I’m in morning traffic, minding my own cupcake business in my little two-inch convertible. I watch as a blasted Yukon cuts in my lane, no blinker or signal, and barely misses my headlight. I am not happy about it. Then she slams on the breaks. This is usually the part where most people honk or give a specific finger to the offending driver in the sleek-looking minivan on steroids. I am somewhat annoyed, but not angry. I’m focused on my sense of balance, my ethos, my ego, and what serves me most. Right now, what serves me most is forgiving someone’s unconscious transgression, so I forgive the horrible driver and continue singing off-beat on my way to work.
In future blogs, I promise to discuss different types of forgiveness with an added bonus of an infographic (whoo-hoo). However, today I just need to explain the simplest of problems that cause us to harbor our injured feelings, which sabotages our happiness. First, let me give a simple definition of ethos. Ethos is appealing to people’s ethics to convince them how to see or think of us. It is the image that we portray to those around us, with the specific intent on how we want others to “see” or characterize us. How we construct our ethos depends on the difference between someone seeing us as credible or unreliable, identifying us as having integrity and morals or fraudulent. This is huge with public figures, and this is what people attack first when they want to smear someone in the public’s eye (think politicians, actors, and news anchors).
Our ego usually helps to form our ethos. As Mikhail Bahktin and other behavior biologists have claimed, when we interact with people and we gauge how they relate to us or judge us (usually through their verbal and nonverbal body language and eye contact), we translate this information and use it to help us strengthen our persona. We use information from others to further perpetuate our image, whether we want it to be heroic or villainous. Our ego tells us when our efforts are working, and our ego also tells us when our plan needs serious help.
SIDENOTE: The ego has one job, and that is to protect us. To protect us, the ego prefers to keep things pretty much in a loop; as long as things stay the same, the ego knows how to react. When we change things (go for a higher-paying job, move to a new state, start a new relationship), the ego panics. So, to put it mildly, our ego perceives things in a way that serves our ego. What we think is true, may not actually be true. Our ego motivates us to create our specific ethos, and our ego does not like change. At all.
Let me repeat, just so I am as clear as mud: the ego is not trustworthy. It serves a purpose that is not necessarily helpful to your true desire or goal. So, when a person attacks us, is she attacking us, or is that person attacking our ethos? This is actually easy to answer. If someone is attacking me, the end result will be bruises or torn clothing or blood. If someone is attacking my ethos, my ego screams at me and then I feel hurt because I have somehow been wronged.
And remember the kicker here: I may not have been “wronged” at all. Someone has done something (cut me off in traffic and almost hurt my cute little car), or not done something (did not use her blinker, didn’t even wave a polite “thank you” to me), that my ego has perceived as an act of treason. The person committing the betrayal may be totally unconscious of her actions. After all, her ego is protecting her, and she may not even know it (if you know someone like this, get her to this blog ASAP!).
A friend once told me, “It’s easy to forgive when someone genuinely apologizes. It’s when they don’t apologize that it becomes hard. You say you forgive, but there’s this weight of some invisible enemy on your heart, and how do you move an enemy that isn’t even real in the first place?”
Well, here’s to removing invisible enemies so you can free your heart to forgive and love in your own little cupcake way.
- Decide if you are truly injured, or if you are mentally betrayed. If you are injured, seek medical help and read my blog next week. If you feel betrayed, note to yourself that this is your ego. Become mentally aware, and just pay attention to your thoughts.
- As you pay attention to your thoughts, REMAIN NONJUDGMENTAL. Let your thoughts move around your head, and simply recognize them for what they are; the ego’s way of dealing with a threat to your ethos. Breathe deeply, and just relax as you practice your mental awareness. Continue until you notice the thoughts slowing down. Keep breathing. You are not trying to do anything specific to these thoughts; you are only noticing them. This may take some time if you have never done this exercise before, so be patient. The thoughts will slow down as you breathe and acknowledge them. It will take as long as it takes.
- When you notice yourself calm and the thoughts have slowed down to just one or two main ideas, thank your ego for pointing out the threats to your ethos. Express serious gratitude, then tell your ego to take a break. Yes, I mean serious gratitude, as in you mean it, and it is a deep thankfulness. Your ego is not going to fall out of your head, so just tell it to relax and take a siesta. Keep breathing calmly and slowly.
- When you feel your ego “relax,” turn to your inner voice (some people refer to this as an angel, the Holy Spirit, one of the Arch Angels, the list is endless). This is the voice you hear when your mind is still, in the realm of no mind, and this is your true self. (Clueless? Click here for an explanation of “no mind.”) Now, ask yourself these questions:
Is this anger or pain serving my best interest? Is it helping me attain my goal? Is it in line with my personal values? If the answer is “no,” then you need to let it go.
Andy Shaw, creator of a Bug Free Mind, reminds us that “Humans are not static,” so you only move toward your goal, or away from your goal. This is your choice. Remember, the brain can only hold anger on its own for 90 seconds. After the 90 seconds, you have made a conscious decision to continue. Since the Yukon incident is not taking me toward my goal, there is no point in me holding a grudge against her, especially since she probably did not even see my car, which is small enough to fit into her tank of a back seat.
- A friend of mine has one rule written in her kitchen: “you cannot hold a grudge if you do not let the person know how you feel.” If you still feel agitated in some way, then you need to at least give the disloyal wench a chance to apologize. If she chooses not to express regret, well, then, maybe she was not a true friend after all. You can joyously choose to move on, as now there will be no guilt on your end.
- Not done blowing off your enemy yet? If she is a friend, and you are too chicken to talk to her (or him), then Doc Childre and Deborah Rozman suggest practicing an act of gratitude. In their book Transforming Anger: The Heartmath Solution for Letting Go of Rage, Frustration, and Irritation, Childre and Rozman invite you to go into your mind, and think of all the wonderful things this friend has done for you. Remember how those actions felt, and try to find one memory that stimulates a strong, positive emotional reaction. Stay in this powerful feeling of gratitude, and while you are in this mood, shift your memory over to the incident that bothered you. Let your sense of gratitude and love for your friend relax over the agitation, and picture your positive feelings recoloring or re-imaging the negative memory until the memory no longer causes a reaction. Again, do not rush this process. This will take as long as it takes, so just relax and enjoy the process.
- Still holding onto your resentment? Good grief, cupcake! You and I are so much alike! HA! So, I tell you what to do. Get up from your computer and go for a walk. Get outside and smell the roses. Why? Because after all the hard work you have done, you need to stretch your legs and get some fresh oxygen. While you walk, pay attention to the sound of your feet, the feel of the wind or the sun on your body, and the smells that enter your nose. When you return home, if you do not feel better, get your car keys and go find yourself a cupcake of your choice. You should celebrate your ability to hold emotions for longer than the average bear.
And read my next blog. It actually goes deeper into forgiveness, since this is such a hard topic for some, and I have barely touched the surface of our minds (evil laughter here).
So, what do you do to forgive someone’s unconscious transgression? Feel free to share, as this may help someone else reading this, and you are sending out a Karmic boomerang!
Let me know how it’s going, and as always, stay frosted!
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