Category Archives: Forgiveness / Letting Go

Sins of the Past

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Woman in deep thoughtYou’re probably familiar with the expression, “my past came back to haunt me,” and you likely have some personal examples related to this phrase.  While it is always good to live in the present and embrace “the power of now,” do we ever fully escape our pasts?  Can we truly be free of our mistakes and poor behavior of years gone by?

This post will focus on our so-called “sins of the past” and how they affect our lives in the present time.  I will relate personal examples pertaining to my past relationships and physical health, and do my best to provide useful insights and suggestions for letting go of regrets and repercussions from the past.

Reminiscing… Or Not?

A few months ago, I wrote about going through boxes of old mementoes in preparation for moving and vacating our storage unit.    These boxes included old cards and letters from many years ago (as long as 20-30 years back!) that I hadn’t looked at in a very long time.  While I found it both interesting and exciting to look back and reminisce, the process also illuminated some personal history that was surprising and painful to remember.

While I consider myself a compassionate and thoughtful person today, I haven’t always been so kind.  In fact, I treated some significant people in my life very poorly in years past.  I wasn’t malicious or evil by any means, but I was driven by fear and selfishness.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I suffered from depression and eating disorders for the bigger part of a quarter century, beginning in my early teens.  During that time, I was extremely self-absorbed and far more concerned with my own wants and needs than those of others.  I often had a negative attitude and I allowed my bad moods to affect those closest to me.  Suffice it to say, I wasn’t always a “picnic” to be around.

We Can’t Turn Back the Clock

As I’ve matured and taken more responsibility for my own happiness, I have become increasingly more considerate toward those around me.  Although I sometimes wish I could turn back the clock and treat my past close ones with more honor and respect, I know this is not possible.  I know I have to let go of the lingering guilt and move on, especially in regards to those to whom making amends is impossible due to either death or disconnection.

Health Hazards

My past sins also extend to the way in which I treated my body and health.  For many years, I starved myself, over-exercised, purged, and engaged in other harmful behaviors.  I pursued thinness relentlessly without much thought to how it would affect my current or future health.  When I finally emerged from my long battle with eating disorders in my mid-thirties, I believed that I was relatively unscathed in terms of my health.  Sure, I had experienced various digestive complaints over the years, but I thought those would surely subside with better eating and lifestyle habits.

Fast-forward to the present time…  My digestive tract is a mess and I’ve recently had to drastically change my eating habits in the hope of managing my conditions without lifelong medication.  I’ve suffered from migraine headaches for twenty five years and I’ve endured a variety of other physical complaints that have caused me a great deal of distress.  I am beginning to wonder to what degree my past “health sins” are responsible for the current state of affairs.

Hindsight is 20/20

As the old saying goes, “If I had it to do over again, I would do it all differently.”  Of course I would, as would many of you if you could be young again knowing what you know now.  Unfortunately, we can’t do that, so we need to make peace with the past and forgive ourselves.  But how do we do that? That’s the $64,000 question!

I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I have learned a few things along the way.  I’ve learned that beating myself up because I used to abuse my body and my loved ones hasn’t helped me to feel better.  On the contrary, my self-flagellation has only served to make me feel worse about myself and my life.  I’ve learned to ask myself whether or not a particular line of thinking is serving me.  If the answer is no, I do my best to consciously shift to a more productive thought pattern.

Finding the Lessons from Pain

One thing I’ve found helpful is to search for the lessons I can take from past experiences.  Gaining awareness and self-knowledge from painful memories can create alternate meaning beyond the regret and heartache. It can be helpful to either journal about the lesson or discuss it with a caring friend or family member (or a therapist).  It can also be fulfilling to share lessons learned with the young people in our lives, with the hope of potentially sparing them from pain.

The Perils of Self-Pity

It can be compelling to feel sorry for ourselves when we are going through challenging times.  The drive to ask “Why me?” is common, but it is not helpful.  When I had a serious recurrence of my digestive issues two months ago, I became angry, especially when I read that I didn’t fit the common profile for this disorder.  I considered myself unlucky and lamented my misfortune.  However, that train of thought only pushed me further into despair.  It quickly became obvious that I needed to pull myself from the abyss and face my challenges head on.

Blaming ourselves or feeling sorry for ourselves isn’t useful.  I’ve had to forgive myself for the ways in which I mistreated others and myself during my earlier years.  While it’s true that I may be physically ill today as a result of my misguided actions of yesteryear, I had no way of knowing I was causing myself lasting damage.  Sometimes the “whys” of given situations are immaterial.  The most important question we can ask is, “What now?”  This question puts us in the driver’s seat and propels us to take action to move us to a better and more empowered place.

We Are All Products of Our Pasts

We all have our “sins of the past,” but our past history and what we’ve learned from it is what has made us who we are today.  We are each a product of our past, sins and all.  I am happy to say that I like the person I am now, and I know that my current challenges will bring more lessons and only serve to make me stronger in the future.

I am gradually forgiving myself for the past and learning to live in the present moment, the space where all of our power exists.  All we have is the here and now, and what’s done is done.  Let’s learn what we can from the past and then let it go so that we can create a compelling and empowered future for ourselves!

Serenity, Courage, Wisdom…

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God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Woman Among Lit Votive CandlesThe passage above is called the Serenity Prayer. It is used frequently in Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step recovery programs.  It is simple yet extremely powerful.  I believe that if one fully embraces and lives in tune with the words of this prayer, he or she will live a much more peaceful and happy life.

I dedicate this week’s post to the discussion of the Serenity Prayer, as I feel it is integral to my healing project and the healing of all those who have things in their lives they wish weren’t “so.”  That pretty much describes all of us, now doesn’t it?

Can We Save Another?

There is a person I care about who is engaging in very self-destructive behavior and who is greatly endangering her health by her actions.  It is very difficult for me to see this person hurt herself the way she does, especially since she has experienced several periods of recovery that I’d hoped would be permanent.

Over the years, I’ve tried to help this person in a multitude of ways, and I continue to ruminate upon what I could do now to assist her in overcoming her internal demons.  In truth, I vacillate between wracking my brain to determine how I can help her and being so angry at her that I feel like just leaving her to the demise she seems so hell-bent upon bringing about.

The Serenity Prayer in Action

In recent days, I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to deciding what, if anything, I can do to help this person who is very dear to me.  It was during this time that I was reminded of the Serenity Prayer.  As I repeated the simple prayer internally, I was struck with a realization.  This person and her self-destructive behavior fall under the category of “things I cannot change.”

Sadly, we cannot change other people; we can only change ourselves and our reactions to other people. Deep down, I know this and have known it for many years.  However, I find it extremely difficult to accept the cold, hard truth that I do not have the power to change another human being.  Yet, if I am to achieve the level of inner peace which I so intently seek, I must accept this reality.

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

The most powerful part of the Serenity Prayer is the last part – “the wisdom to know the difference.” As someone who has long been a “control freak,” I tend to think I have the power to change anything in my life that I do not like.   This belief has led me to a great deal of pain and misery.

I’ve tried to “fix” a number of people over the years – friends, family members, significant others.  Yet the truth is that there is only one person I can control or fix, and that’s myself. While it’s true that we can influence others, they have to change themselves; we cannot do it for them.

Serenity and Courage

In my current situation, now that I have the wisdom to know that I cannot change this other person, I must turn to the other two parts of the Serenity Prayer.  I must seek and pray for the serenity to accept that I cannot change another, and I must have the courage to change the way in which I interact with this person. I must stop trying to change her and do my best to love her as she is.

Yes, I feel sad that she hurts herself the way she does, but in spite of that sad truth, she has many wonderful qualities that I can love and appreciate.  I must adopt a “glass half-full” attitude and appreciate what’s right instead of lamenting upon what’s wrong. I must release my anger toward this person for her behavior and at myself for not being able to help her.

The Power of the Human Spirit

If this person decides to change, I will be there for her as I have been in the past.  I will think positively and believe in her capacity to change, as I always have.  I genuinely do believe in the power of the human spirit and the capacity for people to change at any phase of life. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.  I would have given up on myself a long time ago, because God knows I have stumbled and struggled with the same issues many times over the years.  Yet I have not given up, and I will never give up, as long as there is breath in my body.

Just as I have not given up on myself, I will not give up on my self-destructive loved one. I may have to distance myself from her at times, as it is difficult to see someone you love hurt themselves, but I won’t lose hope that she can and will change.

Still Seeking Serenity…

I do not yet fully have the serenity to accept that I cannot change others who are harming themselves. Even as I write this, I find myself wondering if maybe this thing or that thing might help steer the person I mentioned onto a more life-affirming course.  But I am on my own path of healing, and part of my healing involves letting go of believing I can mold others to my will.

I need to focus on myself and my own path and heal the things in my own life that are off balance.  I can be an inspiration and an example for others, but I cannot make them change. I am reminded of a line from the transformational passage by Marianne Williamson, “My Deepest Fear…” (the full passage may be read here):

As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Hope and Healing

A large part of my blogging about my healing project is that I hope to help others to heal their lives as I heal mine.  I hope that the concepts I write about and the insights I reveal will produce resonance in my readers and help them on their own journeys. It has been liberating for me, a generally private person, to share intimate thoughts with the world (I say the world because you never know who will find you on the Internet).  Letting go of my intense worries of the scrutiny of others has helped me to come more into my own as a person and embrace the specialness of who I am.

I am sad, but I remain hopeful.  I move forward with courage to continue my healing project and to allow others to be on the paths of their choosing, whether positive or negative. I know I cannot chart the course for anyone besides myself, so I will continue to navigate my own “vessel” and let others do the same.  As I do so, I continue to pray for serenity, courage, and wisdom… each and every day.

Revisiting Loss & Letting Go

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White dove flying in the cloudsFifteen years ago, one of my closest friends committed suicide at the age of 32. The day on which I found out was absolutely and unequivocally the worst day of my life.  Time seemed to stop and I felt shocked, sad, and numb all at the same time. I cried and cried until there were no tears left in my body and I felt a depth of pain that I didn’t even know was possible to experience.

Time Heals All Wounds – Or Does It?

The tears and the sadness lasted for a long, long time, but I gradually moved past the depth of my pain and was increasingly able to take comfort in my happy memories of a person whom I felt blessed to have known.  Although I don’t know if one is ever completely “over” a loss of a loved one, I thought that I had mostly moved on after the passage of so much time.  As the old saying goes, “time heals all wounds.”  Or does it?  Surprisingly, I recently realized that I may still have quite a bit of grieving and healing to do over the loss of my dear friend.

When going through boxes in our storage unit in preparation for our recent move, I came across what I had labeled my “Joe box.” Shortly after his death, I packed away all of the mementos I had of Joe – cards, photos, etc. – because it was just too painful to have to look at them and realize that I would never see my friend again.  I have carried that box with me through a number of moves over the years, but I have never opened it. I didn’t think much about this all those times because I was also carrying countless other mementos and collections with me through my life journey.  It’s only now, when I’m making a concerted effort to downsize and become more of a “minimalist,” that I actually thought about going through my “Joe box.”  Yet, when it came down to it, I couldn’t bring myself to do it…

Exploring the Issues of Loss & Letting Go

My hesitance to revisit my mementos of Joe surprised me and I feel it bears some examination.  For this reason, I will explore the issues of loss and letting go in this post. We have all experienced a number of losses in our lives and they affect us in different ways.  Although death, particularly that which is tragic and unexpected, is likely the most painful of all losses, other types of losses also have a lasting impact on our psyches and our lives.  Included among these are divorce, romantic break-ups, deterioration of friendships, job loss, and financial loss.  Loss is an unavoidable part of life, yet some among us navigate its waters more smoothly than others.

Difficulty in Letting Go…

A friend once told me that I didn’t know how to let go of things and pointed out that I held on to people and things even when they were no longer useful or productive in my life. She was right… I would always try to remain friends with my boyfriends after we broke up and held on to childhood, school, and work friends even when we no longer had much in common.  I would keep cards, letters, articles, notebooks, and journals from throughout my lifespan such that these items filled countless boxes in my various homes and apartments.  My closets would be stuffed with clothes, some of which I hadn’t worn in years, on the off chance that I might want to wear them again one day.  The stuff continued to pile up and I didn’t even question it until recently.

My “Stuff” is Affecting My Health

When I look at my laundry list of health complaints in “You Can Heal Your Life” and examine the probable causes outlined by Louise Hay, I see strikingly similar statements over and over again:

  • Holding on to old ideas.
  • Fear of letting go.
  • A refusal to change.
  • Stuck in the past.
  • Fear of going forward.

In fact, the probable cause specified for ALL chronic diseases is “A refusal to change. Fear of the future.  Not feeling safe.” Since at least a few of my ailments may be classified as chronic, it appears that my inability to let go of the past and move forward courageously into the future is adversely affecting my health. As I’ve failed to get the message of my long-standing health issues, new ones have cropped up to capture my attention.

Clearing Out the Backlog

I didn’t really think I was stuck in the past or holding on to old ideas, but I when I was confronted with all of the stuff in our storage unit, I could no longer deny it! Of course, the physical backlog of “junk” that I’ve been carrying around for many years is not the only build up I need to address, but it’s a start!

Change can occur in any or a combination of the dimensions of our life experience:  physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. I have chosen to start with the physical in going through all of my stuff and letting go of that which I no longer need.  In doing so, I have begun to free up energy which had been tied up in holding on to so many items from the past. The storage unit is almost cleaned out and we will soon be relinquishing it completely.   This is a good first step for me in letting go of my past.

Making the Connection

Back to Joe and the issue of loss… I realize that I need to push myself to go through that box. I need to allow myself to do whatever grieving is left to do so I can move forward in my life.  Of course, I do not need to throw everything away or forget a person who meant so much to me.  I can and should always remember him, but I should remember him with joy and a light heart instead of sadness and angst.

Up until a few years ago, I would always feel intense sadness on the anniversary of Joe’s death.  I commented on this to a friend and she said that if I wanted to honor Joe, I should do it on his birthday, not on his “death day.” Wise words from a wise person!

Facing Things Instead of Avoiding Them

I believe it’s important to face things in life instead of avoid them. There are a number of issues from my past that I have been avoiding for years.  Some of them are so buried that I don’t even know or remember what they are, but as I progress with my healing project, I am uncovering different layers of my psyche and addressing whatever accompanying challenges arise. I didn’t realize that I still had grieving to do over Joe, but now that I have unearthed that reality, I must face it head on.

Celebrating a Wonderful Person & A Powerful Bond

I have decided to go through the “Joe box” on what would have been Joe’s 48th birthday this September.  I will celebrate his life and our relationship and remember the close bond that we once shared.  I will revisit the loss of someone so very dear to me, release the sadness of his absence from my present day life, and embrace the powerful truth that he will always live on in my heart and in my memory.

Closing Quote

“I joyfully move on to new levels of experience.  All is well.” – Louise Hay

Principles of Louise Hay – Part 3

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This post is a continuation of the key principles of Louise Hay’s philosophy.  This post outlines three more of the points which are the basis for “You Can Heal Your Life.”

“Resentment, criticism, and guilt are the most damaging patterns.”

There are many thought patterns that can be harmful to us, especially if we engage in them on a regular basis.   However, some patterns are more harmful than others, and Louise Hay contends that resentment, criticism, and guilt are the most damaging patterns of all.  Upon reflection, I would have to agree with her.  Let’s look at these patterns one by one, along with some examples of each, to drive the point home.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines resentment as follows:

a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury

It is normal to notice when we are wronged and to be upset by it.  But when we continue to rehash a bad situation and ruminate upon how unfair or wrong it was, it can be harmful to our sense of well-being, as well as our health.   There is a man I know who felt he was treated unfairly at work and had filed a grievance against his employer.  Even several years later, one could not have a conversation with him without the topic of his grievance coming up.  Not only did this repel others from desiring to be in his company, I’m sure it also destroyed his inner peace and happiness.  This is just one example of the harmful effects of resentment.

When one is either the target or the source of criticism, it is damaging.  Yet the most detrimental form of criticism is when it is self-directed.  I can speak of this from extensive personal experience.  I used to be extremely critical toward myself.  I had a running tape inside my head of all of the ways in which I was deficient and didn’t measure up to my expectations.  At times my self-criticism would be voiced, but the verbal complaints paled in comparison to the negative voice which lived inside of my head.  I am convinced that the many health complaints which I have today were created by means of my intense criticism of all facets of my being – my appearance, my career pursuits, my interactions with others, you name it… I am gradually turning this around and the negative tape is no longer the constant presence it once was.   As I emerge from the chasm that was my self-criticism, I gain an ever increasing amount of joy, peace, and happiness.  And interestingly enough, as I criticize myself less often, others are less prone to denigrate me as well.  I am also less prone to deriding others.  Win, win!

As the old saying goes, guilt is a wasted emotion.  It doesn’t make anyone feel better, and it cannot do anything to change a given situation.  It is also often misplaced and experienced by people who have nothing to feel guilty about in the first place!  The famous radio talk show host, Dr. Laura, says that guilt is only merited if one has truly done something wrong.  Even then, the guilt should only serve to motivate the individual to do whatever he or she can do to make amends to those they have wronged.  If you have done all you can to make things right, then let the guilt go.  I once had a seminar leader who stated, “Let it go; it’s killing you!”  He was referring to the ongoing guilt and regret which we experience about things that are past and cannot be changed.

If you have done something wrong, apologize, make amends, do what you can to make up for your infractions.  Don’t ruminate in wasted feelings of guilt.  If you have not done anything wrong, do whatever you need to do to release your guilt.  As Louise Hay says, “Your sentence is now over, so let yourself out of prison.”

“Releasing resentment will dissolve even cancer.”

It is Louise Hay’s contention that cancer is caused by deep resentment held for a long time until it literally eats away at the body.  As she states on page 169 of “You Can Heal Your Life,” those who develop cancer often experienced something in childhood which destroyed their sense of trust and led them to find it difficult to develop and maintain long-term, meaningful relationships.   These individuals also have a tendency to feel hopeless and helpless and to be highly self-critical.   A big key toward healing cancer is for the person to release their resentment toward the past and those who hurt them and to learn to love and accept themselves.

I realize that the above paragraph may be difficult to take in and accept.  I am reminded of the 12-step group maxim, “Take what you like and leave the rest.”  If the idea that cancer is caused by resentment seems implausible to you, perhaps this is a concept from Louise Hay that you will choose to leave.  However, as I wrote about under the previous key, resentment can and does cause a lot of damage in those who harbor it, and we would all benefit tremendously from releasing any resentment we hold, particularly resentment of a deep and long-standing nature.  So instead of thinking about dissolving cancer by releasing resentment, why not consider the increased sense of well-being or lightheartedness which you could gain by letting go of a grudge that you hold.

“We must release the past and forgive everyone.”

When we are angry at others and hold grudges, it hurts us more than it hurts the other person.  Think about it… They are off living their lives while we are stewing and seething over how they have wronged us.   Often the person we choose not to forgive is not even in our lives any longer; they may even be deceased.  Yet we hold on to our anger and resentment because we feel justified in doing so.

You may have heard of the expression, “He would rather be right than happy.”  So many people are what might be called “right fighters.”  They are indignant about their position and swear that they are right in their assertions.  They may even BE right, yet that’s not what’s most important.  What’s most important is, are they happy?  Do they have peace of mind?  Are they enjoying their lives, or are they so wrapped up in their being right and someone else being wrong that all of the enjoyment has slipped out of living?

Forgiving someone for what they have done does not mean that you are saying what they did was okay.  Forgiveness is more about YOU than it is about the other person.  When you forgive someone, you are giving yourself permission to release the past and move on with your life.  If all or most of your energy is wrapped up in being angry at someone who hurt you, where is the energy for creating a life you love?

I remember reading a story about a woman who was raped.  Of course, rape is one of the most horrific atrocities which a human being can endure.  There is a temptation to want to crawl up and retreat from life, to go into a sort of cocoon and hide from life.  Yet this particular woman was extremely strong.  I don’t remember her exact words, but her sentiment has stuck with me.  She expressed that although the monster who raped her subjected her to pain and indignity for an hour, she wasn’t going to give him the power to take any more from her than he had already taken.  She decided to let go of the experience (I would imagine this wasn’t immediate and took some time) and embrace the rest of her life with strength, joy and conviction.  Her story was truly empowering to read!

One of the best ways to release the past is to look for lessons from your experiences.  It is a good practice to always ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?” or “How has this experience shaped me as a person? How am I a better person as a result of this challenge?”  We all go through difficult times, some of us more than others.  There are many times when life doesn’t feel fair, but once something has happened, we can’t turn back the clock and change it.

I will end this entry with a wonderful quote from Louise Hay – food for thought until my next post…

“The point of power is always in the present moment. The past is over and done and has no power over me. I can begin to be free in this moment. Today’s thoughts create my future. I am in charge. I now take my own power back. I am safe and I am free.”