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.