I was doing forgiveness practice this morning, and an old, important memory from childhood arose. It was an uncomfortable exchange in which I felt scared and sad—one of tens of thousands of early experiences (good and bad) which mix together to form the overall sense of self and world that underlies an adult personality.
We often fondly remember the good moments of our early years, but we file away the painful ones like unwanted boxes in the attic. It seems as though we can rid ourselves of these experiences, but as long as we hold resentment and blame about what has happened, we are influenced by those holdings. They consistently, subtly affect our views and our behavior (check out this article for more info).
So let’s take the blame out of what happened, however insignificant: Is it your fault that you adapted to the imperfect conditions of your childhood in the way you needed to at 1, 2, 3 years old? Is it your parents fault that they operated with the conditioning they were given—even with the best of intentions, falling back to sometimes misguided habits in the overwhelm of child-rearing? Is it your grandparents fault for giving that conditioning to your parents? Is it your great grandparents fault?
The transmission of emotional tools from one generation to the next follows a very rigid, predictable path. And even with the best conditioning, no caregiver gets it right every time. One study showed that even in textbook-secure parents, there is a break in attunement every 19 seconds. Meanwhile, whatever happened, it’s already happened. It can’t be undone. It lives on only in our very malleable long-term memory.
So we practice forgiveness. We open these memories back up, allowing the hurt to flow out like dust. While doing so, we recite phrases with an intention to forgive everyone everything, including ourselves.
Forgiveness, in this context, isn’t about repairing relationships. That is a separate matter, and a case-by-case decision. Rather, forgiveness is about metabolizing internal toxins. Disarming each of these little mental time-bombs, so the present moment isn’t repeatedly clouded with the thick smoke of old, unprocessed feelings.
Every time we recall a memory, we change it. We can choose to use recall to reinforce our resentments and holdings, or we can choose to weave forgiveness into our unavoidably bumpy history through this practice, leaving us clear and open to experience the present moment with fresh eyes.
Written instructions for forgiveness practice are available here, and I’m happy to answer any questions that come up.
If you live in LA, set aside your Sunday evenings in January (1/10, 1/17, 1/24, 1/31) for a class series on emotional intelligence in which we’ll be digging deeply into this material!