Saturday, June 03, 2006

Forgiveness n. 1: compassionate feelings...

Mail Art from Lore Caldwell

n 1: compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive 2: the act of excusing a mistake or offense [syn: pardon]
Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University

In the last blog entry, I included the above word and definition as being one of those good fairy-god-mother type words that you might need on those long dark nights. While giving this word some thought, an art therapist friend of mine sent me a link to Dr. Fred Luskin's webpage on forgiveness Learning To Forgive.

Dr. Fred Luskin, of the Stanford Medical Center, served as Co-Director of the Stanford-Northern Ireland HOPE Project, working with victims of political violence and is a Senior Fellow at the Stanford Center on Conflict and Negotiation and a Research Associate at the Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention.

He believes that although discussion of forgiveness used to be the private realm of religion and international politics, people are now willing to discuss forgiveness and its effects on psychological and emotional well-being.

Dr. Luskin defines forgiveness as "giving up all hope for a better past." If we are locked in regret over the past, we have less energy available to live our life right now and we become very guarded and defended and even helpless. This residual bitterness from what remains un-forgiven influences our capacity for happiness in the present.

Forgiveness allows us a fresh start. Whether it's for something really big or something small, it's like a rain coming down on a dusty, parched environment. It clears the air, settles the dust, and helps things grow. At some point, we can say that this awful thing happened, it hurt a lot, yet it's not going to take over our lives. Dr. Luskin believes that that's the choice that's always available. And that's what his writing and interviews are about, offering us that choice. He believes we need more choices about how to respond to difficult situations. He doesn't tell us what choices to make, he just encourages us to add forgiveness, kindness, compassion, and grace to our repertoire. Without having this option, we can easily get stuck in bitterness and revenge.

His website has a list of audio links, so I went to Insight Meditation Group Dharma Talk- 3/02 and listened to the little dharma talk I found there, while I worked on a photoshop collage of forgiveness.

Dr. Luskin also has Nine Steps to Forgiveness from "Forgive for Good" (which I find can be translated into art tasksquite easily. See what I've done in parenthasise below)

1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.
(Create an artistic representation about what in the situation is not ok. Share this art with a couple of your art buddies.)

2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else. (Create a representation of yourself feeling better, and hold the intention to allow that to happen.)

3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.” (Take the representation in #2 and put it into a new environment.)

4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years –ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings. (Try creating a representation of yourself in your new environment as seen from a distance.)

5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response. (Create a little book of favorite images, things that reduce stress when you look at them.)

6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life , that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them. (Create a representation of your "unenforceable rules" and set them aside. At some point you may release them, alter them, or transform them in some way. Make them a part of a new work of art.)

7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want. (Create a piece that illustrates what you want. Put yourself in the picture.)

8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.
(Create a piece which honors some aspect of the good things in your life.)

9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive. (Create a self portrait as the heroic person you really are.)

Dr. Luskin concludes:
The practice of forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt depression and stress and leads to greater feelings of hope, peace, compassion and self confidence. Practicing forgiveness leads to healthy relationships as well as physical health. It also influences our attitude which opens the heart to kindness, beauty, and love.

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