Forgiveness

Susann Hayden explores the idea that forgiveness may imply a lack of understanding that all things in life are working to bring us to a higher purpose, a concept featured in motivational coach Jackie Woodside’s article, “Forgiveness: A New Paradigm, A New Possibility for Transcendent Living”

For a while now, the concept of forgiveness has troubled me.

A few years ago, I was building my way up a happy career ladder when I decided to take a risk on an entrepreneurial opportunity in a new industry. Looking back, I wanted to tell myself that I should have waited to build more solid foundations financially and mentally before taking on such a huge risk to my freedom and standing in the world. Certainly, after five years when the business had sucked hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings and earnings down its sinkhole, and my once fun and synergistic partnership resembled more of a grim, let’s-just-get-through-this kind of ordeal, I worried I had been rash and unwise. While transitioning out of that initial mess took another year – where my partner and I had to part with our homes, our business equipment, and our operation – I developed a bitterness, cynicism, and rage that surprised me. I found it really difficult to let go of this one. I found it impossible to forgive.

In some dark moments, I blamed my partner and he blamed me. With time, we gained enough perspective to honor having come a long way together on a ridiculously tortured path; we resigned ourselves to the conclusion that it just wasn’t far enough given all the other unknowns and pressures of our industry. But, at least we finally felt able to move forward. We were having trouble doing it together, though; we were in danger of losing each other after everything else. That’s what made me decide to solve the forgiveness problem, once and for all.

In the book Forgiveness: Heart-Healing Stories for the Stubborn & Hard Headed, a chapter written by Jackie Woodside, a professional speaker and motivational coach, resonated with me. The chapter didn’t so much illustrate a story, but more a transformation in thinking about the concept of forgiveness. In “Forgiveness: A New Paradigm, A New Possibility for Transcendent Living”, Woodside asserts that she takes issue with the idea of forgiveness as it implies a lack of understanding that all things in life are working to bring us to a higher purpose. At the very least, they are all necessary to shape us into the person we become, which is the total package we must embrace, since it is the reality of ourselves that needs acceptance and love – not a person that wronged us or who we have wronged.

Forgiving can perpetuate a sense of victim consciousness rather than a consciousness of acceptance of the spiritual tenant that all things are working together for [the] highest good. Yes, all things, even those things that we have determined to be inappropriate or hurtful. We hear all the time that the quality of our life depends not on what happens to us, but on what we make of what happens to us…. Your experience of life has less to do with what happens TO YOU and more about what happens WITHIN YOU. -Jackie Woodside

Thinking more about where I have been trapped with the idea of forgiveness is the constant need to ask “Why” something is happening. As an objective critical thinker, ahem, I can always see where I or someone else did something wrong. It’s a horribly unjust and unkind occupation to criticize a partner or friend who is with you in a mystifying situation. How many times in life are we relieved or helped up by someone we caused to fall down beside us? Additionally, seeking some imagined exemplar of behavior in ourselves as we navigate a completely foreign experience is futile and soul crushing. How far will we ever get if we constantly look to shore up our own and others’ weaknesses to the point of self-annihilation and total isolation? How will we ever find the courage to try something enlightening? How can we find the tenacity to appreciate the greater good of every experience?

Criticizing fellow travelers in a leaky lifeboat is simply a waste of time and effort, and it shows bad form. Even if they punched holes in the raft with a very big pair of scissors, you are still sitting in it with them. It’s their boat. They didn’t kidnap you. They didn’t hold a gun to your head. They said, “How about we take a little trip and see what happens? I think we can make it to the other side and have a fabulous picnic.” If you didn’t check the picnic basket, check the boat for leaks, check your companions for sharp objects, then haven’t you, by proxy, agreed that you are reasonably sure they can sail you to shore? And, aren’t you entrusting them to do their best to get you there? There is no lesson in a hindsight view of what dreadful leaders people can be when in the middle of shark infested waters. That is, I am sure, the opposite of grace under pressure, good sportsmanship, or good personal skills. It’s the Bill Clinton exercise of personal responsibility: the willfully obtuse justification. And it is an excellent way to miss the next good ship lollipop. Focusing on forgiveness is choosing to live in the past. It is a fear of the reality of something that has already happened; it is an insidious form of denial.

When I feel the need to “forgive” someone else, I am missing the opportunity to figure out the lesson I need to learn. Yes, I have whined through some of these last years, “I don’t want to learn any more lessons. I want to be comfortable and dumb.” Other times, I have tortured myself with the thought that I must have done some seriously bad stuff in my life to get this kind of karma punch, over and over again. But, when I look at the title of the aforementioned book again, Forgiveness… for the Stubborn & Hard Headed, I think I may just see the message. After all, isn’t being hard headed just a way of holding on to being right instead of being fully engaged in…being? And, underlying that, isn’t stubbornness really just the base fear of letting go of an outdated prism of experience that keeps us imprisoned inside an illusion of security? Does any of that have to do with my partner, anyone, or anything else?

Adapt or die. It is one of my favorite phrases. And, yet, there I sat, feeling despondent and reading books about forgiving someone else for his shortcomings. Et tu, Brute?

Exchanging forgiveness for empowerment reconnects us to the self-assurance of childhood. As a kid, I would wake up to the start of a long summer day with only myself to amuse and the whole neighborhood to prospect. I would leap out of bed and head out to explore, create, and entertain myself. I had a huge mental list of all the places and activities I could enjoy and a free floating plan of where to start; I was also open to whatever found me along the way. The ultimate design was discovery and engagement. Sometimes, I shared these days with accomplices. Other times, I spent the whole afternoon just lying in the grass with my arm flung across the neck of my best friend: a tremendous, solid black German Shepherd named Chief. As an adult, relearning to approach dreams with a beginner’s mind, working and adapting my own plan, and learning to master every part of the boat by myself while listening hard for my own counsel – is ultimately, the course I am plotting. If I am lucky enough to have a partner who wants to come along, I have to alter my course to be a shared one – with value for all. Maybe that’s what “Take no prisoners” should mean.

An appropriate level of discomfort is the sweet spot. When did the racing pulse and queasy feeling of trying something new and possibly – probably – inviting redirection become so loathsome? Where would Ben Franklin be if he was puffing disdain for the kite maker? Why would it bother anyone for Einstein to assert that perhaps none of his theories may be true since they were all built on other theories? In a society where corporate media discourages erstwhile soul searchers with Faustian whispers to pop a prescription pill, smoke a cigarette, eat a Twinkie – ad nauseam – as a salve for every boo-boo moment, I have to believe that gaining confidence and self-satisfaction facing overwhelming hurdles is more desirable than looking outward to someone or something else to blame or make it better. It’s gratifying to have support through tough moments from people who love us and want the best for us. But, ultimately, we go through those evolutionary changes inside ourselves – alone. For myself, the way forward turned out to be a renewed willingness to embrace vulnerability, change, and a novice eye. If I needed to ‘forgive’ anyone, it was myself.

In 1875, Victorian poet William Ernest Henley wrote a short, inspiring poem called “Invictus”, though many people wrongly subscribe it to Nelson Mandela…or Morgan Freeman. The last lines sum up the personal responsibility and majesty encapsulating such: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Forget about forgiveness. Grab the wheel and discover new worlds.

Being Sensate

In this photo essay, Susann Hayden explores the sensory experience of the artist and the audience – featuring beautiful photographs from Trou Blanc Photography.

I’m not a visual person. Statistics show that most of my gender are not, compared to sight and visual cues dominating the sensory experiences of the majority of men. I take everything in without too much focus on any one thing and process it as a total sensory experience – combined with the smells, the tastes, the feel, the soundtrack. I am more surface that way, like taking a helicopter view that gives me a dominant impression that I can quickly process and store or discard.

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Cannabis in the Mist, c.2013, All Rights Reserved.

What am I sensing? Emotions, usually. The general mood. A sense of beauty or violence or energy, to name a few of the labels I use to sort it all. I retain all of the sensory details, with the visual cues in the background fading more often than not. My eye for detail is limited by my overall perception of the stimuli; I remember a couple of details vividly – those that support my label of the experience, and those that seem to most contradict it. Therefore, the more juxtaposition of elements there are in the sensory experience I am having, the more interesting it is to me and the more I need to spend time in it and figure it out. At the end of the day, almost everything is a giant jigsaw puzzle in my brain, and moving the pieces into place is my purpose. I liken it to my own personal predilection for math and science as the basis for a structure that makes sense to me in the world.

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Blue Sky Cannabis, c.2013, All Rights Reserved.

My husband, Michael, sees everything in vivid detail; he is a technicolor observer.He processes all visuals first; he has to be reminded to smell the air, hear the laughter, feel the rain on his skin. That is probably why he is a natural at photography; he would be an extraordinary cinematographer. He seems to have that elusive third eye where he can see what the lens will capture and what it will ignore. He also labels his impressions, though he would be loath to tell you the words he uses in his big brain. He doesn’t much like putting words to his visions or experiences; his photographs are the only clue to what he was thinking and feeling. In other words, where I see myself as a mathematician of the universe’s meaning, I see Michael as the artist that keeps posing more questions. When I recently told him that I see him as a seeker, he said he saw me as a finder.

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Shadow Leaf, c.2013, All Rights Reserved.

My other senses are more acute than Michael’s. I grew up as a lovingly supported, creative kid with all manner of toys, paints, puzzles, pets, lessons, projects, scenery, travels, and experiences. All mundane and extraordinary stimuli were encouraged and discussed at length at our family dinner table. I read 472 books in 1st grade; I know because I got a gold star for each one. By second grade, the school librarian and I decided that I should just read every book in the card catalog; so, I did, from A-Z. There is no visual stimulation in most children’s books after you reach the third grade reading level. At that point, you have the colorful, illustrated paper jacket, but it is all text after you open the book. A love of reading may be the defining indicator of the potential for imagination and continued creative and sensate expression of an adult. The world is a reader’s oyster; there is nowhere – not even the minds of others – that is inaccessible to a person who reads. There is no question that can’t be posed, no situation that cannot be experienced.

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Leaf Stairway, c.2013, All Rights Reserved.

Reading is no substitute for living, the non-reader always argues. But, that is an illogical response. What support is there for the assumption that an avid reader confines herself to second hand experience? It can be argued that the reader is more open and available to all of life’s experiences and, thus, develops extra-ordinary sensory powers that are wholly independent of what the world may or may not be actually showing her. In other words, I propose that frequent reading develops more acute sensory perceptions because most stimuli are accepted and dissected – not confronted with the muffled layer of something new, something threatening, or something difficult to process or define.

 

 

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Afternoon Sky, c.2014, All Rights Reserved.

Michael grew up in a constant state of poverty: poverty of environment, poverty of sensory or new experiences, poverty of education, poverty of food and drink, of activities, toys, clothes, colors, affection. He also never read books. He had limited, narrow forms of stimulus in keeping with his parents’ strict socioeconomic, ethnic, and religious beliefs. His parents interpreted most stimulus as new and dangerous and confined Michael to television and video games. Thinking anybody that made a movie must be trying to create art and that video games were the modern version of that all American icon, G.I. Joe, Michael’s parents parked him in front of one toy – the television set – and left him to figure out the world as network and Nintendo executives saw it.

Television and video games are predominantly visual. Yes, there is sound, but taste, smell, and touch are automatically excluded. And, since sound consists of theme songs and canned laughter (TV) and assorted grunts and screams (Video Games), let’s agree that Michael was left with one form of stimuli: visual. Since his parents grew up with even less stimuli than Michael, let’s also assume that their main stimulus was also visual. And, since stimuli was confined to entertainment on the small screen of a television (while wildly unsupported with any understanding in real life experience) any attempt at a full sensory experience was usually overwhelming. Overwhelming usually means too expensive, threatening, uncomfortable, or sinful to the uninitiated; that was definitely the message passed on by Michael’s parents.

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Purple Flower, c.2014, All Rights Reserved.

So, for Michael, every sensory experience is a warning. For me, most sensory experiences feel like being a puppy running through a big, sunny field of daisies. Once in a while, I will run into a bumblebee or a pile of poop, but that’s okay! For Michael, a sensory experience is like the scrawny weed that manages to pop up from a crack in the cement: a weird counterpoint in his apocalyptic inner landscape. He notices it but doesn’t ponder it. Unless he has his camera.

 

Michael’s photographs are teeming with sensory detail. They are beautiful and rich in color and texture and seasons and symphonies.

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Port Angeles Morning Sky, c.2015, All Rights Reserved.

Even the sepia ones instantly evoke a sense of nostalgia and sweetness not present in modern life. His landscapes invite exploration and travel; they provoke inner meditations on the vastness of nature and the relative miniscule stature of people. His animal portraits reveal unique personalities more interesting and layered than their human counterparts. Every time I see one of his photos, my imagination starts writing a story, like a phantom operated Etch a Sketch of character, plot, and scenery all quickly building itself in my head.

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Silver Isle, c.2014, All Rights Reserved.

His photos touch on long forgotten memories of mine, so much that I can feel a spray of salt water across my face, the sun baking me brown, the smooth coolness of a marlin my dad and I would catch and pull overboard on one of our deep sea fishing trips. And, all of a sudden I can see my dad’s face, finally relaxing for a second. I get all of that connection and experience from Michael’s sensory laden photographs. And, I know he is an artist.

 

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Bubba in Bloom, c.2014, All Rights Reserved.

As his wife, I can become annoyed that our holidays, our trips, our walks and our talks are not always remembered by my husband. He doesn’t see these in his mind’s eye any more than he can remember one detail about most of them. I could paint a picture with words that would evoke the very spirit of every one of those times. But, unless I write it down and somebody reads it, it only exists in our years together and, from that, the formation of a secret language, a smoothly choreographed handhold, and a thousand inside jokes – the shorthand and depth of experience that sweeten a relationship.

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4:20 Ferry, c.2014, All Rights Reserved.

Michael rarely takes photos of any of that stuff between us to preserve it in a visual style. But, in this way, he builds the experiences and confidence to display even more facets of what he does elect to photograph and, in turn, invokes the collective conscience of a much wider audience. And I am content to enjoy him, by my side every day, drinking in every luxurious sense of our experience.