The Economy of the Heart
Joel Johnson | Jan 28 2008
I’m not a Christian anymore. Perhaps I got a raw deal when God was passing out churches—mine was shaken apart in my late teens by a pastor who got busted for sneaking a few hundred thousand out of the offering plate to buy Nazi war memorabilia, not to mention banging a few dozen women who came to him for marriage counseling—but I’ve made my peace with the Prince of it.
One particularly Christian principle has apparently stuck with me over the years. It wasn’t until recently that I rediscovered it. (Not animal sacrifice, which I never abandoned.) And whether Jesus of Nazareth existed as a real meat person or was the product of a coterie of desert sci-fi novelists, one thing he taught has been helping me a lot lately.
It’s awfully nice to forgive.
“Forgiveness is the economy of the heart…forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.”
Even better, I think forgiveness has made me a more productive person. Or at the least, one able to more fully enjoy the process of production. And since I produce words for a living, that’s a wonderful thing.
I didn’t used to think much of forgiveness. I’d harbor a years-long grudge against anyone for the slightest accidental scuff of my ego, adding my jealousy and indigence to a cauldron of molten spite that I’d tip out every time I needed to get something done. I’d throw in my festering self-loathing for good measure. I’d work not for the joy of it, but to show those fuckers what’s up. It was about as causticly effective as starting an engine by splashing it with battery acid.
Okay, that’s a bad analogy. It did work for a while.
But I didn’t enjoy it. I was all ate up inside. And outside for that matter, too disgusted with my body to take care of it. So like a mistreated engine, I had myself a nice little breakdown right in the middle of the road. And by “the road” I mean “my career.” (Breathe, analogy. Live, damn you!)
Now I’m better. Not totally, amazingly perfect or anything. Better, though, for sure. Happier and healthier! Maybe more productive, even, but that’s not the point.
At least not my point. I’ve forgotten my audience, haven’t I? Just hang with me. I’m almost done.
See, I get this sort of panic attacks here and there, except unlike a typical panic attack which comes on strong and dunks your balls in ice water right after you call your best friend’s fiance “bomb shelter doable”—I get those, too—these are in slow motion. They might take a few days to crest, which is horrible, because I often don’t feel them coming on. I’ll just be standing out on the porch looking at the backs of my neighbors' houses, realizing I haven’t done much work in the last few days, and realize I feel awful.
Then I’ll remember, Hey, I didn’t used to hate myself! Why just last week I thought I was fucking awesome. But instead of trying to browbeat myself back to productivity—You’re so far behind that you must do double the work!—I just let go.
I’m not talking about realizing I’m in the dumps and pulling myself up by the bootstraps. Because, you know, I’m in a dump, remember? I don’t want to do anything now. I just want to pull the hood of an old Ford truck off the pile, crawl under, and die with my bootstraps on.
So I do.
You have failed again, my friend, I say. (I don’t always say my “friend,” but the longer I live in Brooklyn the longer my inner voice sounds like my local bodega’s owner.) And that’s okay. You will fail again. You are forgiven.
That’s it. Profound, right?
Okay, look. I know. It’s not a good tactic for wresting yourself out of a doldrum and sailing around the Cape of Todo. But whatever! It’s okay to go off course sometimes. We are imperfect. And loathing yourself or bemoaning your lack of work ethic isn’t actually doing anything, either. It’s just another way to do what you really want to do, which is obviously to do nothing.
Give up for a while, I say. Take a break. Take a nap. Take the rest of the day off. Audibly tell yourself “It’s okay.” Throw away all the yardsticks you’ve created to track your growth and spend a little time with your inner emancipator. The world’s softest grandmother is giving you a floury hug.
Forgive yourself for losing focus. Then forgive yourself for worrying about losing your focus.
Forgive yourself for making unrealistic goals. Forgive yourself for making goals that aren’t big enough to keep you interested. Forgive yourself for doing work that’s not your best. Forgive yourself for comparing your work to the work of others. Forgive yourself for thinking something other than your work might be fun. Forgive yourself for any single thing you find yourself feeling guilty about.
Then forgive your enemies. Forgive that asshole who showed you up with better work. Forgive the people who have treated you like dirt. (Feel free to forgive yourself for feeling like you don’t want them in your life anymore, because there’s nothing wrong with forgiving but not forgetting. Some people are too screwed up to keep close enough to hurt you again.)
It’s a concept that has faded into the background static for many of us. It smacks of hippie shmaltz. (Hippie Shmaltz Smacks are my favorite breakfast.)
Just try it on for size. Even if you don’t believe in any god, the notion still has value, I think. I mean, is there something religious about being okay with yourself? God forbid, loving yourself? If you take ten seconds right now to cut yourself some slack—to create that space of calm in which thoughtful next actions can be taken—and you don’t find yourself just a little bit happier about what you’re choosing to do (or not do), well, then, you know.
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