Leonard Bernstein’s operetta, “Candide,” is based on a 1759 novella of the same name by Voltaire. The story line is basically about how to live in a world full of injustice, wars, disease, greed, sadness and loss. However, it ends on a hopeful note of new beginnings in a new world for the hero Candide and his bride Cunegonde. The operetta climaxes with a hopeful finale where the ensemble and choir gloriously sing, “We’ll do the best we know. We’ll build our house and chop our wood. And make our garden grow.”
In this new year, I would like to offer this reflection to help all of us who are caregivers assess our “forgiveness practice.” Hopefully, this will enable us to move forward into 2018 unfettered by last year’s hurts, angers, grudges and resentments. I think “forgiveness” is a process of cultivation, similar to making a garden grow.
“Forgiveness is liberating! How we take care of each other is by cultivating our forgiveness,” writes Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a perfect model for the power of forgiveness. In the mid 1990’s, he helped heal his country of South Africa through the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “The ability to forgive is innate but, like any natural talent, it is perfected by practice,” Tutu notes in The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World.
Preparing the Soil and the Soul
Choosing to forgive is for your health and well-being. It is something you need to do for you. It’s in your best interest. Mahatma Gandhi put it so well when he noted, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Just as with cultivating any garden, there is a process to forgiveness. We begin with what I call “The Active Work Phase – Preparing the Soil and the Soul.” We first need to free ourselves to a new way of feeling. We start the process by forgiving ourselves for not feeling very forgiving at times. We need to reflect on negative emotions like anger, hatred, and resentment, and bring these to light. Then we proceed to make the decision to choose to rout out these emotions from our heart, just as we would pull the weeds and dig out stones from the soil. Weeding out the negative is critical. Holding a grudge affects me, not the one who has “hurt” me. To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest.
We till the soil with a new way of thinking about the person who hurt us. We attempt to better understand and put into context what motivated or prompted the injurer, and try to ascertain what was behind the actions or words. Perhaps we would have reacted similarly if faced with the same situation.
Choosing which flowers and plants will grow in our garden is usually the next phase after preparing the soil. Choosing to forgive the person who offended is difficult. The offender may never admit they harmed you. Our loved ones can put unreasonable demands on us at times. Family members can be more a hindrance at times than a help to our caregiving. Your loved one may be at the stage in their disease where they exhibit little impulse control because their brain has been affected in the area that regulates this. You lose your temper when your once gentle mother now swears at you and hits you while you desperately coax her to take a shower. You may be caring for a critical parent or spouse who used to disparage you, or you may be an adult who was abused by your parent when you were a child. If you struggle with this trauma, counseling might help you heal from the abuse.
Enjoying the Fruits and Blooms
If we are wrapped up in hurt and resentment, we will likely pay dearly in loss of energy, depression, even health problems. The Mayo Clinic lists the “fruits” or benefits of forgiveness as:
- Improved mental health;
- Less anxiety, stress, hostility;
- Lower blood pressure;
- Fewer symptoms of depression;
- A stronger immune system;
- Improved heart health;
- Improved self-esteem;
- Inner peace.
Forgiveness releases the control and power the offending person and situation has had in your life. As Archbishop Tutu put it, “Forgiveness is liberating!”
Meditation on Forgiving People Whom We Have Hurt
If you are not quite ready yet to move forward with forgiving yourself or your offender, please take a few more minutes to read through this reflection. Find a quiet spot where you will not be disturbed for about twenty minutes. Try to create an atmosphere that is relaxing and peaceful.
Gently close your eyes and focus your awareness on your breathing. With each breath, go deeper and deeper inside yourself. Experience the silence, peace and timelessness that lies within you. Take as long as you wish to savor what you are experiencing.
Recall a time when you were the forgiven one and how you felt. It may have been when you were speeding on the highway and were stopped by the police or sheriff. He quietly spoke about the consequences of speeding but said he would waive the fine this time. He wished you a pleasant journey and took off without writing a citation. With this example in mind, you desire to give the gift of forgiveness.
As you scan over your life, become aware of one or more persons whom you met along your life’s journey and that you have been a source of their pain. It may have been through betrayal, words said in anger, withholding affection, being self-centered, or any other thoughts of affliction that come to mind. Become aware of whether it is keeping you from living your life fully.
Gently welcome the pain and suffering you now experience. It comes from knowing that you have been the source of another person’s pain. Stay in touch with your tension and pain. As you do so, you have a flashback of the precise time, place, and the person. Allow your pain to speak to the person. You can feel this outpouring coming from your heart. Trust yourself to share without any judgment, blame, rationalization, or defensiveness. As you unload this burden that you have silently carried, feel the tension disappear. It is replaced by a feeling of oneness, unity, wholeness, and union.
Take a few minutes to relish what you are experiencing, knowing that you can always return to this space. Gradually become aware of the space around you: the room, your furnishings, your clothing, your breathing, and the emerging thoughts. Reflect on what you have learned about yourself through this experience. Do you feel propelled to take further action? If you do, visualize the process that will enable you to bring it to fruition. It is a work in process and will be completed in its time. Take a few minutes now to write out your reflections.
In Part Two, I will continue with more reflections on this process of cultivating forgiveness: forgiving ourselves, and forgiving the people who caused us pain. Each reflection is an opportunity to reclaim the power over our lives, our dignity, and integrity. May you begin what it takes to make the garden of your soul grow and bloom!
I wish you peace, patience, joy and compassion in your caregiving today and every day!
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Many thanks to my friend and mentor, Merle Stern, for composing this meditation on forgiveness; and to my friend, Priscilla Klatt Dunning for information about Archbishop Tutu’s book.
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For more information on the power and process of forgiveness, check out Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s and his daughter Mpho Tutu’s book, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and our World,2014, Harper/Collins Publishers.
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Check out the website: www.projectforgiveness.org.
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To hear “Make Our Garden Grow,” the finale of the operetta “Candide,” with Paul Grove as Candide and Kristin Chenowith as Cunegonde, go here: https://youtu.be/nlVD-jrq_Yk.