I recently changed my gift-giving tactics for my father's birthday. I've been thinking, as you know, about how challenging it is to take in the good. The bad seems to make itself itself at home and spread out like a sloppy house guest that has overstayed its visit; whereas, the good seems rather meek and quietly slips by without being invited in for, at the very least, a cup of tea.
About a month ago, I was talking with my father about the content in my post Taking the Road Less Traveled. I shared with him Rick Hanson's crafty comment, "Our brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive experiences." I've always had a strong relationship with my father but there have been times, perhaps too many times, where I have used our get togethers to rehash the not-so-fun times from my past. When I caught myself in this familiar habit, I began to apologize. My dad responded by saying that it's easier to remember those times. I suddenly had an idea!
What if I created a list of as many happy times as I could remember from my childhood on up through the present? My goal was to purposefully and skillfully invited these pleasant memories into our awareness. I immediately leaped into action and, about a week later, had an eight page document full of pleasant memories. While I thoroughly loved writing this list, I experienced even more joy when watching my father read it. He was deeply touched, and I told him that this was the start of a new tradition. Each birthday, I will present him with a revised copy of this living list, which will include additional cheerful moments that occurred over the past year as well as any warm-hearted memories that have recently re-surfaced.
Interestingly enough, I took this idea of gift giving a step further. My mom and I had an incredibly complex and volatile relationship. She passed away in 2013, and I've had a difficult time grieving her given the amount of pain she inflicted upon me. I am quick to recall all the hurtful details of our relationship, but there were also moments where she was loving and generous. So, I decided to do for her what I did for my dad. I've begun to write down as many pleasant experiences as I can remember. Obviously, I cannot give this list to her, but this exercise has already given me a gift. It has has caused a shift in perspective. In expanding my awareness to include these cherished moments and memories, I have allowed a more complete picture of my mom to take shape. She could make destructive comments and encourage me to embrace my creative self. In many ways, writing this list has softened the edges of my heart and I can begin to hold her with compassion. Grieving is definitely a process but writing this list has certainly paved a way for it to begin.