By Paula O’Kray
So here we are in the thick of the holiday season, the season of love.
Holiday cheer is everywhere — in the songs we sing, the clothes we wear, the decorations we choose, and in our hearts.
But is there something we’ve forgotten?
Let’s see. Last month we gathered to give thanks. This month we’re gathering to celebrate love. With the new year coming up, we’ll celebrate that too, usually by making a new start with a healthy new habit.
But what if we could make the new year more meaningful than that?
I’ve always felt that there should be a holiday or season for taking the time to forgive. Sure, we talk about it a lot, but how often does anyone actually take the time to do it? To think about the person who wronged us, the unfairness of being wronged, and having the grace to let it go?
Depending on the severity of the act, it can be a very easy thing to do or extremely difficult. Thinking about it makes us uncomfortable. It brings back negative thoughts and past hurt.
In short, it’s a lot of work. Why would we want a holiday to call attention to it?
Well, forgiving someone is actually really good for you. Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack, improving cholesterol levels and sleep, and even reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression, and stress.
Wow! Wouldn’t it make sense to rid yourself of all that trouble? I mean, the person who wronged you probably doesn’t even know or care. It’s only affecting you, and in a very major way.
And you know what? You don’t even have to tell anyone you did it for it to be effective.
Unless you make a Forgiveness Pole.
I have a very tall, very old flagpole in my back yard, way in the back, next to a very tall, very old pine tree. The flagpole is very rusty and leaning a bit, and it would take a lot to actually remove it, so I thought I would make it into a piece of art instead.
Well, art may be a stretch, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?
I’ve had this idea for a while now. It’s based on the idea of prayer flags, only with forgiveness intentions instead of prayers.
If you’re not familiar, prayer flags are a Tibetan tradition. A prayer flag is a colorful rectangular cloth, and strings of them are often found strung along trails and peaks high in the Himalayas. It’s believed that the wind carries the prayers to God.
I’ve always loved this idea.
Prayer flags can have deep meaning and complex rituals, but I was going for a much more informal procedure, kind of making it up as I went along. After all, this was for my own benefit, so I could do whatever had the most meaning to me.
During the time I was putting this idea together in my head, Jenni, a coworker of mine, showed up at work with a bag of scarves she no longer wanted.
An idea came to me, and I asked if I could take the whole bag. “Go ahead! I just want to be rid of them,” she said.
I asked her if she had any feelings about how I would use the scarves, and she said she didn’t care.
And there the idea came together.
Now that I had all the bits necessary to begin, I needed to make a list of those I wanted to forgive.
I started with family members, and moved out from there to friends, coworkers, acquaintances, even strangers. Most living, but not all. I was a little surprised (and a bit embarrassed) at the length of the list, but I was also surprised at how good it felt. Just writing the names down started the forgiveness process, and it felt wonderful.
Then one dreary, rainy autumn afternoon I made my way to the pole with a basket of scarves and a pair of scissors. I mentally prepared myself for the work I was about to do, and picked up the first scarf.
As I tied it securely to the pole, I very mindfully said these words:
“This is for ____. Thank you for all you have taught me. Thank you for all gifts, welcome and unwelcome. I forgive you for being human and weak, like we all are. With this, I release the negativity, grief, and sadness into the wind and the wild.”
As I said the last sentence, I cut the end of the scarf into three sections. It was symbolic to me, as if I were cutting the bonds that held me to those feelings.
And yes, I did get emotional, depending on who I was releasing from my heart at that moment. It wasn’t always an individual, as some scarves represented groups of people or companies that I felt had mistreated me.
Thankfully Jenni had far more scarves than I had people to forgive.
The most interesting thing I found was going forward, I felt like the forgiveness mindset stayed with me. I felt more empathetic and connected on a day-to-day basis with everyone I interacted with and still do.
Something has definitely changed for me, and I feel lighter moving into the new year.
I hope you find a creative way to move into the new year that helps you be healthier and happier. All the best to you in 2023!
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