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Dear Ones –
Thank you so much for everything you're sharing this week with me on the subject of forgiveness.
For those of you who are just tuning in, I'm dedicating my Facebook page this week to FORGIVENESS. I just finished Iyanla Vanzant's six-week e-course on Forgiveness, and it's been pretty revolutionary for me, and I want to try to share what I've learned…and to learn more!
Here's a note that I wrote to myself the other day, after doing some soul-searching about the most painful and difficult kind of forgiveness of all — self-forgiveness.
If you are like me (and I'm going to guess you are, if you are here) then you carry around a giant pile of shame about all your failings, shortcomings, mistakes and perceived sins.
I always knew that I had a problem with self-forgiveness. I knew that I've always had trouble letting myself off the hook, and that sometimes I am unable to drop the knife that I've been holding to my own throat in self-punishment. I felt that I've made a lot of progress on that over the years, and I felt like I understood the origins of my own self-abuse.
But I was amazed to find — while doing my forgiveness work — that so much of the anger and sadness and frustration that I feel toward OTHER PEOPLE is actually tangled up in anger at MYSELF.
Let me explain: As I dissected some of my lasting grudges and resentments toward other people, the story always came back to me. I realized that (deep down) I blamed myself more than I blamed them. I might be angry at someone else for taking advantage of me, for instance, but I was FURIOUS at myself — for allowing myself to be taken advantage of.
And my fury at myself was often greater, deeper, and more toxic than my anger at the other person. Because that person might be an asshole, sure…but *I* was an IDIOT. Because I was the stupid, blind fool who had allowed it to happen.
Here is the mantra of the person who cannot forgive herself:
"You should have known better, you should have known better, you should have known better…"
And what was I furious at myself about? Every single time?
I WAS FURIOUS AT MYSELF FOR NOT KNOWING SOMETHING SOONER THAN I ACTUALLY KNEW IT.
But how can you abuse yourself for not having known something before you knew it? That's so unfair to yourself.
Think of it this way: Imagine that you are in a classroom, on the very first day of school, and you are about to begin studying French, for the very first time in your life. And imagine if the teacher walked into the room and immediately started screaming at you for not being able to speak French yet.
That would be crazy, right?
Because: How could you? How could you know French, before you learned French?
How could you know any of your life's most important lessons, before you learned them?
This may sound almost insanely simplistic, but here goes: YOU CANNOT KNOW SOMETHING BEFORE YOU KNOW IT.
The question of what you should have known (or should have done, or should have stopped, or should have seen coming)…well, this is all just cruelty against a more innocent version of your beautiful, evolving self.
We learn what we learn when we learn it…and not a moment before.
Some of these lessons take a long time to learn — because of your upbringing, your blind spots, your karma, your destiny, your delusions…whatever.
But life will keep trying to teach you, until you finally figure it out. And eventually you will figure it out.
The person who you are today must forgive your younger self for what she could not possibly have known yet at the time. It wasn't because she was stupid, or evil, or terrible…she had simply not taken that class yet.
We are all just students in this classroom. We are all beginners.
Embrace the lessons when you finally learn them, forgive yourself for what you did not know earlier, and move forward in grace and peace and self-compassion.
Here's what I've found: Once I start to forgive myself, it becomes curiously easy to forgive other people. Because I can see that they are just students, too. (They do not know what they cannot yet know.)
So once more I will say it: Drop the knife that you are holding to your own neck.
It is time to set yourself free — and in doing so, you will free others, as well.
Dear Ones —
Should we keep talking about forgiveness today?
Let's keep talking about forgiveness.
Thank you all so much for your comments and questions and wisdom that you shared yesterday on this bottomlessly important subject.
As many of you know, I just finished taking Iyanla Vanzant's six-week e-course on FORGIVENESS (some soul-work that I very much needed to for my life) and I'm still processing all that I learned.
What I want to talk about today is perhaps the most radical lesson for me of the whole course, which was about letting go of your judgments and your beliefs about that past — and how letting go of your judgments and your beliefs can open up your heart to the grace of forgiveness.
This is a HARD ONE, you guys.
My judgments and my beliefs are pretty damn solid — and never more so than when I have a strong opinion about something that somebody else has done wrong.
And if somebody else has done something wrong to ME?
Oh baby, watch out.
Because that wrong-doing will be carved into my Book of Offenses, and my Book of Offenses is made of granite. Once your name is carved in there, it is not easily erased.
I look all sweet and nice, but deep inside, I might as well be a mafia boss, for how hard I hold to my grievances.
I can justify holding onto my Book of Offenses because some of the shit that people have done to me is REALLY BAD. Inarguably bad. And, by the way, what has been done to me is nothing compared to what happens to other people in this world — because sometimes human beings are unbelievably horrible to each other. What some people have to go through in their lives is sometimes absolutely unthinkable.
Some of you shared your stories yesterday of what you have been through, and it's devastating.
People do things to each other that are not just heartbreaking, not just disappointing, but often deeply traumatizing and sometimes flat-out evil.
The world is full of wrong-doing, and it hurts us — and we are constantly cataloging our injuries and our injustices.
To hold onto that wrong-doing forever, though, is to never forgive.
On one hand, why should you ever let go of it, when what was done to you was so terrible?
But the problem is this — over the years, you can become broken and sick from carrying around your Book of Offenses forever on your back. Your spine and your soul can be crushed beneath that heavy granite slab, with its names carved so deep. You get so bent and twisted beneath that unforgiveness that you cannot even lift your face to the sky anymore. Then what has your life become? How can you fly? How can you ever be free?
A lot of the reason we hold onto our pain (and our suffering, and our anger, and our shame, and our resentment, and our desire for revenge) is because we believe that what happened SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED. We cannot shake our indignation that God let it happen, that our families let it happen, that our lovers let it happen, that our neighbors let it happen, that we ourselves let it happen — whatever "it" may be.
But it happened.
That's the reality. It happened.
And, as Iyanla reminded us again and again in this course, "Any time you fight against reality, you will suffer."
To continue to insist forever that "THIS SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED TO ME!" is to fight forever against reality. And you will only suffer in that fight, because you cannot win that fight. Reality will always win that fight. You can keep fighting against that reality till the end of time, and you will become obsessed, depressed, angry, bitter — but the reality of what happened will never change.
It happened. The horrible thing happened.
Why did it happen?
Why did you have to suffer?
I DON'T KNOW. Nobody knows. You may never know. And as my friend Pastor Rob Bell reminds us: "Be very suspicious of anyone who tells you that they DO know why you had to suffer."
Someday you might see how that horrible event formed you into the person that you needed to become…or maybe you won't. Maybe it will never make sense. What if never makes sense?
Nonetheless, it still happened.
And the most radical thing I learned from Iyanla during the whole forgiveness course was this: "You don't have to know what anything means."
It was such a simple statement, but it blew my mind. I ALWAYS want to know what everything means! I need answers. I need action. I need resolution. In the story that I am constantly telling in my own mind about my own life, I am always trying to set the world into logical moral order. I try to tidy up the chaos, because I want to control the disorder that I see around me. I want to change wrong-doing to right-doing. I want everything to be fixed.
And there's nothing that I want to fix more than the past.
But the past cannot be fixed. What happened happened, and you don't need to know WHY it happened.
Can you forgive this world for not making sense? If you could forgive the world for not making sense, would that help you to drop the granite Book of Offenses that you have been carrying around on your own back for so long? Would that set you free?
I feel like something shifted in me when Iyanla said, "You don't have to know what anything means."
Like: maybe I could let some things go.
"Letting things go" doesn't mean that you open yourself up again for future mistreatment. It doesn't mean that you welcome back into your life the person who abused you, who lied to you, who cheated you, or used you. It doesn't mean you condone what occurred, or that it was OK. It doesn't mean you sign up for more harm. It doesn't mean that the guilty should go unpunished. (If somebody needs to go to jail, then they really do need to go jail.) Letting things go doesn't mean you volunteer to be a victim forever.
It just means that maybe you stop saying, "THIS SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED TO ME!"
And instead you simply say: "IT HAPPENED."
You say: It happened, and I processed it as well as I could, and I may never know why it happened, but now I am ready to move on — even if I am never apologized to, and even if I am never given justice. I am ready to let go of my judgments and beliefs about what happened — because I do not know the master plan. I will surrender to not knowing, in order to be liberated. Because all those thoughts of anger and shame and pain and indignation are doing nothing but causing me to continue suffering, when the only thing I want is to be free.
Because maybe there really IS a field out there somewhere in our collective imaginations, way out there beyond all our ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing…and maybe we ARE supposed to meet there. Maybe that's what heaven is — the place of no grievances, the place of complete and total forgiveness.
Maybe that's what all the great peace-makers have been trying to teach us, for centuries.
Maybe you can only get there by letting go.
I don't know.
I just know that I really don't want to carry around a stone of grievances on my back for the rest of time.
I am so curious to hear your thoughts, dear ones.
Thank you for sharing this space with me.
I would love to meet you all in that field of peace.
Dear Ones –
So I just finished taking Iyanla Vanzant's six week e-course on forgiveness.
This is something I really needed to do for my life.
Forgiveness is a tough one for me, my friends. Believe me — I hold onto grievances HARD. These six weeks have been a great gift of learning and letting go for me.
I'm going to try to share with you some of the lessons I learned this week, in hopes that they are as useful to you as they have been to me…
What I want to talk about today is the question of why to forgive at all.
There was a wonderful moment in Iyanla's course, where a man called in with this question: "My wife lied to me, and cheated on me, and left me, and destroyed our family — but I still have to pay her alimony every month, and it makes me furious. Do I have to forgive her?"
Iyanla's response: "No! Absolutely not. You definitely do not have to forgive her. You can hold onto your anger forever. It's up to you."
It's a CHOICE. Forgiveness is not a requirement; it's a choice. You can forgive somebody, or you can hold on your anger forever. That's the choice. It's entirely up to you.
But at some point, you have to ask yourself whether that anger is really serving you — and if that's the energy force that you want to base your emotional life upon forever.
What do you lose by saying, "I am ready to let this anger go?"
Does it make you weaker, to let go of your anger and righteous indignation? Or does it make you stronger?
When I look at other people who are holding onto their anger, it is so clear to me that this energy is destroying them.
When I see other people who are holding onto their righteous indignation, refusing to let it go, it's completely obvious that they are not living a life of grace.
When I look at other people who live in the past, keeping their old grievances alive forever, it's so obvious that they are only hurting themselves.
When I observe the unbelievable courage and dignity and divinity of people who have forgiven others, it makes me want to bow down at their feet, and learn how to be so brave and so good.
And when people have forgiven ME for my misdeeds, I am so grateful — because we all long to be forgiven, and we all need to be forgiven.
So I knew all that.
And yet STILL, I held onto my own lack of forgiveness.
Yet STILL — even with all the evidence that forgiveness is an act of liberation, grace, courage, humanity, and the highest possible human evolution — I STILL wanted the privilege to hold onto MY anger forever, to keep MY righteous indignation alive forever, to keep MY grievances burning forever…
In other words, I could see easily how other people's lack of forgiveness harms the world, but I could not see how my own lack of forgiveness was harming ME.
That's because I was addicted to my own storyline — addicted to how wrong that other person was, addicted to how unfair that situation was, addicted to how right I was, addicted to how hurt I was.
Then I heard Iyanla say: "Refusal to forgive is an act of violence that you commit against yourself."
The only person who is harmed by your lack of forgiveness is YOU.
When you forgive somebody, you are not saying that you approve of their behavior. You are not saying that what they did was right. You are not saying that you will ever allow them to harm you again. You are not even saying that you would welcome them back into your life (and in many cases, that's not even an option — because sometimes the people whom we most need to forgive are long dead.)
You are only saying that you will not allow your anger and your pain to control your life anymore. Because your anger and your pain are poison. Even if they are "justified", they are poisonous to your heart. And when you refuse to forgive somebody, they will control your life and hold ownership over your emotions forever — even if they are dead, or even if you haven't spoken to them for years.
Many times, we don't want to forgive somebody because we don't want to bless them. But your act of forgiveness HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM. Your act of forgiveness is a gift of courage and liberation that you give to yourself. It's a blessing you offer yourself.
Because you want to be FREE.
So this is where the difficult journey toward forgiveness begins — with the idea that you deserve to be free.
Just learning that — these basic notions — I could already feel myself softening.
Because that's all I really want — to be FREE.
Throughout the week, I will keep talking about this subject.
But I wonder if some of you might share your own stories and thoughts and questions about forgiveness here today?
Let us teach each other, and learn from each other…
All my love, and ONWARD,
The other day, I heard a friend say that people tell lies about themselves only when their own truth is unacceptable to them.
I've been turning that line around and around in my head for the last week, and then I saw this…
What do you all think?
Curious how this quote strikes you…
Want to be part of my Christmas Present?
Want to help restore Alma's home?
This year for Christmas, I'm going to be donating money to The Woodlands — the beautiful 18th century Philadelphia estate upon which I based the Whittaker's home, White Acre, in my novel THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS.
I love this property, and I adore the dedicated folks who maintain it. They were so generous to me while I was researching the novel — letting me roam freely all over the property, from carriage house to the old gardens, from the attic to the basement (and yes, even in "the binding closet"!).
Right now, there's a fantastic capital campaign going on to restore The Woodlands home (and Alma's carriage house!) and many folks (including me) are chipping in to help.
We've set up an Indiegogo account specifically for my readers to help out…so if you would like to be part of this, click here and join!
A few bucks from all the readers of THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS could save this irreplaceable estate.
There are rewards for participating (I especially like the "Alma's wildflower mix")
And remember: The more you donate, the more I donate!
I thank you!
Alma thanks you!
The ghosts of Henry and Beatrix Whittaker thank you!
Hanneke down there in the basement in her caged room (an actual feature of the estate) thanks you!
And The Woodlands thank you!
ps – Oh, one other thing! A number of book groups in the Philadelphia area have been going on field trips to The Woodlands, to explore Alma's home and carriage house. If you live in the area, you should get some friends together and go! The staff is so helpful and friendly, and it's such a cool day trip.
Restore White Acre
Help Elizabeth Gilbert restore the estate that inspired her latest novel.