by Deborah Grassman
The process that precipitates pervasive inner peace is forgiveness. Unforgiven guilt and shame often culminates in the creation of a Soul Injury.
Although seldom recognized, forgiveness is one of the keys for living in the “now.” I have to forgive every disappointment and interruption that interferes with my experience of the moment. Every time I am told, “No” by God, another person, or life itself, I have to actively forgive the world for things not going the way I had hoped. Then I can reencounter the ever-present now; I reestablish peace in my world. I call this my journey from "Oh no!" to "Oh well...".
One time, I asked my mother, “Who is your best friend?” She replied, “Whomever I’m with at the moment.” I liked that answer. I hope I can live out that wisdom. Similarly, I hope that I can answer the question, “What’s your favorite thing to do?” with “Whatever I’m doing right now.” Then, I’ll know that I’m living in the now, and the key for doing so is forgiveness; I will be able to forgive the world for everything that is not “now.”
Forgiveness can have very practical applications. I jog along a two-mile rural road. Trash litters the edge of the road, corrupting its beauty. I frequently complained about the litter with a tightness in my jaw and neck as I did so. Then I realized that I had a choice: I could forgive the litter for being there and enjoy the landscape anyway, or I could pick up the litter. I decided on the latter. My garbage bag in hand, I picked up each can and wrapper. Initially, I was thinking mean thoughts about the litterers. Then, I realized that I was littering my mind with resentment, robbing me of “now-ness.” I switched to blessing each litterer, and actually had great fun on the rest of my clean-up adventure. Forgiveness is like that; it transforms moments so I can live in the vitality of the now.
Desmond is a Vietnam veteran who knew how to maintain peace in the now. During a Quality of Life meeting with him, our team acknowledged his military service, which he appreciated. “’Nam vets never got their due,” he told us. We offered an apology for the way he had been treated when he returned from the war. When asked how he was doing spiritually, he told us, “I’m good in that department because I always keep my feet wiped.” He explained that some people don’t keep their “feet wiped” on a daily basis. Instead, dirt accumulates, surfacing as they approach death, which was the case with Jim.
Jim was a World War II vet. He was weak with a cancer that would take his life in a few days. After I introduced myself and we spoke quietly for several minutes about hospice care, I asked him if there was anything from the war that might still be troubling him. He said there was, but he was too ashamed to say it out loud. Motioning me to come down close to him, he whispered, “Do you have any idea how many men I’ve killed?”
I shook my head, remaining silent, steadily meeting his gaze with my own. He continued.
“Do you have any idea how many throats I’ve slit?”
Again I shook my head. The image was grim, and I felt my eyes begin to tear. Jim was tearful too. We sat silently together, sharing his suffering. No words needed to be said. This was a sacred moment that words would only corrupt.
After several minutes, I asked, “Would it be meaningful if I said a prayer asking for forgiveness?”
He nodded. I placed my hand on Jim’s chest, anchoring his flighty, anxious energy with the security of my relaxed palm. My prayer, like any praying I do with patients, reflected no particular religion. “Dear God: This man comes before you acknowledging the pain he has caused others. He has killed; he has maimed. He hurts with the pain of knowing what he did. He hurts with the pain of humanity. He comes before you now asking for forgiveness. He needs your mercy to restore his integrity. He comes before you saying, ‘Forgive me for the wrongs I have committed.’ Dear God, help him feel your saving grace. Restore this man to wholeness so he can come home to you soon. Amen.”
Jim kept his eyes closed for a moment, tears streaming down from unopened lids. Then he opened his eyes and smiled gratefully; his new sense of peace was almost palpable. It was a reminder to me of just how heavy guilt weighs.
The reason I prayed for Jim with my hand on his chest is because anxious energy usually rises. Think about when you get excited. Your voice usually gets higher; energy gets flighty. You might place your hand on your chest or near your throat, unconsciously anchoring yourself. A calm, centered person’s energy usually resides lower and deeper. If a calm person places his or her hand on an un-calm person’s sternum, it can often help this person feel secure, more weighted, less anxious. I often sit with my dying patients with my hand on their chest. I teach their loved ones to do the same (see Anchoring Heart Technique under Tools.)