We crave the sense of order it brings.
We crave the spaciousness created by a few, carefully chosen objects on a shelf (versus a jumble of items).
We crave the brain-space we liberate when we make a decision, about what to keep, and of what to let go.
A friend is busy tackling her basement. She’s been posting her progress on Facebook and her descriptions are vivid: garbage bags full of bedding and clothes she no longer needs; the back of her Suburban filled with boxes of books and pieces of furniture. She is ecstatic about the now spacious shelves; the relief of having organized and labeled the contents of remaining bins; the now empty boxes to be flattened and recycled.
Her excitement and energy is contagious. I am ready to jump out of my chair and go directly to organize something, anything, so I too can acquire that sense of order and accomplishment.
Spring also presents the perfect opportunity to de-clutter our spirit.
I’ve discovered the Spring season is a great time to throw open the doors and windows, clean out the cobwebs, and toss out the piles of useless ruminations I’ve allowed to build up in my mind. I like to use the days between the first day of Spring and Easter Sunday as a time for purging my mind and soul of accumulated icky gunk.
Forgiveness is an effective de-cluttering strategy.
Forgiveness is a way to put our spirit, our internal house, in order. It is as productive as cleaning out the basement or the garage. Consider this: Every time we hold on to a grudge, or continue to think about how we were wronged, we are like a hoarder trudging through our maze of stuff.
Research shows holding on to all that “stuff” creates stress and compromises our health. When we think about, and continue to dwell, on a wrong someone did to us, we focus on feelings of anger and hurt. Each time we tap into this line of thinking and bring up these emotions, our fight-or-flight system is aroused. Our heart beats faster, our blood pressure goes up; and ultimately, the more damage we do to our bodies.
So, it isn’t enough to simply take boxes of stuff to Goodwill and begin a new bathing-suit-ready fitness regime of eating well and exercising, if we are simply going to jack up our blood pressure and raise our cortisol levels every time we think about how we’ve been wronged. We may have a beautifully cleaned and organized house and still feel absolutely terrible inside.
Holding onto the idea we’ve been wronged.
I turned to the book, Forgive for Good, by author Frederick Luskin who also is the Director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project and Professor of Psychology, for some suggestions on how to use this season most effectively. As Mr. Luskin points out, when we hold on to the idea we’ve been wronged several things continue to happen for us:
- We fail to reconcile the reality life is unfair and something happened that we did not want to have happen. (For example: I still after all these years, can’t believe my husband asked for a divorce; what a jackass, etc.)
- We take exaggerated personal offense. (For example: I must be a terrible wife; an awful person, etc.)
- We blame the offender for how we are feeling, even now. (For example: I am angry and bitter, years later and it is all because of that jackass, etc.)
- We create a grievance story we are reluctant to let go of. (For example: Can you believe how I was wronged? Let me tell you how I was wronged and how I will never be happy, etc.)
The What of Forgiveness.
Forgiveness isn’t about glossing over or minimizing our feelings; condoning unkindness; excusing poor behavior; or even necessarily reconciling with the person who wronged us; forgiveness, pure and simple, is letting go of a grudge. Instead, the entire point of forgiveness is to figure out a way to let go; to loosen the hold the past has on us so we can enjoy our NOW with the most complete state of joy we can in the moment. The question is HOW?
Sit down and write it out. Writing is a hugely effective way to corral and organize all those thoughts roaming around in your brain. This style writing doesn’t have to be full of beautifully constructed sentences; you won’t be turning it into a teacher, no one else is going to see what you’ve written, so let the words out.
Here is how I like to organize my writing, and you are welcome to try it out for yourself.
Step One: The Complaints – What Makes the Issue Feel so Big and Unwieldy
- Describe in detail the injury, offense, or the wrong-doing done to you.
- Explain exactly what you are blaming him, her, or them for.
- Describe in detail how you were affected by this action at the time – and don’t hold back on the complaints abound the level of hurt you felt, the outrage, etc.; this is the time to get it out of your system.
- Explain how you continue to be hurt by what was done.
- Detail what you wish the other person would have done instead and why.
Now, comes the tricky part:
Step Two: The Lessons and Creating Something New
- What would I want this pain to turn into for me?
- What is the lesson can I learn from this experience?
- What is the gift I received as a result of this experience?
- How have I been letting this situation rob me of my joy?
- What can I do to get my joy back; what is within my control?
- Take a moment to take an inventory of all the good things in your life (in spite of this situation, or as a result of this situation).
- End your writing with a clear statement of forgiveness and understanding.
And the very final set of steps.
Step Three: The Commitment to Letting Go
- Create a line for you to cross on the floor – lay down a piece of string, a rope, or a belt, for example, anything to create a demarcation.
- Read what you’ve written out loud to yourself (or to a trusted friend as a witness – not the person you are writing about).
- Decide you will forgive from this moment forward.
- Commit to your decision by stepping across the line.
- Once you have crossed over the line, take a deep breath and say, “I now live in a state of forgiveness.”
What I find most useful about this process is this: when I notice myself revisiting a topic I’ve determined to let go, I am now able to gently remind myself, and say, “Remember, that person or event has been forgiven.” And then I take a huge breath of fresh air and enjoy the spaciousness of a good Spring Cleaning.