ROD: It almost doesn’t seem to matter when acts of betrayal, or cruelty happen. Those sorts of experiences can leave us with resentful feelings for years, or even Lifetimes. Today, our wellness columnist, Scott McPherson, is here to talk about how we can learn to move past our resentful feelings, and into forgiveness. Hi Scott.
SCOTT: Hi Rod.
ROD: A lot of us struggle with forgiveness. What are we doing wrong?
SCOTT: For the most part, we’re just blaming the wrong event. We get reminded of some ugly event in the past and then, without realizing it, we respond as though the present is the past. We end up feeling the same way we did when the offence happened.
ROD: Is this what people mean when they say they’re “triggered” by something?
SCOTT: Yes. Any idea in our head is really a hairball of thought, where there’s a connection everywhere a hair touches. If we rub up against anything in that hairball, we can trigger that event in our consciousness.
ROD: Were we wrong to feel hurt in the first place?
SCOTT: Not at all. We really were hurt by what happened. It’s disrespectful to ourselves if we don’t honour that. But at the same time, that was then, this is now. In almost every case, thinking about what happened then does absolutely nothing to improve our situation now, nor does it do anything to hold others responsible. That thinking becomes pain for its own sake. That’s what we want to be mindful of. That’s where the pain comes in handy.
SCOTT: As I’ve noted before, pain is a great signalling system. If our knee hurts, it’s saying ‘don’t use me.’ The same goes for our psychology. If our emotions hurt, we need to ask how we’re using our thoughts. In this case, the pain can prompt us to check in with ourselves and, if we’re paying attention, we notice that we’re thinking unproductive thoughts about that past offence and that is the source of our current suffering.
ROD: So you’re saying our pain isn’t rooted in the past, it’s actually connected to what we’re doing today?
SCOTT: Yes. The sharp feelings we experience after an original event are our memories of the past experience, not the experience itself. Those are a current psychological experience. Once we’re past something, the path of life only goes forward. We can’t relive it, we’re only being re-reminded of it.
It’s as though we fell and hurt ourselves when we were young, and then later in life we’re walking our path and our present-day behaviour kicks up a stone that gets in our shoe. We start to mistake the stone in our shoe today, for the injury we endured in our history. That’s why we blame the other person and ended up trapped in resentment. Doing it that way, the person that hurt is the only person that can free us, and they have to apologize to do it. And we all know how often that happens.
ROD: We’ve all been there. Apologies can be tough to give.
SCOTT: Yes, for all of us. And it’s worth noting that they’re harder to give the more they’re deserved. As nice as they are in theory, in practice we shouldn’t count on getting them any more than we give them. So we’re better to take things into our own hands and forget thinking about the offending person.
ROD: Fair enough, but how do we do that in a practical sense?
SCOTT: We get that sharp stone out of our shoe. Rumination is when we just think about something incessantly. Meditation is where we think about the ruminating we’re doing. If we do that, we start to realize in a very profound way that there is no way an event from ten years ago can hurt us unless today we think about it today. Otherwise, we’d all be wandering around with all of the emotions from our entire histories piling onto each day. Obviously that doesn’t happen.
We are choosing what we entertain in our thoughts. Once we can see that’s true in our own experience, it’s like getting that rock out of our shoe. No one goes around thinking crazy thoughts for no reason. We just need to slow down enough to realize that most of our resentful thoughts we’re thinking really are crazy from a practical standpoint. Thinking those thoughts is literally like choosing to walk with a rock in our shoe.
ROD: Maybe this is where we should point form all this for everyone in their cars?
SCOTT: Yes. Good idea. First we notice the pain. That gets us to check in our thinking. Then we meditate on our thoughts enough to realize that our feelings come from the resent and not the past. And when we realize that our previous idea literally made no sense, neither does the resentful thinking that went with it. We really do start to recognize that we’ve been the ones innocently hurting ourselves.
The path of life will always kick up some sharp stones. There is no avoiding that. But just because we get some sharp stones in our shoes does not mean that we can’t just take them right back out the moment we notice they’re there. After all, no one thinks our thoughts except us. When we own that power, we start to automatically choose the ideas that serve us best, and rarely does resentment serve us.
ROD: But sometimes… people really have hurt us. Legitimately. Are there ever times when you think it’s okay not to forgive someone?
SCOTT: If we want to pay the price we’re free to go for it. I certainly won’t judge them, but the question I’d have is; what’s it accomplish for us? I definitely don’t want to diminish anyone’s original pain. The stories I hear are heart-wrenching and awful and mine are too. But we do have to remember that, without those experiences, a lot of love songs and movies lose a lot of their value. We also become less empathetic to others experiencing similar things.
Real pain does have a place and value in our lives. Most importantly though, saving ourselves today does not make what happened okay. It just makes today okay. Once we start to realize we have limited days on this planet, we have to start asking ourselves if what we really want to spend them on is feeling resentful, even if we feel it’s deserved.
ROD: Scott McPherson is our wellness columnist. He is a writer, speaker and instructor at relaxandsucceed.com, here in Edmonton.
Every Tuesday at 5:20pm, I join Radio Active‘s host Adrienne Pan, on CBC Radio One here in Edmonton. You can listen via AM740, FM93.9 (in Edmonton), or elsewhere through the CBC Listen app, or via the web on Radio One at CBC.ca.
Once the show has aired, if there is an audio version available I will add a link to it here. A listing of all of the columns is here. For those without audio versions, I will attach a transcript of the column to the bottom of this post within a few days of airing.
Most of us struggle to forgive because of a simple mistake. But once we’ve learned more about what to focus on and why, we realize that forgiveness is not something we do for another person. Forgiveness is an ongoing practice, done to honour the present moment.
If you get to hear the show and haven’t before, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. They have a great team.
Take care everyone. Here’s to a day of forgiveness for all of us.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.