end, I began thinking about how when we don’t forgive, we are essentially accepting something as a normal behavior, in that we aren’t explicitly declaring that an offending behavior is below our expectations for life. But, on the other hand, when we choose to forgive ourselves and forgive others we are releasing the hurt and the hate, which in carrying around, we have essentially accepted as a part of life and as a part of ourselves.
I couldn’t help but feel the power in this awakening.
In hindsight, I began reflecting on research I had done the previous day for a poem I was writing about end of life regrets, and in thinking about forgiveness this morning, I couldn’t help but feel the elephant in the room seemed to be forgiveness itself; I couldn’t help but feel as if forgiveness would have been an antidote to major life regret for many, if not a possible route to avoiding the regret altogether.
But what do I know about forgiveness? Sure, I like to think that I’m a fairly emotionally whole person, and while there are many things I have forgiven – I don’t pretend for a second that there aren’t things I still haven’t forgiven others for and things that I haven’t forgiven myself for (and after this morning’s realization, I couldn’t help but see a very clear parallel between the two). I also sure as shit don’t pretend that the pain from those instances has been insignificant, or that my wellbeing hasn’t been significantly impacted as a result. Hell, it’s easy to forgive the things that don’t fuck us up, it’s the things we think about when we’re lonely and sad, pain that haunts us like a ghost in the night, those are the things we have the hardest time forgiving. For all the inner work I have done – therapy, reflection, writing, meditation – I know clear and well the score when it comes to the baggage I carry and which skeletons are still left in my closet. Even without my introspective nature, I’d likely be able to easily discern the major resentments I hold and the pain that I carry.
Who among us (even healthy self-aware people) doesn’t carry around their share of hate, hurt, regret, bitterness, resentment, and pain from the past? I would chalk it up to being human, but that would be a cop out.
When you realize just how much unresolved inner-conflicts and the unreleased pain and bitterness they impart within us effects our lives – even more so as we age and reflect back upon a life full of our share of disappointments, you begin to understand just how serious of an issue we are talking about here. If you don’t grasp the significance of what I am saying, look up the correlation between bitterness and disease. I’ll spare you the depressing links (Google is your friend.)
So, what can we do to free ourselves from the past? To release the negative feelings we are carrying?
First, let’s take stock of what the average person knows about forgiveness.
If you’re like me, and you were raised by normal parents, (regular people who were raised by other regular people) and not Psychologists or famed Humanist Philosophers, then it’s likely you know exactly dick about forgiveness.
Let me explain from my egocentric and ethnocentric American perspective. Having done a fairly decent about of research on forgiveness (I’m a speed reader and possibly slightly autodidactic), I can tell you that while parents and teachers “taught me” to forgive, I never really learned what forgiveness was.
You see, NONE of us are ever really taught what forgiveness is, instead, forgiveness is this funny thing that begins in early childhood when we are forced into forgiving someone for the first time (Have you ever seen a two year old have his favorite toy taken on the playground? Trust me – forgiveness isn’t inborn).
So, usually, we first learn forgiveness after little Johnny’s mom forces him to say sorry to us for talking our army guy away, or after dad tells our sibling to apologize for kicking us, so we look at the offender and begrudgingly say I forgive you (But come on, the little twerp took my toy! we think to ourselves). And this is how we learn the act of forgiveness. And unfortunately, we never get much better at it throughout life, it remains an act, and we suffer because we are acting as if we forgive others – when in fact, we haven’t been taught what it means to practice the art of forgiveness, which is a process, a habit, and something we must commit to wholly and genuinely – in a much different way than we learned as children.
Learning to forgive isn’t just about redefining how we forgive – it requires completely redefining what forgiveness is.
Forgiveness is not the pious, guilt-induced act of nobility that we were voluntarily forced into doing as children. That’s not forgiveness – that’s sanctimonious social posturing by parents who were taught the same by their parents, and are just doing their best to raise kids who aren’t entitled brats.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not decrying the adolescent brand of forgiveness where Tommy says “I’m sorry” to little Johnny for stealing his toys, and then little Johnny says to Tommy “I forgive you” and they shake hands and make up. That helps children learn moral boundaries and personal responsibility, as well as an important social skill – forgiveness. But – there’s a difference between forgiveness as a vital social skill, where Tommy and little Johnny play nice immediately afterwards, or when Tammy in the office eats your last Cliff Bar and you forgive her – and forgiveness as a life skill, when you find out your lover of X years is fucking your best friend. The transgression need not be that extreme to illustrate the difference between forgiveness as a child and forgiveness in the real world.
As a child, forgiving means getting over it and chasing each other again on the playground. As an adult, forgiveness can mean starting over in life. And even in less extreme instances, such as when a close friend hurts your feelings, as an adult it’s not as simple as saying “I forgive you” in response to their apology, and moving on. We of course instinctively know this, but culturally and socially we are still pressured to forgive or not. To make matters even more clouted, we’ve all heard the childish pleadings of: “I said I was sorry!”, in full expectation for us to automatically bestow our forgiveness upon their apology. And to make matters even worse, half the time, even as adults in cases of serious transgressions, the offending party isn’t even capable of apologizing, much less giving a proper, sincere apology (which I will explain later). And it’s not that I’m a pessimist when it comes to forgiveness, it’s just that the breed of forgiveness that got us through adolescence does little to serve us in the big leagues.
So, let’s start by redefining forgiveness from a humanistic, psychological perspective (this is very important, please read carefully):
What is Forgiveness
From The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley:
Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
Just as important as defining what forgiveness is, though, is understanding what forgiveness is not. Experts who study or teach forgiveness make clear that when you forgive, you do not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. Though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from accountability.
Instead, forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger. While there is some debate over whether true forgiveness requires positive feelings toward the offender, experts agree that it at least involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings. In that way, it empowers you to recognize the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you, enabling you to heal and move on with your life.
Please, read the above twice. (It’s written by the folks at UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center – many with PHD after their name.)
Essentially, forgiveness is the practice of moving forward with an open heart and letting go. Forgiveness is not a gift for others, it can be, but forgiveness is a gift for YOU.
It’s time to give yourself that gift.
Utilizing resources from The UC Berkeley, and Stanford University’s Forgiveness Project, I’ve created the following, which provides my interpretation of a whole, healthy approach to Forgiving Others and Letting Go of The Past.
Please bookmark and revisit as needed.
Forgiving Others and Letting Go of The Past
Here are seven steps for forgiving others and letting go of the past (plus one bonus):
1. Articulate The Wrongdoing:
“What this person did to me was not okay because ________________”
Be able to clearly articulate to yourself what was not okay about their behavior.
2. Express Your Present Feelings:
“My feelings about it today are____________________”
You must put your feelings into a present perspective in order to release the hurt you feel today, and recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts, and physical upset you are suffering now, not from what offended you or hurt you X years ago or even X minutes ago.
3. Feel Worthy:
“I deserve the peace and understanding that comes from removing the blame and releasing the negative feelings I have held onto, because_____________________”
Make a conscious choice to start feeling better and state why you feel worthy of feeling better: i.e., You deserve to feel better, you are a good person, and you want to move forward with your life.
4. Accept the Past:
“I am forgiving the past for ME and no one else. I am not condoning their actions and I understand that forgiveness is only a part of reconciliation, but I am choosing to reconcile this hurt with myself beginning today by freeing myself from the prison of the past I wanted and giving up all hope that the past can be any different.”
5. Take Back the Power Over Your Life:
“I am no longer going to give power to this person over me by focusing on my wounded feelings because________________”
State why this person no longer deserves power over your feelings i.e., they betrayed my trust, and caused me pain.
6. Redirect Your Energy & Attention:
“I am choosing to put my energy into new ways to get my positive goals met other than through the person and the experience that hurt me.”
I.e., redirecting your energy and attention to more positive memories, experiences, people, and opportunities.
7. Reframe The Past to Honor Your Forgiveness, & Appreciate What You Have:
“I am looking at the past in a new way that honors the heroic decision I have made to forgive. And I am reminding myself to focus on the love, beauty, and kindness around me, rather than focusing on what I do not have.”
8. See The Silver Lining (optional)
“Because of this hurt and this experience, I have learned to be more _________________”
I.e., focus on a positive trait, such as self-sufficient, independent, resilient, wise, or a positive lesson you learned – but remember, this is a silver lining for you to discover on your own- not a gift the person who hurt you gave you, or a favor they did for you you. Looking on the bright side and focusing on your strengths helps you move on and discover how you have evolved an grown to be a better person.
Forgiving others and letting go of the past is a process, and these steps should be revisited as needed. You can do this. You deserve to be free.
I’m writing an additional two parts to this series, Part 2: Healthy Self-Forgiveness, and Part 3: Apologizing For Keeps.
I will post links here when published, you may also subscribe to my blog using the subscribe widget.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
But before I go, let me finish the story of serendipity and The Lion King. So, late this afternoon, I received an email with an answer to a question on Quora, which I am subscribed to.
This was the email:
Picture and quote from Disney’s The Lion King. Rafiki!
Remember, hatred is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die and forgiving is merely giving up hope for a better past. You deserve peace. Start living free today. There is no better investment than doing the inner work on yourself to be whole, healthy, and happy. Just think, you’re already ahead of the game just having read this.
Why Not You
I’m going to ask you to do me a favor
I want you to forget everything you ever knew
I want you to imagine that you are brand new to your body, and brand new to your life
What does the voice in your head sound like?
If it were a person, would it be someone whom you would like?
Would they be an encouraging friend? A steady, and warm pillar for the soul?
Because this, dear reader, this is the narrator of your life story
It’s your inner voice, which leads you to despair or to glory
And this voice can completely be changed
And a more compassionate, encouraging and positive inner disposition arranged
You need not sell your soul,
Or buy the seminar and the book
Just heeds the words of this poem and change your inner outlook
And all it takes is a moment to create change,
because trust me my dear reader, life is fucking strange
Why not you?
I want you to say it too,
Why not me?
Someone is going to do the thing you are dreaming about,
Why not you?
If it’s possible than it’s not impossible,
But you’re going to have to make it happen Jack (insert your name here)
Let me be clear
Today, THIS day is going to be the day someone turns it all around
This will be the day someone breaks sacred ground
Why not you?
And as a child we were taught that some people were great,
But they forgot to tell us that the world was ours too to create
Why not you?
It starts with your inner voice,
The sacred narrator responsible for your every choice
She’s (you’ve) got a few problems – but that’s okay,
He (you) just need to make the distinction between what to keep and what to give up today
This is your life and up until now your inner voice was shaped by a lot of factors,
But this is the movie of YOUR life and it’s time to fire the other actors
You are the star of your life, yet your parents never knew that the way they talked to you would one day become your inner voice
And now in this exciting moment you’ve got an important choice
Managing your own psychology is the most vital life skill,
But it requires a new relationship with yourself, objectivity, and will
So now we come to an important question:
Will you begin to observe and adapt, being now as you wish to be?
Or will you continue to blindly accept how you think and behave without smartly questioning, why not me?
I’ve found heaven and hell here on earth ,
for some between death and hell – neither is worse
because the path to hell needn’t be dressed in sin
and so I fear the confines of my own skin
For some it’s not even choice – it’s a game of chance ,
as one man mutters to himself
another makes love in the South of France
but you dear boy have been to hell and back ‘afore
And soon you’ll reside in this purgatory no more
but it’s a long way from crumpled and crying on the bathroom floor
a long way from drunk and not giving a fuck
I keep telling myself that the longest way round is the shortest way home
And I picture a world with a wife and three kids, a world I dearly hope to know
but I’ve been for so long so low and so alone
I don’t feel like writing. Sure, I’ve got drafts I can work on. In fact, I just started reading over a couple, or rather – I attempted to before resigning to myself that I wasn’t in the head space to do creative work. But alas; although I do not feel like writing, I must write. It’s the only way I can reconcile lying on the chaise in the dark, the nape of my neck muggy and itching against the canvas weave of the cushion cover. This brain swirling with thoughts as the air from the ceiling fan dances with the thin light brown hair on my legs. I’m a writer. I’m naturally compelled to write when my brain’s feeling active. Sometimes it’s as if the brain is a radio antennae and we get this itch, this restless attentiveness, and we just have to tune in to ourselves. But in the end, we hastily judge whatever comes forth. I’m sure you, my dear reader, are enthralled with the ramblings of a guy who ate too many cookies tonight.
So, I’m narrating my sugar rush. Sometimes the things I write feel too sad – too morose. And I’m tired of reading short stories about families and the microcosm of inter family tragedy. I’m tired of reading about nostalgia and the pain from old wounds. Because, fuck – we all live it. As I read last night when looking up reviews of a certain television show: I don’t watch dramas because I have enough drama in my real life.
So, too in my writing – at times it feels as if I don’t need to be writing about the drama of life, because I live it, and I envy those who can write about dragons, and romance, and all the other ethereal aspects of adult life.
Because there are no dragons here. There’s just my neck. The hair on my legs. The dark. The fan. The swirling. The taught, sick feeling in my stomach from eating too many cookies.
And I can’t sleep. I hate myself for this exercise in pity. This sleepless drivel. This night just is. But it’s a reminder; we all have nights where we feel as if nothing would be more preferable than the sweet, soft respite of sleep – but here we are awake, riding the merry go round of our minds, trying to wind down. And it just is.
Another day. Another day.
Just press publish. You can’t be a prince every day. But you can be real. And you can be a writer.
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