On Winging Life and Winging Forgiveness

It’s been ages, but today I felt compelled to write a Forgiveness Friday post. Today, specifically, I’m thinking about forgiving is something we have to just wing it in life, which includes forgiveness. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

I volunteer as a peer breastfeeding support person, so I occasionally field calls from new moms who need a listening ear and a little information. What I’m best at, in these situations, is pointing out what is and isn’t normal for a breastfeeding infant. If you’ve never had a baby before – or even if you had a different sort of baby every other time – it can be hard to tell what is perfectly okay and what is cause for alarm. Add in the pressure of being utterly and completely responsible for another person’s well-being when that person can’t actually communicate with you in a truly meaningful way and it really is a recipe for total panic.

Well, at least, I remember being totally panicked myself. Fortunately my kids aren’t any the worse for wear.

As I was speaking with a mom last week I thought about how much of life is spent flying blind. Seriously. Of course parenting is an extreme example, but how much do I really know about gardening or investing or choosing the best melon? And even if I master these topics, there’s always something else to know. The universe is amazingly vast, and I am actually rather small. And so, sooner or later, you just have to kind of wing it and get on with things so that you don’t spend your whole life agonizing. You won’t always get it right, but at least you’ll do something.

14828832674_252fb985b6_kAs I considered how much time I spend flying blind and winging things, I also thought about how little patience I have with myself when I make a mistake. Somehow, I expect myself to do everything well, even when I couldn’t possibly be expected to have mastered a specific task. I constantly tell my children that mistakes are okay, because they’re just learning. The important thing isn’t to do everything perfectly, but to avoid the same pitfall the next time. Mistakes are just learning opportunities, and all that jazz. However, in order to actually learn from something you have to stop self-flagellating long enough to see the lesson. Just feeling bad doesn’t actually lead to growth.

My point, once again, is that I need to forgive myself. However, there’s more to it than that.

When I started out on this forgiveness journey I was focused on defining forgiveness and then executing it perfectly. Of course, this isn’t how life works. You don’t learn to ride a bicycle by reading a book, you learn to ride a bicycle by falling off and getting back on. Forgiveness is sort of the same thing. You decide to forgive, you do forgiveness as best you can, and you figure out what does and doesn’t work. This is true whether you’re forgiving others or forgiving yourself. And if you’re not good at it right out of the gate, well, that’s to be expected. You’re learning as you go, which is how so much learning happens.

The good thing about forgiveness is that, unlike parenting, you don’t have a helpless infant’s well-being in your hands. This means that it really is all about what works for you. And if the question is whether or not your feelings are normal, or okay, the answer is pretty much always yes. Feelings are just feelings. Anger is just anger. Letting go of it is hard. You will feel that hardness. It is okay. You might not let go of it right away. It is okay. You are okay. You are normal. The key isn’t to be perfect. The key is to avoid this same pitfall the next time. And if not the next time, the time after that. Or the time after that.

Sometimes you have to fall in the same hole a bunch of times before you can actually see it. This is also normal. Unfortunately.

So, while I haven’t been writing about forgiveness, I have been thinking about it, and working at it. Am I good at forgiving yet? I’m not sure. I only know I’m getting better. It’s happening more slowly than I’d like, but it’s enough all the same.

Run Mama Run

I am not what you would call the athletic type. My mother loves to tell the story of how, during the first grade race at my elementary school track and field day, I came in dead last. It wasn’t because I was slow, so much as that I didn’t care to exert myself. I meandered my way across the field, even stopping at one point to pull up my socks. When asked why I didn’t run, I apparently replied, “You don’t have to run, everyone gets a ribbon anyway.”

While you could view this as a cautionary tale exposing the evils of participation ribbons, I don’t see it that way. The truth is, given my shortness I likely never would have placed in the top three amongst dozens of students. I think I likely knew that, so I accepted my fate and decided there was no point in breaking a sweat. And that last part – the breaking a sweat part – is what I mean when I say I’m not athletic. Why run when you can walk, since walking is so much easier and less sweaty?

A few years ago my perspective shifted slightly when I signed up to participate in Run for the Cure. For the first time since my high school gym classes I was running, and this time it was by choice. I found that it wasn’t so bad when I set the parameters for running, choosing my own time and place, and listening to my own music. It was almost liberating, in fact. Nonetheless, once Run for the Cure was over, I stopped. The next spring I considered starting up again, but then I didn’t.

Red and sweaty, post-run

Red and sweaty, post-run

This summer, between work and my school and a teachers’ strike that ended my kids’ school early, I’ve been stressed out. So stressed out, in fact, that I overcame my natural inertia and laced up my running shoes. I started my running app back at week one on June 21, and I’ve been running regularly since. I’m now on week six and going strong. It’s been good. I’ve found it helpful. I even surprised myself when I was at my wits’ end one evening and my first impulse wasn’t to eat ice cream or drink wine but to go running. It’s like I don’t even know myself.

The reason that running works for me is that it’s flexible, and I can fit it around my family’s schedule. All I need is 30 minutes and another adult in the house, and I can go for a run. I don’t need to fit a class that’s happening on someone else’s timetable into my day. I don’t need to get up early if I don’t want to. I don’t even need to have change on hand to pay for gym admission or a locker. I just need my shoes and my music and I’m golden.

Will it stick this time? Will this be the time that I keep on running when the days get colder and shorter? Will I be writing another post like this in another three years about how I’m running again? I don’t know. For now, though, I’m doing this thing for myself, and it makes me feel good. It gives my anxiety a productive outlet, and reminds me that I’m important and my well-being matters. Those are all good things, so for now I’ll keep on lacing up as often as I can.

I Tried Wakeboarding!

Last week was a pretty sweet week to be me. My family and I were hosted by Destination Osoyoos, promoting family-friendly getaways to a beautiful part of British Columbia. It took us about four and a half hours to get there by car, but it’s a very different place than Vancouver. While I live in a rainforest, Osoyoos is Canada’s only true desert, with a dry and sunny landscape. And there’s a lake, too, and some totally fabulous wineries. What’s not to love?

While we were planning the trip, the organizers presented me with a number of things my family and I could do during our visit. Wakeboarding was on the list, and on a whim I thought, “Okay, sure, why not?” This is how, last Thursday at 2:00pm, my nine-year-old daughter and I found ourselves on the dock in front of our hotel shaking hands with Rob Rausch, owner and manager of Wakepilot. (PS – It looks like he’s not just an amazing wakeboarding coach, but he also flies Boeing 777s for Air Canada. So, you know, not too shabby.)

osoyoos walnut beach

My daughter was super-pumped to try, so she put on her life jacket and jumped in the water first. Rob took her through exactly what would happen, and had her practice her stance and holding the rope. She had a helmet with speakers in the ears, not for safety but so he could communicate with her. When she was finally ready (and she was So. Ready.) she actually stood up on her first try. Then she had another go, and she stood up for even longer. After that she was done, though – she was not a big fan of the water that she got up her nose when she fell.

I was intimidated when it was my turn, I have to admit. I’ve never tried wakeboarding or snowboarding. I’m not exactly what you would call super-athletic, and I’m not as young as I once was. I wanted to give wakeboarding a go, but I didn’t expect to succeed. My first two tries I wiped out spectacularly before I was even able to stand up. Rob told me to let the boat do the work, and I think I did that too well because I let the boat pull me right over.

After two epic wipeouts in a row Rob decided to pull me a little slower (actually, at exactly the same pace he’d pulled my daughter, as it turns out) and I did it! I stood up … for about one and a half seconds. Then the fourth time I stood up for a little longer. And finally, I gave it one last go, and I did it! I actually managed to wakeboard for a few minutes, as Rob coached me through the speakers in my helmet. It felt pretty good, skimming over the surface of the water, sunshine all around me, looking at the beautiful scenery. It made the eventual wipeout when I flushed out my sinus cavities with about half of Lake Osoyoos totally worth it.

osoyoos

After my last ride I was done. My arms were really aching, and I needed a rest. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold on to the rope any longer, so I got back on the boat.

My wakeboarding adventure was three days ago now, and I’m still feeling it, especially in my forearms. I’m not used to holding on to something as tightly as I held on to that rope. I’m also really glad I did it, though. As a suburban mom of two who’s in my late 30s I don’t push my physical limits or try adventure sports on a regular basis. This was a chance to step beyond my boundaries, do something totally new, and remind myself that I am capable of more than I think. And you know what? We probably all are.

Thank you so much to Rob and Wakepilot for a wonderful introduction to wakeboarding. If you want to see actual wakeboarders in action, check out this video. It’s shot at Walnut Beach Resort, which is where I stayed in Osoyoos. You can also see Rob at the end – he’s the one in blue handing out the prizes.

What I Will do This Year

Let’s just ignore the fact that it’s been more than two weeks since my last post, shall we? Home renovations are progressing (at long last), and they’ve preoccupied me. Also, I’ve been preparing to head back to school for another semester, which just started today. At the moment I’m signed up for geography and an English course on drama. In case you were wondering how last semester went, I took three classes and got two A’s and one A-, which I am very happy with. But enough with the housekeeping.

birthday year ahead navel gazing

Birthday extreme close-up

Today is my 38th birthday. For the past few years my birthdays have triggered something of an existential crisis. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that surely I should be wiser, more grounded and more accomplished at this point in my life. To help myself overcome this intense birthday navel-gazing, I like to set some personal intentions. It’s a way to give myself that direction I’m craving. It’s also a way to honour the fact that I have a whole new year stretched out before me, and I can use it however I see fit. Instead of lamenting what I haven’t done in the past year (or the past 38 years), I’m going to think about what I want to do.

For the past few years I’ve made birthday resolutions. I’ve had about a 50/50 success rate. I think that’s to be expected, especially given that things change over the course of a year. Still, even at a 50/50 success rate, I’m bringing a whole lot of things into my life that I didn’t have the year before. I believe it’s still a worthwhile exercise regardless of how it turns out, because it gives me a chance to focus on reflect, and think about what I want more of in my life. So without further ado, here’s my list for this year.


What I Will do at 38

  • Finish up the renovations that have taken almost a year, and then resist the urge to make even more home improvements.
  • Go running.
  • Spend more time with my hands in the dirt.
  • Buy a bicycle.
  • Volunteer in a middle school.
  • Sing.
  • Learn how to use my camera.
  • Write.
  • Finish my prerequisites so that I can apply for teacher training.
  • Nap more often.
  • Laugh more.
  • Apply for teacher training.
  • Try kayaking.
  • Practice forgiveness of myself and others.
  • Drink even more herbal tea.
  • Eat more leafy greens.
  • Take some mini vacations with my family.
  • Not beat myself up if I don’t do everything on this list.

What do you want to do with your next year on earth? I love it if you’d play along in honour of my birthday!

Defining Forgiveness

forgiveness friday dandelion

It’s the weekend, so I’m writing another Forgiveness Friday post. I should probably change the name of this series to Forgiveness Weekends, but I like alliteration so I’m leaving it as is. Either way, once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. Today, specifically, I’m contemplating what forgiveness means to me. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I am (very, very slowly) making my way through Forgiveness Is a Choice by Robert D. Enright. I finished school for the semester on April 11, so I’ve had a little more time to read lately. In the last chapter I finished, Enright suggested that I define forgiveness for myself by writing in a journal. Since this blog is the closest thing I have to a journal, this seemed like the best place to do it.

When I started my forgiveness journey, I was at a total loss over what the word really means. I referred to the Wikipedia entry on forgiveness, which said that forgiveness isn’t condoning, excusing, pardoning, forgetting or reconciliation. This was revelatory for me, because I have a tendency to excuse bad behaviour unless and until it passes the point of reason. It was also revelatory for me to think of forgiveness and reconciliation as different (albeit related) concepts.

Some months later, I’m still struggling to understand what forgiveness means. I have, however, made some inroads. Keeping in mind that I am not a mental health professional and I do not hold a philosophy degree, I’m going to give it a go. Here’s what I mean by forgiveness:

Forgiveness is the process of recognizing that you have been hurt through the actions of another, whether those actions and their consequences were intentional or not. Recognizing that you have been wronged, and that you are not responsible for having been hurt, in forgiving you acknowledge and deliberately let go of your anger. As you let go of your anger and hurt feelings, you are able to move forward more productively both in your relationship with the person who hurt you and in other areas of your life.

Perhaps a clearer way to explain it is to define forgiveness as a three-step process:

  1. Recognize that you have been hurt.
  2. Acknowledge your anger and hurt feelings.
  3. Release those feelings, not because the person who hurts you deserves to be forgiven, but because you freely choose to forgive.

The third step feels the hardest to me, because it begs the question of how to go about releasing those feelings. I’m coming to that part of the book, so I may have a better answer for that question soon. Right now, however, I’m doing some work on actually acknowledging that I have been hurt, and recognizing the anger I still carry around with me. It’s been surprisingly helpful.

For example, I always had a difficult relationship with my father, who passed away when I was 16. Three months ago if you’d asked me whether I was still angry with my dad I’d tell you that of course I wasn’t. I’d moved past it. However, the truth is that I have never really made my peace with my father. I’d simply decided that we didn’t have much in common and that it wasn’t worth my time to think about. In reading the book and realizing how much my relationship with my father continues to impact my life in major ways, I could see that maybe I’m not as over it as I believed. Even just seeing that, and allowing myself to the space to admit that I actually am hurt, and I have a right to be hurt, has been helpful. My hope is that by seeing it for what it is, I can actually deal with it and move on.

So, that’s where I am. I’m beginning to understand what forgiveness actually means to me. Now I just have to see how it impacts my life.

Five Things I’m Forgiving Myself For

It’s the weekend, so I’m writing another Forgiveness Friday post. Once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. Today, specifically, I’m forgiving myself for a few things that have been nagging at me. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

As I said, today I’m thinking about forgiving myself. It’s not the first time I’ve written about the importance of letting go of your own shortcomings. Today, specifically, I’m forgiving myself for five little things that have been weighing on me, and causing me to castigate myself, but that aren’t really a big deal in the long run. Here’s to learning to forgive yourself and embrace your imperfection.

I’m Forgiving Myself For …

1. Leaving the kids’ toys outside in the rain, because I haven’t been able to muster up the energy to bring them inside to dry off.

2. The fact that I put lemon peels in vodka to make limoncello three years ago, and haven’t touched the jar it’s all in since. (I actually thought it was only two years ago until I visited the recipe page and saw my comment from 2011.)

3. My failure to start studying for my final exams as far in advance as I should have. I also forgive myself for taking the time to write this post instead of studying for my final exams.

4. The fact I haven’t tried any of the recipes from Homemade Cleaners: Quick-and-Easy, Toxic-Free Recipes yet, in order to share my experiences with you. I will do it soon, I swear.

forgiveness friday book

5. My vacuuming delinquency. I literally cannot remember the last time I vacuumed the whole house. It’s been at least three weeks, but probably more. And I have kids, and a cat, and all that jazz. But you know what? On my deathbed I’m pretty sure I won’t wish I’d spent more time vacuuming.

What about you – are there any things you’d like to forgive yourself for?

Owning Your Anger

It’s been over a month since I published a Forgiveness Friday post, but I haven’t forgotten about this series. Once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

I am (very, very slowly) making my way through Forgiveness Is a Choice by Robert D. Enright. One of the things that he talked about at the beginning of the book is the need to recognize your anger. His assertion is that many of us are carrying a lot of anger around, which we don’t acknowledge. As long as we remain in denial about our feelings, we can’t really forgive. Instead, we excuse others’ behaviour or use a variety of coping mechanisms, but none of them actually resolve the issue.

forgiveness friday angerI certainly don’t think of myself as an angry person. I am generally cheerful to others, I don’t yell or swear at strangers (even in traffic), I work hard to remain calm and present with my kids, and so on. As I read Enright’s words, though, which included many examples, I found myself re-thinking my anger. When someone does something I don’t like, my usual M.O. is to feel briefly annoyed, and then to excuse their behaviour and move on. I try not to let that annoyance get to me. When you add up all the little annoyance, though, it comes to something much bigger. Also, words like irritated, annoyed and pissed are actually synonyms for angry. I just happen to not like the word angry, because it carries negative connotations. When someone is annoyed we often assume they’re justified. When someone is angry we’re more likely to think badly of them.

What happens when you don’t acknowledge your anger or allow yourself to feel it? You can’t really deal with it and offer forgiveness. If I’m not able to recognize what I’m feeling – regardless of what I’m feeling – I can’t work through my emotions and handle them in productive ways. Anger, especially, can lead to other problems if it isn’t handled. Freud classically said that depression is anger turned inwards. When unacknowledged anger leads to depression or anxiety or what-have-you, we try to deal with the depression or anxiety or what-have-you, but we never get to the root cause. Then we can never truly experience forgiveness and move on in productive ways.

I should point out that I’m not an expert here, I’m just laying things out as I understand them. And I can see why unacknowledged anger can cause problems.

Since reading about the need to acknowledge your anger as a first step to forgiveness, I’ve been trying to recognize those feelings of annoyance, irritation and so on. I have to admit, it’s a little scary. I’m afraid of becoming an angry person. I’m afraid that I’m being self-indulgent and cultivating a victim mentality. Women, especially, are discouraged from expressing anger. Overcoming all of that fear and conditioning is uncomfortable, to say the least. However, so far, I can tell you that recognizing my anger and actually facing up to it hasn’t led me to wallow in it, to act out aggressively, or even to feel angrier. It’s paradoxical, but when I can say to myself, “I’m really angry right now,” I actually feel less angry overall.

I still have a lot of work to do. Recognizing your anger is only a preliminary step to actually dealing with your anger and offering forgiveness. For now, at least I feel like I’m on the right track.

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