by Patricia Spadaro
When the way comes to an end, then change—
having changed, you pass through.
—the I Ching
How often do you regret something that happened to you in the past? Whether it’s a bitter breakup, a surprise layoff, or words we regret having said (or not said), the consequences of the past are already here. Constantly wishing we could magically change the past only keeps us stuck, and brings us a lot of pain to boot.
We’ve heard it many times before from sages, psychologists, and even our friends—we will never find peace by reliving the past. Why, then, is it so hard to let go of the past and release regrets? Why can’t we forgive and move on more quickly? One reason is that we harbor misconceptions about why endings come into our life, what forgiveness is, and what happens when we forgive.
The picture many of us have in our heads is that forgiveness is for weaklings. We think that forgiving is giving in to a bully who has no business pushing us around. We may also believe that by forgiving, we condone the perpetrator’s harmful behavior and give him or her the green light to keep acting that way. Those are no more than myths.
The Truth about Forgiveness
Forgiveness does not require that you approve of another’s outrageous behavior or foolishly subject yourself to it again. You can forgive and still take steps to protect yourself. You can forgive and still be clear about what you will not accept in your life from now on.
Another tricky misconception that may be keeping you stuck is the belief that forgiveness only benefits the person who hurt us. By forgiving, you may very well free others to have a second chance, but what matters much more is this profound truth: forgiving others frees you. Why? Because attention is energy. Whenever you place your attention on another person or thing, you are creating a flow of energy between the two of you—an energy bond that is fed by your attention. By harboring bitterness, resentment, or even a desire for revenge, we remain mentally and emotionally invested in what happened. Paradoxically, that only keeps us in relationship with—connected with—the very people we want to say goodbye to.
When you understand that energy equation, it’s easy to see that you automatically tie yourself to anyone you continue to hate, resent, or be angry with. You may think that rancor is the right response when you want to distance yourself from others, but at energetic levels your bitterness binds you to them. It only strengthens the connection.
3 Tips for Honoring Endings and Moving On
If you can’t seem to let go of an incident from the past, these three tips can help you move on more quickly. As you put them into action in your life, remember this: by learning to release regrets, you are honoring yourself. By forgiving, you are affirming that you are greater than what others think of you or do to you.
• Write a new story. “He hurt me, she betrayed me, he cheated me”—those are all snapshots of what may have happened at one moment in time. By retelling and reliving that story, we are telling ourselves and the world that what happened during one segment of our lives is the whole story of our lives. But the story of what happened to you, or what you did to someone else, at one moment in time does not have to become your life story. You always have the power to create a new story—one where your role is not that of victim, one where you honor yourself. When you catch yourself talking about or dwelling on past events, stop and ask yourself: What new choices do I commit to making right now that will give the next chapter of my life story a new, uplifting turn?
• See endings as graduations. Many endings in our lives are really promotions, although it may not feel that way at first. When we have outgrown a situation, a job, or a relationship, life has a way of propelling us out of that environment to more fertile ground for our own good. When you are tempted to fall into a funk or feel sorry for yourself because of what seems like a bad ending, ask yourself: Why is life beckoning me to move on? How will I benefit from a change of scene?
• Create your own ritual of release. One of the most effective ways to let go, once and for all, is to create a physical ritual of release. For instance, you can hold a shell or stone, mentally pour your feelings about a past incident into it, and then hurl it into a stream or off the side of the mountain. Or you can write down your feelings on paper along with a simple statement of surrender asking for help in letting go and finding peace. Then safely burn the letter, watching it and the issue dissipate in smoke. Let those ashes remind you of the phoenix, who at the end of its life ignites its nest and is consumed by the fire. From the ashes of its own ending, a new phoenix emerges. Know that you, too, have the phoenix inside of you.
Adapted from Patricia Spadaro’s new book, Honor Yourself: The Inner Art of Giving and Receiving, which explores how to get beyond the myths about giving and receiving to more balanced, authentic living with wisdom from around the world.
Copyright © 2009 Patricia Spadaro
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