Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Practice of Forgiving

 My father and I circa 1966
"Your daddy's grandmother was a full blooded Indian." 

This is what my beautiful great-aunt, a woman I had not seen in 30 years, told me when I visited her in Mississippi two years ago.  It was a homecoming of sorts and the bittersweet end to my journey to find my father.  My mother, two sisters, and I escaped his alcoholic terror when I was 12 years old.  At the time, I was relieved.  At the time, I never thought I would leave my own family to scour the streets of an unknown state and city to find a man who caused me such pain.  

After my great-aunt and I cried, embraced and got reacquainted, she shared the pictures that she, on arthritic knees, had climbed into her attic to find.  I saw myself as a girl, I saw myself as a baby being loved my father, and I saw my great grandmother. When I looked at the petite, red clay skinned women with dark flowing hair, I felt her strength, resilience and hope.  I have been exploring my Native American roots since that visit.  The Choctaw Nation is on both my mother's side, and resides within my paternal great-grandmother.  

In the Native American tradition of old, a woman determines if a man stays in the home, even if that man built the physical house.  A woman decides whether a man is worthy to be in her company and in the company of their children.  A man expelled from the home must provide a daily offering of food until he is either invited back, or another man takes his place.  This tradition of graciously and generously yielding to a woman's wishes did not reside within my father even though Native American blood flowed through him.  It did not reside within my ex-husband either.  

I forgave my father, but I could not fully forgive my ex-husband.  While I had wonderful moments of forgiving and healing during the first year of our divorce, I still continue to struggle.  Holding on to my anger and feelings of betrayal, I noticed that I began to feel drained, powerless, and victimized.  Just as I had chosen to forgive my father, I chose to continue the forgiving process with my ex-husband.  With the help of Debbie Ford's seminal book, Spiritual Divorce, I continue to forgive and to heal.  I repeated the exercise from Debbie's book and like magic, my ill-feelings clear.  You can do it, too:
  • Write down your version of the events fully with all the hurt and emotion present.  Don't hold back or try to be kind or understanding.  Let your raw emotions flow.
  • Write down the other person's version.  Imagine all of their hurt and emotion.  Let yourself indulge in their feelings by fully stepping into their shoes.
  • Write down a neutral version with just the facts. 
When you are done, you can create a ritual of release.  You can burn the three versions, bury them, or shred them into confetti and release them into the wind.  Choose something that is meaningful to you to achieve a full sense of letting go.

Taking the time to do this ritual again helped me to discover that forgiving is continuous.  It is a daily practice like any other in my life.  When I wake, I can choose to forgive myself and others for any acts that I may have deemed harmful.  What I also discovered, as I wear the spirit of my great-grandmother, is that I, too, can practice as my ancestors did.  I can stand in the power that I get to decide who comes into my physical, spiritual and emotional house.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Waiting to Exhale

Angela Bassett

Remember the scene from the movie Waiting to Exhale when one of the characters, played by Angela Bassett, ceremoniously burned all of her soon-to-be ex-husband's processions? That iconic moment gave women a reason to cheer.  Angela Bassett's character in the movie, based on Terry McMillan's popular book of the same name, was reclaiming her power.  However dramatic, within that moment she snatched back what she had willingly given away.

The radical and perhaps uncomfortable truth is that when people treat us poorly, we are co-creators of that poor treatment.  Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."  Our consenting to giving our power away general starts in childhood when we adapt to the constructs of the authority figures in our lives.  As children, it is natural and often necessary to adhere to the rules of love and punishment our authority figures, in their own best way, structured for us.  If we were loved for being smart, we strove to get all As.  If we were loved for being of service, we served irregardless of our individual needs.  If we were loved for controlling our emotions, we trained ourselves never to visit our emotional landscapes.  Many of us continue to carry these ideals of love and punishment into adulthood even though those ideals no longer serve us.  Absent the physical authority figure, we often re-create the same standards of love from our childhood and even punish ourselves through toxic relationships, drink, drug, food, sex, shopping, people-pleasing and a host of other ways when we fall short. 

Being a former woman waiting to exhale, I now understand that giving my power away to another in order to receive love no longer serves me.  Missing in our culture is the simple study of loving the self.  I tell my youngest son when he makes a "mistake" to forgive himself, love himself and to be grateful for whatever lesson that "mistake" taught him.  What we may call "mistakes" or "failures" can be re-framed as gifts and learning opportunities if we train our minds to view them as such.  

When we love the self, we can finally let go of our childhood beliefs about receiving love because we understand that the true source of love is within us.  That spark of the Divine that resides in each of us is a wellspring that we often fail to tap.  

If you do find yourself standing in that place of giving your power away, know that you can forgive yourself, love yourself, and have gratitude for the lesson learned.  What is even more powerful, you don't have to burn the car.  More on forgiving others as a means of empowering ourselves in the next post.