The art of forgiving self. I am probably the least qualified person to write on this subject. Most of my story is one of repeated failures, and to describe my efforts at giving myself a break now and then an art form, would be a stretch. However, I do recognize how important the concept is. I can appreciate the art, even though I am not that good at it. The best I can hope for is mimicry. So here is my few words of guidance in my attempts to copy other people who seem to have come to grips with allowing themselves some personal failure in their lives.
The first concept is that of a daily process. When I first started The 365 Commitment, part of the formula, was to have a close out session at the end of each day. I would review how I did that day against the list that I prayerfully created that morning. I would review, determine where I did good, where I did not. Contemplate why, then resolve to do better tomorrow. I would end the day with a prayer and then shut the book. The act of shutting my 365 notebook has given me a sense of closure on the failures of the day. I can now let those things go and wait until the next day to try again.
The second is to focus on the path. I believe it is important to know the general direction in which you are headed. I call this a vision of the future. You should remain focused on that, but not on the agonizing details up ahead. The best thing that we can do is just simply to get on the path, heading in the direction of the vision. Then, focus on the path. Realizing that success, or the accomplishment of the vision probably will not happen at the end of the path, but rather somewhere along the way. Success is found by iteration and not completion. This allows you to drop the bag of rocks.
Let me explain. I met a man once who was quite successful executive at a major bank, and in a 1:1 interview, I was complaining about the many burdens that I was experiencing. I was also concerned with my many failures along the way. In the middle of my lamentation, he looked at me with consternation and said, “Just drop the rocks.” The pathway, he explained, was a lot more enjoyable if you were not carrying around a bag of rocks with you along the way. To him it seemed ridiculous that I was carrying this giant burden with me. He indicated that I would find the path up the mountain a lot easier without carrying this giant and unnecessary weight. The concept of “drop the rocks” has always stayed with me. When I am feeling down and discouraged about my failure, I just let it go and look around. Who knows, maybe the view is nice at the point I decided to stop along my journey.
The third is confession. Not in the Roman Catholic, confessional with the priest sort of way, but a willingness to admit fault and ask for help. Now before you Catholics’ attack me, I know. I understand the purpose of Confession. I know that it allows the person to free themselves from the crushing agony of guilt and place it at the feet of God’s representative on earth. I understand the doctrine, but it is a scary concept to most lay people! The point is that a willingness to talk about your challenges, your failures is a really powerful way to begin to heal yourself. The problem is that the mistake you made is small in comparison to the agony that you go through trying to conceal and hide your transgressions. A much better path is to be more open and willing to discuss your shortcomings, this disarms people, opens you up to the realization that even the perfect people have the same concerns that you do. In short, talk about your failures. Share openly, and you will find peace with the simple challenge of improvement rather than the resentment of concealment.
The fourth is a hard lesson. I got this from a religious lecture that I heard once. I have heard this concept in other circles as well, so it is not just a religious precept. However, here it is. You generally need to repair the mistakes you make, or at least try. Christians call it repentance, you can call it restitution. The simple concept is that the best way to gain forgiveness for yourself is to simply correct the wrong as fast as possible and as completely as possible. Here is the rub, however. There are many mistakes that you may make that are completely outside of your control to restore. You may be the cause of a destructive thing that you can never undo and it is completely outside of your capability to make right. This is the hard part. If you are a really conscientious person, this can be soul crushing. There are two things that you can do in this situation.
That leads to the fifth and sixth concept and I struggle with both of these. You can adopt a faith or belief in a power greater than yourself. This is easy if you are member of a religion, or have already developed a faith in God or a god. You can ask for forgiveness from an entity that you believe that can absorb the burden for you. That can help with the hardest issues to forgive ourselves for. Even non-religious groups will have a similar concept embedded into their practice. In ancient times there were special days set aside for everyone to receive an atonement for their misgivings through out the year. You could adopt something similar, if the God thing does not work out for you. The point is to recognize that you have a problem, try to restore it, and when you cannot identify that clearly and figure out a mechanism by which you can let it go.
The last, and sixth concept is related. I can thank Jesus for this, however, I found similar teachings in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and most every other religion that has survived for than a 1000 years. The concept is that the best way to forgive yourself, is to forgive others. There is no way you can get past the resentment and self loathing that occurs from personal failure when you are not in return forgiving another for a similar challenge. Find a way to forgive those that have caused you harm, express that to them, and watch what happens to your own attitude about your personal failures. The weight will be lifted, the darkness exposed to light and the path you are on will seem so much clearer.
Just because we live in a modern society, does not mean that we can escape principles of successful living that have survived in our culture for millennium. We must learn to forgive ourselves, let things go, enjoy the path that we are on and by all means drop the rocks!
Enjoyed this article, Guy. Prescient concepts for anyone, and everyone. I’m better than I used to be at not collecting rocks, and I guess that’s progress. I enjoyed reading your “style” also, as it’s been a long time…
love and respect,
A life long pursuit, for sure. I am probably doomed to be carrying some with me all the time, but perhaps I can drop a few along the path!