That blog spoke about the need to let go of anger and bitterness because nursing old hurts and grievances reverberates negatively within us and ultimately hurts us far more than the original hurt perpetrated against us.
This week I want to talk about forgiveness again but this time a different aspect – forgiving yourself.
We all have instances in our lives where we wish we had said or done something at a particular time but, for whatever reason, we did not. The guilt associated with missed opportunities particularly involving loved ones who are no longer here can be sharp. We know if they were here they would tell us not to worry about it and yet we still beat ourselves up.
I am not a person who generally holds grudges or nurses bad feelings. I am quick to forgive and yet I do not tend to offer myself the same compassion for my own misdemeanours and transgressions.
This is because I hold myself to impossibly high standards. I always expect to excel and should I fall short, I berate myself about it:- I’m not good enough, I didn’t work hard enough etc.,
The trouble is I always reach for the stars and because I am only human, I am consequently setting myself up to fail more often than not. Why is it I always think I can cram so many things into a limited number of hours and wind up feeling tired and dispirited when I haven’t ticked everything off my stuff to do list for instance? Sound familiar?
So I have decided to make a concerted effort not to be so hard on myself in the future, to be a little bit more compassionate and kind to myself as well as to others. We all fail and make mistakes. It’s how we learn to become better people.
Forgiving myself for such mistakes is a small step but an important one.
We have all been in situations were people have treated us harshly. Sometimes we deserved it. Sometimes we didn’t. It is only natural that we are going to react defensively when we perceive someone is attacking us, even if it is only with words. Our heart rate increases, our blood pressure goes up and anger kicks in.
But this is not a state of mind or body we should hang on to. Holding on to old hurts, nursing those grievances for weeks, months or even years, is always going to hurt us more than it will ever hurt the perpetrators of the original hurt.
We cannot all exhibit saintliness and constantly react well to bad situations but the art of moving on quickly is the key to our own health and happiness. Nurturing anger, jealousy or hate will only reverberate negatively within us. Make peace with your anger and let it go. Try to understand that the person or people who have done you wrong were probably hurting themselves, lashing out at whatever was in front of them, weighed down by their own troubles. Few people in the world are truly evil. Most have simply had the odds stacked against them since birth and are overburdened by the memories of traumas we could not imagine unless we walked in their shoes.
Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.
A few years ago my Dad put up a bird house in the garden. It had a little front step and a beautiful roof made of twigs and I couldn’t imagine how any prospective little bird parents could not fall in love with it and move in.
Sadly, the years went by and although the little bird house got several visits from curious birds sticking their heads inside they ultimately decided it wasn’t for them. Perhaps it was a problem with the neighbourhood – too close to the trellis and thus vulnerable from attack from cats or too close to the trees. Whatever the reason, the little bird house remained vacant and available to let.
Over the years it started to look a little weathered and worn but that just added to its character. It still had a good roof and was water tight. I still lived in hope that one spring the right little bird family would move in.
That was until this spring. I have mentioned the doves that frequent my garden in previous posts (you may recall their forlorn attempt to nest in the satellite dish). Well, they returned and took an interest in my little bird house. This despite the fact they could barely get their heads inside the entrance.
I watched over a fateful weekend as they carefully began to deconstruct my little bird house. The roof took the worst as they dismantled it twig by twig and carefully carried these up into one of my trees to build their nest. I could only watch from the house and smile as they worked so hard to tear apart one house to build another better suited to their needs (perhaps they had been watching one of those home makeover shows on tv).
Once they were done my pretty little bird house was not so pretty anymore. It is what they would call in the property trade a doer-uper. I did get a little blue tit come to investigate. He seemed to find great delight in hopping through the front door and exiting via the roof. Needless to say, he did not move his family in.
Ultimately, the little bird house served its purpose just not in the way I intended.
The moral of this tale? As much as we want something to be a certain way in life, it is not always within our control to make it happen. Sometimes we just have to accept things are the way they are.
Perfection is hard to attain and impossible to sustain so for those who pursue it we are constantly setting ourselves up for failure. What is it about giving ourselves permission to be less than perfect that we struggle with? Is it the fear of being judged by others? That niggling doubt that everyone is better than us so we must therefore try harder?
Being a perfectionist is exhausting. You are caught in a never ending loop of striving to achieve whether it be the perfect outfit, the perfect house, holiday or job. Take your pick. A perfectionist can drive themselves nuts arranging a bunch of flowers quickly forgetting the beauty of the individual blooms, focusing only on their own inability to get the flowers to look ‘just right’. Chances are anyone visiting would see the flowers and think how wonderful they looked but our own perception is forever skewed by the battle we had arranging them. We beat ourselves up for not achieving our own ridiculously high standards.
The moments when perfection is attained are so brief that the pleasure we derive from them is fleeting. How much better it would be if we could learn to find harmony and beauty in the less than perfect. It’s okay to strive for perfection but how much better it would be to take pleasure in something even if it falls a little short.
Perfectionists would be wise to study the Japanese tradition of Wabi Sabi – the art of appreciating beauty in an imperfect world. It embraces three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect (Richard Powell – Wabi Sabi Simple).
The much loved but chipped vase is wabi sabi. The plant that refuses to be symmetrical is wabi sabi. You and I are wabi sabi.
So instead of trying to make everything bend to our will, propagating our own particular brand of perfectionism why not step beyond the confines of the perfect. Life is wabi sabi and always will be so we may as well get used to it. How much easier it would be to live in harmony with an imperfect world by appreciating it for what it is instead of disliking it for what it isn’t and never will be.
It is his landscapes I particularly enjoy. The country scenes have a rustic charm about them which brings the subject to life. Whilst not over-romanticising the scenes, he nevertheless captures their bucolic attraction. I am particularly drawn to his landscape work because it covers a part of the countryside that I am familiar with and so there is an added bonus to recognising a little of what you see, some of it little changed from his time.
It got me thinking about how we are influenced by the surroundings in which we grow up beyond the family home itself. For those of us lucky enough to have had a happy childhood the influence of those formative years will stay with us forever. A fond remembrance of the places of our childhood indicates a time we are glad to revisit in our minds without hesitation. But can the memory really be trusted?
All those warm and happy feelings have inevitably added extra layers to our memories, colouring them more beautifully because they have such a cherished place in our hearts. Our fondness has taken the original memory and made it larger, brighter, better. Is it possible that reality could ever have lived up to that?
It is because of the disconnect between our memories and the reality that we should always pay heed to the sage advice to “never go back”. Why suffer disappointment and the trampling of reality over your memories when they can continue to exist without disturbance in the realms of your mind?
The struggles of everyday life can make looking back with nostalgia to earlier times attractive. But we should not forget what may have been halcyon days for us were someone else’s tough time. When I happened to remark on my fondness for my home village to a friend I grew up with they looked astonished and told me how they couldn’t wait to leave and never looked back. It made me realise that whilst I found the familiarity of a small community comforting, they found it suffocating.
Ultimately we all experience life through the prism of our own memories and experiences. It is why we should never rush to judgment on someone else. We are looking at their actions through our own prism not theirs. Their experiences might have been very different to ours, their perception at odds with our own. As the saying goes ‘Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.’ Sound advice indeed.