So I'm taking an online course about the Science of Happiness. That's right, people are studying this shit now---happiness. It's pretty cool. It's reading a lot of articles about happiness, forgiveness, mindfulness, cooperation, etc. Plus, a shit ton of videos that are basically TED talks. Anyway, being that I can never finish a goddamned thing I start, I've committed to finish this damn course---a challenge since it's all self-regulated.
So I spent Monday catching up on the three weeks I was behind, shut up. But I did it! And I took the midterm and passed and yay me! But one of the videos I watched jumped out at me more than others. This professor, Fredric Luskin, talked about his definition of forgiveness as being the ability to accept "no" when you wanted a "yes." For example, I wanted my partner to be faithful, but I got "no." I wanted my parents to be more loving to me when I was a child, but I got "no." I wanted there to be no traffic on my evening commute, but I got "no." I wanted a boss that treats me with respect, but I got "no."
The crux of his model is this:
But it's so important to be able to understand the unitary experience of this: of objecting to the way life is and trying to substitute the way I want it to be, and then getting upset when my substitution doesn’t take.
That the essence of forgiveness is the ability to be resilient when things don’t go the way you want. The essence of it is: “I create a resentment because something is different than the picture that I have of how it should be.”
So, if my picture is that anybody who goes out with me, they stay faithful, and I end up with a philanderer, then I had the word “no” given to me. I didn’t get what I wanted. If I had somebody who treats me differently than I think I should [be treated], then I got "no" to what I wanted.
The essence of forgiveness is to be able to, after grieving, be at peace with "no"; be at peace with what is; be at peace with the vulnerability inherent in human life---that we can’t always make things the way we want---and be able to, without prejudice, lead our lives.
The forgiveness is the lack of prejudice. The open-heartedness of the moving forward. It's an acceptance without prejudice. It's not just that I accept it because life sucks, and there’s nothing I can do about it---that may be true---but I accept it in a way that I’m willing to give the next moment a chance.
That’s the acceptance, “I’m willing to give the next moment a chance." It's: "Can I use resilience enough to be able to handle 'no' when it comes my way? Can I forgive whatever it is that caused me no? Can I forgive my unskillful responses that might have intensified it or made it last too long?" But it's all based on a very simple thing of wanting “yes” and getting “no.”
That shit rings so true with me! I think it's because it's an empowering theory---it puts the power squarely in my hands and allows ME to be in control of my mood instead of being the victim and letting someone else control it. It's not absolving other people of their responsibility in whatever they've done, if it's something like your partner cheating on you, but it is putting the power of how long you let it control you and determine your outlook squarely in YOUR hands. It doesn't allow for victim-y behavior.
Given that I have an ever-so-attractive tendency to martyr myself and make myself a blameless victim in any conflict, this idea appeals to me. I don't know about y'all, but when I have a kerfuffle with another person, I construct my narrative in my head, and then I do not let that shit go. Who among us hasn't replayed the speech they want to give someone who has wronged them in their head, over and over again, chewing on it and perfecting it, until it's taking up so much space in your brain, you might as well draw up a lease and have it move in permanently? I suspect a bunch of us have because the practice is so common it has a name: rumination.
Imagine how much time, energy, and general bullshit you would save if you didn't ruminate. Say, you didn't spend all of this month's extra brain space obsessing about the speech you're gonna give your roommate about the goddamned dirty dishes or the letter that you're gonna write to your ex explaining all of the ways he or she hurt you. Imagine if you were just able to let that shit go by basically saying "Well that didn't work out the way I wanted it to, and yeah, that sucks, but that's the way the cookie crumbles, and I have to be willing to trust another roommate or another partner or whatever the next go around and not be bitter about this shit."
I know, sounds impossible. I'm with you. But that's where mindful meditation comes in. One of the main reasons people who meditate regularly are much happier in general is because by meditating---sitting still and forcing themselves back to their present breaths when their minds wander---they have trained their brains to do the same thing---being in the present moment---as they go through their days, not just when they're sitting quietly.
And fuck it all if it doesn't work, y'all. Since I've started meditating on the reg, I've noticed more of an ability, as I'm moving through my day, to stop and force my mind into the present moment. When I'm sitting in traffic that's moving slower than molasses in January and I notice myself starting to get agitated and impatient, I will mentally check myself and think "Wow, what a nice day! The sun is shining. I love this song on the radio right now!" And then let myself enjoy the sun on my face or the notes in the song. And goddammit if that doesn't help. I know, I sounds like Pollyanna, but I'm here testifyin'.
Well that and I'm a stoner. And that sure doesn't hurt either in the "just chill out and enjoy the moment" department. So, you know, there's that.
I hear she smokes the marijuana cigarettes!
But that's what I'm working on these days---"managing expectations," as they say in Corporate America---trying not to get butt hurt when life isn't working out the way I envisioned it in my head, people aren't behaving the way *I* want them to, 20,000 people are not reading this blog, or the money isn't in my bank account for me to run off to Bora Bora. No since getting my butthole in a pinch because those things aren't happening. But hey, that doesn’t mean one day those things won't happen, and if they do, I will be pleasantly surprised and, hopefully, grateful at my good fortune.
So even if it's just taking 5 minutes out of your day a couple times a day, stop and pause. Notice your breath, or the weather, or a song you like on the radio, or a good conversation with an old friend, and give it a pause and say "This. This is enough right now. I appreciate this." The more you do it, the more you'll just find yourself doing naturally, as though your brain's default coping mechanism is to automatically put you in the present and make you think about the things for which you are grateful. And seriously, if you can't manage to think of ONE thing for which you are grateful, there's always this: