Time for Peace
Holidays are joyous occasions… or at least, they are supposed to be. However, for many, holidays are a difficult time. They serve to remind us of what we have lost or what we don’t have. For most of us, they seem to illustrate everything that is wrong with our lives. As we leave the celebrations of Hanukkah, Christmas and other festive holidays, we are fast approaching New Year’s Day. Although many countries use a lunar calendar, most will usher in the year 2015 as a major holiday. The first month of the year on most calendars is named for the Roman deity Janus, a two-headed entity that looked both forward and backward. As we approach the New Year, it is inevitable that we also look forward and backward. Thus we are, like with other holidays, reminded of what we have lost, what we have not accomplished, or what we do not have. Finding peace at such a time is difficult.
Yesterday we discussed Isaac Watts and with what has to be one of the longest book titles ever, his book entitled “Logic, or The Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry after Truth with a Variety of Rules to Guard against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences.” Watts divided his content about logic into four parts: perception, judgment, reasoning, and method. These are really good ways to keep one’s self grounded and in finding internal personal peace. What it overlooks, though, is the concept of personal forgiveness. During this time of the year, we are reminded of our own humanness, our own shortcomings.
Dr Fred Luskin of Stanford University has studied the process a person undergoes in personal forgiveness and in forgiving others. “Forgiveness is a tool with which we face what we’ve done in the past, acknowledge our mistakes, and move on,” he says. “It does not mean that you condone or excuse what happened. It does not mean that you forget. Remember the saying, ‘For everything there is a season’?” he asks. “Well, there’s a season for our suffering and regret. We have to have that. But the season ends; the world moves on. And we need to move on with it.”
Just as we are in the twelve days of Christmas as well as the seven days of Kwanza, Luskin has twelve ways of forgiving and moving past the pain. First, Luskin feels it important to categorize the offense being forgiven or for which forgiveness is needed. “Categorizing the offense begins the forgiveness process,” the psychologist believes. “It allows you to break down what you did, look at it, get a little distance, and begin healing.” For example, did you fail at some major task in making a relationship like marriage work? Have your actions hurt another person? Have you hurt yourself by your lifestyle or other self-destructive habits? Was there something that you did not do that you think you should have such as intervening in a family dispute or saving money for a child’s college education?
The next step, Dr Luskin states is to determine how one feel. Sounds simple but this can really be very difficult. Acknowledging our feelings often makes them more real. Luskin believes getting those feelings out in the open paramount to forgiveness. “Articulate the specific wrong you committed and the harm it caused. Tell a couple of trusted people about what you did to get support, care, and advice. We commonly think we’re alone and unique in our suffering, but this only makes healing more difficult,” adds Dr. Luskin. Sharing our feelings also reminds us that we all have feelings and yes, we all make mistakes. This can also help prevent depression.
Sometimes all that is desired is forgiveness and not always reconciliation. It is important, maintains Dr Luskin, to fully understand what one wants. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two very different things. Personal peace involves getting rid of any shame and releasing any blame. This will lead to a sense of calm and regained wholeness. It is also important to recognize if our expectations are unrealistic. Finding and giving forgiveness will not necessarily change another human being. In fact, it won’t. The other person will still perhaps be a miserable human being. Luskin notes that some people are just negative. Every word they utter is a criticism or a complaint and some people will continue to view others with utter contempt. Forgiveness, though, allows the person doing the forgiving with the chance to move past that reality even while acknowledging it.
Luskin also states the important of identifying the pain one feels. Sometimes our hurt feelings, guilty thoughts, or physical reactions like gut-tightening have become habits, responses to thoughts of past hurts. Luskin says everyone needs to find their internal “Stop Button” on those memories causing the pain and our reactions to it. Replaying scenes from the past over and over does no one any good and accomplishes nothing.
An apology is always a great place to begin the process of forgiveness. Luskin tells the story of a married couple who found a humorous way to apologize. The wife sent the husband the board game “Sorry” and asked for a date to play. They husband replied by sending the wife a cope of Brenda Lee’s hit single “I’m Sorry”. An apology is sometimes the hardest thing a person will ever say but it can be done effectively and when sincere, accomplishes greatness.
The final four steps of Dr Luskin’s path to forgiveness and personal peace include a positive refocusing technique and making amends to follow up your apology. Luskin advises to “Do Good rather than bad.” He also advises to replace those old painful memories with a new story – a story in which you are the hero in trying to be a forgiving person. The final two steps are putting things in perspective and giving one’s self a break. Most of us do at least one nice thing every day but it gets lost in the flood of past painful memories. We need to forgive ourselves and others and move forward in a positive manner. Gratitude is an attitude that, once developed, can work wonders for personal peace. Luskin recommends walking to a grocery store and giving thanks for the food items there. As you drive past a nursing home, give thanks for your own good health. While driving, give thanks for those drivers who are obeying the speed laws. Thank a store clerk for helping you. It may be their job but give them thanks anyway.
When we take the time to live forgivingly, we will find peace. There will always be disturbances to our peace but making forgiveness a habit will make us better, happier, healthier people. We can each be our own hero in making our lives and our world a better place. When we stop looking backward, we can start living forward.