Forgiveness is an act of commitment.
Forgiveness is psychological, not moral.
I’ve just discovered this incredible blog by Nick Wignall. It has already given me clarity on some of my “life issues”, good lessons in this confusing yet beautiful school of life.
The most recent one I’ve read is about anger, and consequently, forgiveness, both tricky issues to deal with even as an adult. This article wrapped up a lot of confusing emotions and tied ’em up with a beautiful bow. The following is a summary of what struck me hard, but be sure to check out the article as written, too. Because something different might resonate for YOU.
Last year, both of my parents died about 7 months apart, and I made four separate flights back home. One each to say goodbye, and one for their respective memorial services.
I had already done a lot of work surrounding forgiveness. Long story short, there were many times where I was not protected as a young person, and I suffered from not only the damage done to me, but also suffered from the lack of compassion from those who could have done better. There were also times where I was kicked out of the family because I was so vile and despicable. I had to come crawling back, not sure what I had done nor why it had been met with such an extreme response. And, like so many families, we were never–NEVER–supposed to talk about it, ever.
When a number of years ago, I realized my mother was now living with dementia, I knew I would never hear the words I was so desperate to hear. My work as a hospice volunteer taught me so much. How to sit with a client who is nearing the end of their journey. To understand the difference between “fixing/curing” and healing.
I realized she could no longer be my mother. But I could still be her daughter. I saw her as a person who deserved my kindness, and compassion, and that helped me deal with both losses without losing my mind.
It also planted the seeds of forgiveness. It took time for me to really understand what true forgiveness is, but it started there.
I was still living with anger, though. Many members of our family had different experiences, due to our ages and…er…experiences. It felt like a contest for ages: Whose version was “right”, and whose was “wrong”. How do we forgive people who are so sure we are doing it wrong? Especially when they never inquire what our own experience was like? Especially when we DID share those experiences, but remember them differently? Where is the truth when all we have is our own perception to rely on?
Nick covers forgiveness in the same way I finally reached it. Forgiveness does not mean “forgetting what happened” (because it is impossible to forget the pain). And it doesn’t mean the perpetrators are “off the hook”, and you have welcome them wholeheartedly back into your life. It doesn’t mean there has to be reconciliation–we are free to choose to protect ourselves, and we don’t have to accept “excuses” that are often at our expense. (For the record, “I’m sorry you got so upset” is not an apology.)
It’s about recognizing that other people are not under our control. We can only control ourselves, and there’s even a limit to that.
That’s where the anger issue came into play, and I love how he framed it.
Again, lots of quote and part paraphrasing:
Anger is a “positive” emotional feeling–we feel that we’re right and they are wrong. But it’s really an anti-depressant with potentially nasty side effects, and the consequences are often negative. LOVE THIS!
Anger helps eliminate sadness, boredom, feeling helpless, etc. It’s a crutch that makes us passive. It creates “opportunity cost”: Sucking up time and energy we could devote to learning better behaviors. It also reinforces our deep memories of the wrongs done to us. (Yup!)
The right approach, according to Nick, is to validate that anger. But don’t feed it.
The way there is acceptance–not for that person’s actions/inaction, but to acknowledge and accept we cannot change the past.
Thinking we can change the past helps us feel more in control, but it’s an illusion.
As I read this, I began to understand where my own residual anger comes from:
I hate it when other people diminish my pain. “Oh, that’s not what they meant, get over it!” “I don’t remember it that way, so that means you’re remembering it wrong.” When compatriots agree with me “in theory” but still defend “the group”.
And the reason I ghost them, I now realize, is because it feels like the only thing I can control. I can avoid any further interactions, and avoid the snark, the disbelief, the snide comments, or subtle “betrayal” of not standing with you even though they know exactly what it was like for you
So I’m still learning about forgiveness, and I’m beginning to distrust my anger, especially as it often serves only to feed the flame, or grow the sadness.
The last take-away from this article is, forgiveness is not ONE decision. We have to get there over and over again until the process gets “learned”. And it won’t “feel good” in and of itself. Because not only can we not control other people, we can’t control how we feel. Feelings are part of us, forever.
We may be able to soften the feeling. (The common phrase in a grief support group I attended was about how grief never disappears, but it does “gets softer” as time passed.) But it will always be there. Feelings are us. (Apologies to Toys R Us….)
All we can control is our actions.
This was exactly what I needed to hear.
For years now, I’ve written about the power of our choices.
We all have a lizard brain (aka “monkey mind”, “reptilian brain”, etc.) But when we learned to recognize those instinctive responses (anger?) to perceived danger (a rude customer, a snide family member), we can choose how we respond. We can choose “better”.
I am grateful that I found the way to continue the work of true forgiveness. I am grateful to find a better understanding of how my anger does not serve me, but I can never make it go away. I can choose to truly understand that in the short run, righteous indignation feels really good, but does not serve me in the long run.
And whether I have decades yet to live, or only a few hours, this is who I want to be.
This is who I can choose to be in the world.
I’ve done it before. In fact, this is the third pigeon I’ve rescued.
I like pigeons a lot. They are actually pretty smart birds, and they do well in captivity. Better than in the wild, in fact. In captivity, wild pigeons can live 10-15 years. In the wild (in cities, I mean), they last about a year or two. (Yes, all those pigeons you hate are very young pigeons.)
Most injured wild birds will die in your hand from shock if you attempt to rescue them. Not pigeons! They will get quiet and look at you as if to say, “Well, finally, my ride is here! Where have you been?!”
I spotted this one on my drive home one day, and knew he was in trouble. It was extremely hot and humid, and a thunderstorm was brewing. He was staggering in circles, listing to one side, barely able to stay upright.
I vaguely remembered the virus PMV that causes these symptoms. I quickly pulled into a nearby parking lot and stalked him for fifteen minutes til I caught him. He kept trying valiantly to fly away, but after flying into a building and then into a passing car, he was finally exhausted enough to let me pick him up.
I looked up his symptoms to make sure I wasn’t exposing myself, my family or my pets to anything toxic, then made up a cage for him. I didn’t expect him to survive the night–he was in pretty bad shape, with an injured eye, dehydrated and subdued. I forced a dribble of water down his throat, made him as comfortable as I could, and left him alone.
The next morning, I was surprised to see him looking (askant) at me from his cage. Beady bright little eyes, like the pilfering penguin from the Wallace And Gromit movie, The Wrong Trousers. “You made it, Magoo!” I exclaimed. I made him drink a little more water, cleaned him up, set out some cockatiel food, and left him alone again.
Soon Mr. Magoo (I have no idea if it was a he or a she, but “Mr. Magoo” seemed to fit his bewildered stare) was drinking on his own, and eating, too. He was still aslant and wobbly. But every morning he let me pick him up so I could clean his cage and refill his food and water. Every time I went out in the mudroom, he looked down at me from his cage with his shiny eyes.
About four weeks went by. I was getting ready for a drive home to my folks in Michigan. I knew Jon wouldn’t be wild about cleaning up after a pigeon every day. I toyed with the idea of letting him go. he was getting a little better every day. But I wasn’t sure if he were fully recovered or not.
The day before I left, I went to lift him up. To my surprise, he fought me and flew out of my hands. I managed to corner him and snag him in the mudroom. But I knew then it was time for him to go.
I took him out to the front steps and set him down. “If you’re ready, you can go,” I told him. “If not, you’re welcome to stay.”
He exploded into the air and flew away without a backwards glance.
I didn’t begrudge him the lack of gratitude. Wild things don’t owe us anything, even when we help them. I was glad he lived to fly again.
A day later, I went to get in my car.
On the driver’s side door was a huge white splat of pigeon poop dripping from the window all the way down the panel.
Now, I could have have been annoyed, and made up a story about how pigeons will poop on the person’s car who saved them.
But I like to think that a pigeon, wanting to say, “I’m alive and okay!” would have very few ways to communicate in a way we’d be sure to notice.
So I’m making up a story that Mr. Magoo was saying, “Thank you” the only way he’d know how, by pooping on my car.
I worked in my studio yesterday. It was a major event.
I made eight little pendants for my simple horse necklaces. Not a big deal, usually. Certainly not a big production day for me.
But it was significant. Because it’s the first work I’ve made since my knee replacement surgery last month.
My last post before I went under the knife showed the frayed mental state I was in. It wasn’t pretty! Even now, I lay awake at night, exhausted, my body aching for sleep, my mind racing at 90 mph. A litany of minor sins streams through my brain–all the things I need to do, all the things I have to redo, all the things that need fixing/making/writing/cleaning etc. After what seems like an eternity, I finally fall asleep.
But when I wake in the morning, all I feel is tired.
I’d be more worried, except my very good friend Jennie, a recent surgery patient, too (who was, incidentally, also the first visitor I “received” once I’d stabilized from the surgery) gave me a wonderful insight.
“It’s not so much the surgery, or the pain,” she mused. “The hardest part for me was when I did start feeling better. But I was so damn tired all the time. No energy!”
Oh gosh. I’d forgotten all about that part.
So once again, I have just the right words at just the right time.
I can walk without crutches. The pain is easing. I don’t have to wear those damn compression stockings anymore!
But my body is not healed yet. It will take more time, and I must be patient with myself. Exquisitely patient, no matter what the demands in my life try to tell me otherwise.
And Lydie’s advice was right. Yes, it might be easier to work in here if my space were cleaner, less cluttered, less dusty. Maybe I should have spent more time restocking stores with inventory, or even trying to get fitter before my surgery.
But when I come in the studio, and see the materials for my next big series of works, it makes me think of the exciting new ideas I want to bring into being. I see a studio full of everything I need to take that next creative step forward.
I must remember to ask, every day, when I enter this fabulous space, with patience, with gentleness, with respect and joy:
“What is it you need from me today, that this new work can be brought into the world?”
All it really wants, for now, it seems, is for me to be here, with love. And intention.
And so my studio, too, is patiently waiting for me to heal.
My art’s bigger/better/purer than your art. So there!
Hierarchies come easily to many living creatures.
It can be a brutal process. For birds, hierarchy can mean life or death. That phrase ‘pecking order’? It’s real. I’ve lost chickens and cockatiels to the process. The bird on the lowest rung of the ladder may not get enough to eat. An even slightly injured chicken will be attacked, killed, even eaten by the rest of the flock.
We humans have hierarchies, too. Our fascination for English royalty, our obsession with celebrities, our own yearning for fame and fortune, all are social constructs based on hierarchy.
Artists and craftspeople are no exception.
People who make their own jewelry components sniff at ‘bead stringers’–people who use only purchased components in their designs. The people who do some wire work or only make their own beads, are sniffed at by silver- and goldsmiths.
Glass artists have been the top of the heap in the collecting world for several decades now. Before that, it was something else. Maybe clay. I dunno–I wasn’t in the biz then.
Fine artists look down on all crafts. Once I introduced myself to a small group as a fiber artist. “Hunh! That’s nice…” was the general response. Ten minutes later, a local oil painter’s name came up. “Now he’s a real artist!” someone in the group exclaimed.
But fine artists have their own internal order, too. Pastels are better than colored pencils, watercolors better than pastel work, acrylic paint is better than watercolor, and oils are better than acrylic.
And of course, across all media is the hierarchy of purity. Who makes money from their art, and who makes art purely for art’s sake? Who sullies their ethos for filthy lucre? Is teaching the purest form of sharing our art with the world?
It gets kinda confusing–and funny–after awhile.
If you are in a group of artists who sell their work, the mark of a ‘professional artist’ is your ability to make a living from your work. How much money you make is your achievement award. It’s proof that you are a serious, full-time artist.
Or people place you on the ladder by the prestige factor of the shows you do. Small local shows don’t count, of course. Why, they let just anybody in!
Being vetted by an organization helps, too. I’ve had people express polite interest in my work until I mention that I’m a doubly-juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Suddenly, I’m treated with respect and deference.
But there’s nothing like the disdain amateurs–those who can’t-won’t-don’t sell their work–hold for an artist who actually, actively seeks sale–those artists who want to make their work and get paid for making it. The disdain the amateur holds for ‘professionals’ is huge.
They have history behind them. The word ‘amateur’ originally meant someone who pursued an activity purely for the love it of it. Now it ranks right up there with ‘dilettante’–someone who pursues an activity superficially. (ouch!) Amateurs, by definition, make their art without the requirement of making money from it. Art for Art’s sake. The purest state of making art.
The reality? Not for me to judge. It’s all good.
I’ve been everywhere on the spectrum in my career.
I began by making jewelry entirely from purchased components, and making traditional quilts. I did a very few small local shows, but mostly I gave my work away.
Then I dedicated myself to finding my own personal vision. It was a powerful step. I was grateful to even be making my art. The thought of being accepted into a show, or of someone even buying a piece, seemed too much to ask for.
As my skills and self-confidence grew, the next step was entering exhibitions across the country. Someone had told me they thought the phrase ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ sounded so wonderful, they made that their goal. I made it my goal, too. And I achieved it within a few years by methodically applying to as many opportunities as I could.
When ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ lost its luster, I turned to money as a measure of my success. It was important to me to make sales. The more money I made, the more successful I felt.
After years of making money, I wanted to be in the ‘good’ shows, the prestigious shows that look on a resume. With time and effort, I managed that, too.
And then I went back to square one.
I transitioned from focusing on these external goals, to thinking about the place in the world I occupy. I’m still selling–better than ever, in fact. But that transition came from a powerful place in my heart, and that is more important to me than ever.
Now, according to many people, I can be placed at every step in the art hierarchy. I’ve been ‘pure’, I’ve been ‘mercenary’, I’ve been ‘published/exhibited’, I’ve been hunkered down.
And yet, it’s the same work. And I am the same person.
Hierarchies evolved as a way for a species to survive. The weak, the sickly, were left to die, so that the flock/herd/group could survive.
We humans can–and do–choose differently.
We try to heal our sick. We care for the weak. We are present with the dying, to comfort them.
We’ve learned that even someone who is sick, or weak, or slow, or awkward, or fearful, or (gasp!) untalented, still has a place in the world.
And given that chance, and that place in the world, the gifts they offer can be profound and huge. At the vary least, they are happier for doing what they do.
So make your art.
Sell it, if that’s important to you. Don’t resent others if they sell theirs, and you can’t seem to sell yours.
Don’t excuse yourself by judging others. They are either on a different path, or (like me) simply in a different part of the cycle.
Recognize the hierarchy of who’s making ‘real art’ for what it is–a way to hide our jealousy of people who seem to have something we want for ourselves. A survival strategy we can choose to ignore.
Decide what you want, right here, right now.
And know that you can change your mind, any time. And do something different.
What with the big show I do in August (9 days, people–please remember that when I’m slow with your special orders!), and getting my daughter off to graduate school (first time she’s been too far away to visit) and then vacation (I did nothing for six whole days), I fear I’ve sadly neglected my blog.
I felt it, too. The guilt. Heck, I didn’t even do my morning pages. Didn’t keep up on Facebook, either.
This morning, I had an extra fifteen minutes, and pondered what to do with it. Check my email? Sure!
But then I realized I miss writing. I may drag my feet about it, but it’s like fun exercise–I always feel better after I do it.
So rather than waste time looking for my current journal, I simply started another one. (Because of this coping strategy, I often have three or four journals kicking around at any given point in time.)
And of course, I started off pissing and moaning about what an awful person I was for not writing for the past five weeks.
And then I stopped. I looked at what I’d written:
I haven’t written in…months.
And then I wrote:
I’d made a choice, every day. Write….or go to the beach. Write….or go out to breakfast with my husband. Write…or sleep in. Write…or pick up Meg and go ride horses.
I did not choose to write, every day, for five weeks. That’s all.
Do I regret any of those choices? Not a bit.
Eventually, I miss writing. I restructure my day to allow time to do it. Or I suddenly have something to say, and drop everything to get it down before I forget. (Dear readers, you have no idea how much wisdom I’ve had that has simply blown away in the wind of my busy-ness like so much lint.)
What helped me get here today was this post on time management (NOT) by Danielle LaPorte, whose blog WHITE HOT TRUTH is one of my favorite reads. I’d long given up trying to be super-productive–lost my mojo a few years ago–but I hadn’t given myself permission to not feel guilty about it. When I read her post, I laughed out loud in relief.
Most of our choices are simply that….choices. Yes, there are good choices and bad choices. But it’s not always so clear which are which.
Work in the studio, or blow it off to have lunch with a friend? If you are honoring your art, and fiercely protecting your creative time, then perhaps the former is the right choice for you today. And maybe that friend is annoying, and always leaves you feeling vaguely unsettled.
But perhaps something says you need to honor your friendship today. Maybe your friend needs some love and support. Maybe it’s you who needs the love and support. (And hey, maybe, like me, you’re the annoying friend.)
Different times, different goals, different stages of life call for different choices. The sooner we allow ourselves to simply be who we are, today, the happier we can be.
So instead of a to-do list today, I simply set some priorities. I had three pages of writing with a great idea for an article. Done. I thought of all the ‘have-to’s’ I have to today, and picked the one that keeps coming back–the new design that’s just right for a store that’s waiting on some new work from me. There’s a friend who’s special order just keeps popping into my mind. I’ll work on her piece today. And I’ll make the phone call to another friend whose need is greatest, and make time for her.
But the first thing I did this morning, after my morning pages, was my favorite.
I went riding.
The first frost of the season killed off most of the annoying bugs. The sun was brilliant, but the morning was cool, perfect riding weather. I had unexpected (and welcome) company on my ride. My muscles are sore–I’m finally healing after a back injury last fall, and foot surgery this spring–and it feels good to be sore from riding. From doing something I love.
My blessing for you today:
May you choose for yourself today, the thing that will make you the happiest.
And may you have many opportunities to do so.
N.B. In the interest of full disclosure, I did write my column for The Crafts Report. And I did my columns for the Fine Art Views newsletter. And I wrote several times to my son, who moved out two months ago (to a house two blocks from here.) And I kept up on some crucial emails.
So, yeah, I wrote. But isn’t the point of this column still a good one?
You know what? I’m just too lazy to write today. So when this amazing post on how to tell if you’re doing your life work fell into my inbox today, I just had to share it with you. (I’ve already bookmarked Everyday Bright for future reads.)
And yesterday I was telling a friend about Eddie Izzard, and she’d never heard of him. So your chuckle for today is this clip of Eddie explaining world history for you in a totally new way.
See? Even on days when I feel like doing absolutely nothing important, I’m still thinking about you! :^)