Wohoo! We’ve labeled our event, connected with our emotion – and with some time – we’ve felt the full expression of that emotion as it lies alongside our life, our connections, our thoughts and our beliefs.
Now, we can return to that very first phrase we wrote – all the way back in Step Two: “I feel ______,” and now we sit under our tree and think of the next transformation, from “I felt…” to
“I chose to feel _______”
Sitting under your forgiveness tree, this may seem like an easy statement. “Sure,” you might say, “my emotion is my own, and it washed over me in that moment. If it came from me, who else could have chosen that state but myself? I chose to feel angry then, because heck, that phrase triggered all my memories of loneliness from high school.
And, under your forgiveness tree, you may have an apple hit you on the head, as you start to think about choice. “WHAT?!” you might say “I didn’t choose to feel angry – that’s just something that happened, and would have happened to anybody in that situation. What they did was wrong, and yes, I reacted in a way that was unique to me… and that’s a pretty normal way of reacting. It’s not a choice – it’s like, our limbic system! That’s how we’re hardwired!” Now we’ve begun a journey away from forgiveness – our tree wasn’t quite ready to flower and fruit – our path has hit a detour.
There are several possible moments here of derailment, detours and dead-ends. The appendices explore many of these in depth. Below is a list of possible responses when you think of choice, and where you can go next in this manual to further explore those beliefs. If you find yourself believing one of the following phrases, you’re invited to grab a lemonade, find a shady spot, and spend some time among the other pages before coming back to step three.
- “If I chose to feel a certain way – that means the other person didn’t have any effect on me. I can’t accept that – they did something to me that is wrong … if I only focus on my choice, I’m forced to let go of my morality.”
⇨ See the appendices “Detour: Enemy Image,” “Detour: Relativism” and “10 Persistent Forgiveness Myths” under “What Forgiveness is Not.”
- “Emotions aren’t a choice. You have a reaction to a specific stimuli – that’s biology. If someone comes at me with a knife, I have zero ability to feel anything other than fear. It’s called the Flight or Fight response, and it’s a million years of evolution.”
⇨ See “Amygdala and PreFrontal Cortex.”
- “My emotions keep taking me back to the same event – over and over again. When I try to sink into them, and follow them, and love them, and all that stuff this manual keeps offering – I just keep rehashing the thing that happened to me. If getting in touch with my emotions is the goal, then I’m stuck replaying and re-thinking through the event!”
⇨ See appendices “Mourning, Melancholia and Trauma,” “Regret,” and “Detour: Ruminations.”
Welcome! If you’ve arrived here, you’ve come either through the first response to Step Three, or via a detour through some other meditations and processing. You’re now able to say “I chose to feel _____,” with balance and understanding. You’ve connected powerfully with that choice – and left the path of the detours to rejoin a path towards the eventual forgiveness of yourself and others.
Now, let’s push a bit on your choice. Revisit the statement, “I chose to feel ___________,” and continue the statement with:
“Instead of ______________.”
In the blank, write another emotional state that another person (or another you!) could have felt in that moment. These are emotions that a person could choose, but that in the moment you chose not to feel. You can choose any emotions here! This is an exercise in broadening our thinking about the event.
For example, “When I saw this person talking about me at work, I chose to feel angry instead of curious” or “When I saw this person talking about me at work, I chose to feel sad instead of happy.”
Now, get in to the hypothetical situation and try to visualize and feel what that moment could have looked like. What would it have been like to open that office door, step into the brightly lit room, gaze over and see your friend sitting there saying “…and he’s always bragging about how good his reports are. I tell you that guy is so stuck up!” and feel surprised instead of angry? intrigued instead of sad? joyful instead of crushed?
This exercise helps us to recognize the plausibility of our choices. It allows us to say “yes, I did make a choice here…” and then to begin thinking through what led to that choice and where we can choose differently (or similarly) in the future.
It also helps us to re-construct our understanding of the event in which we experienced pain. It loosens up our grip on that narrative, and re-imagines the possibilities there. By thinking through what could have happened, we also think about what can happen now – how can the legacy of that event be different in my life? How can I re-remember my past in order to change about my life in the present? For more on this, see “Mourning, Melancholia and Trauma” in the appendices.