Forgive and Forget?

by Christopher Lovejoy on April 15, 2012

Most everyone I know has borne the brunt of a quick and devious slight.

Curiously, you don’t even have to say or do anything to get one delivered. You merely have to exist. All it takes is one look, tied to one snap judgment, compelled by one association of collective guilt.

If you appear too old one minute, you might appear too young the next. If you appear too attractive here, you might appear too ugly there. If you appear too brown in this instance, you might appear too black in another. If you appear too masculine in this situation, you might appear too feminine in that one. If you appear too straight in this set of circumstances, you might appear too queer in this one.

Remember, you need not say or do anything to be summarily arrested, tried, and convicted.

Prejudice can also be masked. Under the cloak of anonymity, this is quite easy to do: “send me the information and tell me a bit about yourself, but don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

And then there’s the banality of persecution: one on one, one on many, many on one, many on many.

Some people can only come alive and stay alive when they persecute, subjecting others to hostility or ill-treatment because of their beliefs, or harassing them because of prejudice (see above).

In this dark instructive light, what steps might you take to safeguard the heart of your soul?

Is it possible to minimize, even eliminate, the necessity to forgive and forget?

A Perspective on Emotional Mastery

I can well imagine that the most savvy among us rarely, if ever, need to forgive anyone for anything because of a finely honed sense of being in the right place at the right time – or because of a deeply, genuinely cultivated sense of understanding, empathy, and compassion for others.

If I can be aware of how I’m feeling, moment to moment, and keep my feelings in perspective, even under pressure, and still marshal my feelings in the service of desired outcomes, then I’m in a much better place to accept or manage the feelings of others, with little or no resistance.

But the mastery of these skills – awareness, perspective, motivation, empathy, management – requires a moral social context in which to function optimally. If this context is absent, or compromised, it won’t really matter much (if at all) how masterful you are with your feelings and with feelings in general.

If there’s no legitimate authority to enforce genuine organizational accountability, feelings can easily run rampant, without answerability, in which case the survival of your dignity becomes paramount.

Assuming a supportive moral social context, here are five spiritual guidelines that I have found useful and helpful for cultivating and maintaining emotional mastery in the face of difficulty:

1. Awareness: be aware of feelings as they occur

This is easier said than done, particularly if you’re in a rush, or under pressure, or feeling less than your best. Maintaining a witness perspective with feelings as they occur is not an easy skill to master, but it’s fundamentally important for getting on board with the guidelines that follow.

Ways to cultivate this brand of awareness include setting aside at least a few minutes a day to sit quietly with a cup of tea or coffee, to meditate in silence, to contemplate words of wisdom or objects of beauty or the splendor of nature, or to follow your breath until it deepens into a rhythm of regularity.

Bringing a sense of calm to your day primes your awareness to respond rather than react.

2. Perspective: maintain perspective with feelings

Feelings, particularly difficult feelings, are just feelings. They don’t last, they don’t define you, and they certainly don’t always speak the truth about who you are or what’s going on around you. You can hold on to them for dear life, if you wish, but you can also let them go at any time.

With enough practice, emotional releasing becomes second nature. The Sedona Method and The Emotional Freedom Technique are two effective means for guiding you to release feelings on the spot, and can even help you to release feelings that keep holding you in their grip.

Keep in mind that given how connected we all are, the more so the more you know and love someone, it’s not too much of a stretch to wonder if your feeling might not be someone else’s feeling.

3. Motivation: cultivate purity of intention for can-do feelings

Some people habitually employ emotional strategies of manipulation to get what they need or want. Out of a sense of helplessness or powerlessness, they might appear sincere without really caring; withhold acceptance, approval, or affection; or intimidate with sarcasm, hostility, or rage.

In all such cases, the inner wounded child is alive and well.

Such people rely unwittingly on their wounded feelings to seek outcomes that serve themselves only, which only serve to perpetuate patterns of deception, seduction, manipulation, and exploitation.

There’s a reason why the terms selfish and selfishness carry negative connotations.

When I feel motivated, my interests are best served when this feeling rests on a pure motive, which in turn carries a desire for an outcome that is purely intended (that is, not contaminated or polluted by a strategy of manipulation). I can rely on this feeling to benefit both myself and others.

4. Empathy: acknowledge or accept feelings without resistance

For most of us, feeling visible to others is a deep and persistent need, and for this reason, most of us are highly sensitive to any feeling that would threaten to undermine this visibility.

When I feel your sorrow, anger, or fear, it’s in my best interests to determine whether to respond, and if so, how, and if I seek to interact with you in any depth for any length of time, then it makes sense for me to at least acknowledge the feeling. Otherwise, I risk being perceived as lacking in empathy.

When I feel sad, angry, or afraid, I am best served when I accept (acknowledge and experience) the feeling so that I can either release it on the spot or take care of it in private. Otherwise, I risk pushing it away and have it come back to me in a form I cannot easily process or handle consciously.

By taking care of my sorrow, anger, and fear as they come up (see the first and second guidelines above), I am clear to empathize with others when they’re feeling sad, angry, or afraid.

5. Management: manage feelings in difficult situations

If you’ve made the time and effort to be responsible for your feelings (with awareness, perspective, a pure motivation, and empathy), then you have a sound basis with which to manage them.

The first cardinal rule of effective, authoritative management is this: respect difficulty. The second cardinal rule: manage feelings as they arise so that they don’t come back and bite you in the …

Adherence to these rules reflects a level of commitment that not everyone is ready, willing, or able to assume. If you’re in an exploratory stage of your life, where you’re on the move, moving from place to place, then these two rules should suffice, but if you’ve committed yourself to certain times and places for reasons of security, then matters can get a whole lot more complicated very quickly.

This is where forbearance comes into play. Needless to say, you’re going to need more than emotional mastery to deal with the ensuing difficulties. You’re going to need fortitude.

The Necessity of Fortitude

Fortitude can be defined simply as “courage in the face of pain or adversity”, or more elaborately as “mental, emotional strength in facing difficulty, temptation, or danger courageously”.

Without fortitude, especially in a pressure-cooker work environment full of pressing deadlines with myriad expectations of perfection, you won’t be inclined to forbear (or forgive) very easily.

I speak from experience when I say this.

Fortitude is a complex subject, but what I can say here is that cultivating and maintaining a positive frame of mind goes a long way towards having the fortitude you need to forbear (and forgive).

Counselors of the oppressed would no doubt agree that when you’re inspired – flush with a sense of possibility – you can absorb the sting of perceived slights and insults with greater ease.

You can forbear or forgive and forget what others say or do for your own sake, for your own peace of mind, to release any sense of being wronged that might hold you captive to resentment.

You can let go of the past as it comes up. By clearing baggage that weighs heavy on your soul, you release any sense of lacking acceptance that perpetuates feelings of humiliation or betrayal.

Perhaps today is the day you feel called to forgive yourself for something you said or did – or if not yourself, then another, or if not another, then others, or if not others, then the world.

None of this is easy, but gaining some insight about it is a vital necessity for the soul, especially in a fast-paced, complicated, complex world steeped in the mad, bad, sad imperatives of separation and exclusion, competition and domination, where the elite few condition and control the many.

Adopting a casual, easy-going, or happy-go-lucky attitude might help – if you can get away with it. Making a commitment to being helpful in whatever way you see fit can also do wonders.

If you have a family, or a community, or a workplace, or an organization with which you can identify, then by all means stay with it and find your sustenance and/or support and/or solace in it.

When it comes to feelings, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure, and will doubtless take you far, but know this: building resilience with intestinal fortitude will take you all the way.

At least until that day when effective, supportive cooperation reigns supreme.

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This post is the twelfth in a series that began here.

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