Releasing Ourselves from the Burden of Bitterness

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As I was getting ready to leave to go get another Covid test, which I finally managed to schedule after my exposure last week, the phone in my office rang. I smiled in spite of myself as the caller announced herself to be the very person who was responsible for my exposure. I felt a tightness in my chest as I battled internally with the decision of whether or not to go through with the unfriendly, short way I had decided to treat this person after the incident.

I’ve found myself in this predicament quite a number of times throughout my life. I am wronged by someone. I decide that I will no longer be happy and agreeable with them, but maintain a cool distance. In some ways I suppose I expect this to “teach them a lesson.” It is a personal consequence I like to deal out to people who have betrayed my trust or friendship. Usually when the time comes for me to enforce this inner law, however, I have already gotten over whatever the issue was that inspired it. Sometimes I stick to my guns, other times I forgive and forget. Although when I do choose to let my anger go, there is a pang of guilt and self-criticism. I feel weak or foolish for not “sticking up for myself” or something. Even when I know that my plan was likely immature and would be ineffective anyway.

I felt that twinge of unease today as I happily took this woman’s referral and was very pleasant to her on the phone in my usual way. There was something different about today though. My unease quickly dissipated and was replaced with a swelling sensation in my heart space and a nearly tearful self-pride. This feels much better than being spiteful, I thought to myself. So what if I don’t “teach her a lesson” by withholding my kind nature? It would do little to no harm to her, yet it would be a shadow over my soul for the indefinite period of our future work acquaintance. I was so happy and relieved to be freed from that burden of anger and revenge that I had been harboring for nearly a week now.

Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

To forgive someone is not only a gift we give them, it is even more so a gift we give to ourselves. The gift of letting go. The gift of unbinding the tethers we have wrapped around our own heart. Sometimes my ego tries to snarl “they don’t deserve forgiveness.” And sometimes this is able to sway me back towards anger. But today it only caused me to reflect on all of the many time in which I had not felt worthy of the forgiveness given to me by others. I felt honored to be able to pay that kindness, that compassion, forward. In this way, forgiveness is also a means for us to repay those that have forgiven us.

Human nature is not so simple that it can be reduced to positive and negative reinforcement. When I feel I have earned rejection and scorn, but am instead offered understanding and unconditional love, I am not emboldened or spoiled by this generosity. I am healed by it instead. I am inspired to be better and prove myself worthy of it. I’d like to think that we all share this hunger for redemption after a mistake.

It is not foolish or weak to offer kindness and love in the face of indifference or hatred. It is one of the most beautiful things that we are capable of. It is with this thoughtful, compassionate, patient energy that the great men and women throughout time have turned the tides of history and earned their place in our collective conscious. We cannot allow ourselves to be concerned with the personal motivations or inner growth of others. We may hope for the best, but ultimately it is a waste and a shame to darken our own experience in an attempt to shape or control another’s.

Give yourself the gift of forgiveness. Give yourself the gift of letting go. Don’t concern yourself with what someone else may or may not deserve. This is not for us to determine, nor is it our burden to carry. We are not the grand arbiters of justice in the universe. I’ve let myself believe such matters were my “duty” for quite long enough. Now I see that truly my only duty in this life is to give back all of the love, kindness, acceptance, compassion, and understanding that I have received (with interest).

Forgiveness : TED Radio Hour : NPR

Forgiveness

Yesterday I mentioned that I was kinda peeved about my sister’s boyfriend drinking all my vodka. Given the hangover I have today from drinking at Christmas dinner, I’m actually glad he did. Otherwise I would have probably gotten even more drunk last night. Either way, I had decided not to hold it against him. He is a pretty cool guy overall. I even ended up supplying him with cigarettes. All of our local shops were closed for the holiday, and he couldn’t buy his own.

Now normally, this would have only soured me to him even more. But it actually felt good to let all that petty nonsense go. It was nice to just enjoy helping someone else out. It feels much better than getting salty about every little thing. So I was able to forgive him for all of his minor transgressions and enjoy sharing my family holiday with him.

However, this morning as I groggily rolled myself out of bed, I was filled with shame and regret. For probably the hundredth time I got WAY too drunk and practically blacked out while spending a holiday with my family, who by the way, don’t really drink. I genuinely don’t even remember getting home or going to bed last night. I feel like shit this morning, though. Physically and mentally. I can’t believe I made the same humiliating mistake once again.

I’ve started thinking about how good it feels to forgive other people though. I really wish it was as easy to be able to forgive myself. I’m sure yesterday wasn’t even a big deal to anyone besides me. I think I’ve always just been afraid to forgive myself. Somewhere along the line that idea of operant conditioning, of punishment and reward, really stuck in my brain. I am always trying to train other people to behave in the ways I want them to. I am always trying to train myself in this way. If I forgive myself, how will I learn?

I can remember implementing this technique far before I ever learned about it in any academic setting. It seems like common sense. If you are punished for doing something you will avoid doing it. If you are rewarded in some way you will try to repeat the behavior in the future. Yet everyday life is not often so straightforward. Real life behaviors are not isolated in a scientific setting.

My relationship with myself cannot be that black and white either. I don’t have to keep punishing myself for my mistakes. I recognize my flaws, and forgiving myself for them is not the same as encouraging them. Besides I’m not really even following the laws of operant conditioning correctly. When was the last time I gave myself a reward for doing something well? Maybe never. The only thing I’ve been “training” myself to do is to be unhappy, to never believe in myself, to think I am not good enough.

Rather than make this cold, hungover Saturday even harder by beating myself up, I am going to be kind to myself today. I deserve kindness. I deserve forgiveness, especially from myself. I don’t have to forbid myself from the happiness and comfort I may find today because of what happened yesterday. That isn’t going to make me a better person. Love and forgiveness isn’t going to make me a worse person. Today I am going to be gentle with myself. I am going to rest and make myself comfortable. I am going to forgive myself.

Photo by Tatiana on Pexels.com

Making Plans

There are only a handful of weeks left to us in the hellacious, year of our lord 2020. It is around this time I feel it’s appropriate to start making plans for the new year to come. I know most “New Year Resolutions” fall to the wayside and are forgotten after a few weeks at most. But there is something deliciously invigorating about the illusion of a fresh start, a clean slate. It may not ultimately help you follow through with or achieve your goals, but it does make it a hell of a lot easier to feel inspired enough to a least make a plan for yourself. And that is worthwhile and important in it’s own right.

I personally am in desperate need of a plan for myself. I have been drifting listlessly for what seems like a very long time now. Every time I think of making a change, it just feels hopeless. Why bother? However, knowing I’ll have a few months to mentally prepare myself makes it seem more manageable. (Not to mention still getting to enjoy a hedonistic holiday season.) Don’t get me wrong, it’ll still feel daunting when the day finally arises at my doorstep, but I’ll at least hopefully feel more ready. Having a clear plan in mind is always helpful.

So what kinds of things do you want to change in 2021? Start a new habit? Kick an old one? Spend some of this waning time in 2020 to get a clear idea of what you would like to do and how precisely you plan to do it. Having a detailed plan is key. Vague goals are the most slippery. Much too hard to actualize.

Maybe even more important than making your plan specific is making it incremental. Don’t expect yourself to wake up on January 1st 2021 and lead an entirely different life. That isn’t going to happen. I’ve always been afraid of being “too easy on myself.” I worry that if I’m not strict and rigid, I’ll fail. But perhaps that is exactly the reason I have already failed so many times in the past. I think it’s more important to be kind to yourself along the way. You will mess up. You will have days, maybe even weeks, when you feel like you’ve given up, that you’ve failed. But there are no rules to follow in this life. There are no disqualifiers. Keep playing. Start again as many times as you need to.

There is no shame in what we perceive as failure. Only an opportunity to rest. To collect ourselves. To be gentle with ourselves. And begin again with new strength, new determination, new wisdom. So make your plans. Make the small improvements something to take pride in. Expect to mess up. Expect to start again many times. But remember one thing above all else. These are your goals. You are the only one invested in the outcome. And do you know why? Because beneath it all, it is your self-love that moves you. The belief you have in yourself. The deep desire for you to be happy, healthy, prosperous. You’re doing this for you. Inspired by pure love. So don’t forget. Be kind to yourself. As you would be to a child that you only want the best for. Comfort yourself when you fall, and help yourself back up again.

It is time for another transition. It is time for change.