“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
~ Mark Twain
In the last post, we discussed suffering from the Buddha's point of view and following the Easter season, we were going to reflect further on the topic of suffering through the experience of the Christ. Because this challenge is so close at hand, The Forgiveness Challenge, I thought it better to discuss
forgiveness and offer this gift that is coming our way next month.
When we think of forgiveness, we find ourselves dealing with one of the most difficult concepts for human beings to grasp. Responding to evil with a compassionate heart, seems so contrary to our nature. Much of the trauma we've suffered, seems to us unforgivable. We can often accept a human story of meeting hatred with love. We admire those who have walked peacefully to confront injustice.
The lives of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Ghandi come to mind. They both spoke freely of the value of forgiveness as a peaceful act of meeting abuse head-on and they took peace-loving action, while persuading others to do the same, that they both understood may well cost them their lives.
Spiritual figures, as well, such as Christ and the Buddha, spoke clearly of forgiveness as the most important action we can take towards freeing our spirit. Christ specifically instructed us to forgive and love, even our enemies. Among his last words were, "Forgive them, father, for they do not know what it is they are doing."
We love to hear such stories. However when we ask forgiveness of ourselves, depending on where we might be in terms of our individual recovery, our reaction seems to be anger, anxiety, depression, self-righteousness, hatred, or revenge. Our default-mode thinking often leaves us feeling only betrayed.
Studies in well-being and psychological health teach us, time and again, that one of the keys to recovery is for us to learn to develop habits of gratitude for life. In recovery we are tasked to find compassion for ourselves, to find the ability to forgive all that trauma has infused into our being, and to let go of past hurts.
In recovery, when we choose seeking a return to the sense of wellness and wholeness that we have so tragically lost, we want to rise from the ashes of all the tragedy and build new lives. We desperately want to find joy again. We want life and we want most of all to feel like we are living again.
Joseph Campbell, who studied human nature in his life-long commitment to understanding the myths of mankind, in an episode with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, spoke to the ideal we seek as we wade through the process of recovery from personal trauma that also resonates well to describe the quest for a meaning in life that is the biggest part of our general, human condition and spiritual journey:
"People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That's what it's all finally about". (The Power of Myth, Episode 2, Chapter 4).
Without finding some way to forgive others, and most importantly ourselves, full recovery through our experience of trauma will always seem to be that single-step out of reach. Forgive the unforgivable? This seems so impossible to imagine. Another human model of forgiveness for us to consider, is Nelson Mandela.
Mandela, the father of freedom in South Africa, after spending years in prison, dedicated his life to the overthrow of suffering that his people endured under the tyranny of an apartheid regime. Mandela, upon his release from twenty-seven years behind bars, came to a personal understanding of the power that resentment can hold over our weary heads.
“Resentment is like drinking poison (he said) and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
In order to free both himself and his people, Nelson Mandela let go of all the hurt and personal suffering he endured. His time imprisoned, acted as his personal catalyst for profound change in his broken and battered, traumatized heart. Forgiveness, for Mandela, acted out for the rest of us to witness in his approach to redefining his personal life as the leader of a free South Africa, was the key to his personal recovery. His grace and acts of kindness towards his personal enemies, freed his once troubled soul from the bondage of imprisonment. In nurturing his own compasssion, freedom came for Mandela, completely.
Forgiveness truly is the kindest thing we could ever consider doing for ourselves in recovery. Our perceived enemies, those responsible for our trauma experience, may not deserve to be forgiven for all the pain, sadness and suffering purposefully (or unintentionally) inflicted in our lives. Some, aren't even aware that we have together suffered a traumatic experience, as is the case of trauma witnessed in emergency services work, for instance.
Whatever evil has befallen us, from wherever our individual trauma may have come, we deserve to be free of this pain. Learning to forgive, can lift us further out of our personal suffering and can open our hearts to living a full life again.
In eleven days, May 4th, 2014, Archbishop Desmond Tutu with his daughter, Mpho, invite us to join them in a Forgiveness Challenge. Together, on this day, we can accept thirty full days of inspiration, stories and personal support from others on the path to forgiving. This gift could open our souls to learning the power of letting-go.
The Tutu's offer this gift in conjunction with their book, The Book of Forgiving. This month long event is open globally to all wishing to proceed along a path towards forgiveness and finding deeper healing in their personal lives. It's understood, that not all of us are ready to proceed towards forgiveness in our journey. However, the offer stands as a free gift to open our hearts, just that little bit further.
Please, consider accepting this precious gift for your soul. We do not engage in acts of forgiveness for anyone else. We forgive to release our own suffering, to abandon our own pain.
"For with each act of forgiveness, whether small or great, we move towards wholeness." ~ Desmond and Mpho Tutu: The Book of Forgiving.
Be Well . . . . . . . . . . .
The Buddha teaches that human life itself is an experience of suffering. In Buddhist philosophy, the illnesses of the human condition, suffering (or duhkha), is thought of as a general state of inner human experience in which we sense that something about our life is simply, 'unsatisfactory'. Those of us living with the aftermath of psychological trauma, know all to well this sense of living a personally unsatisfactory life. The Buddha teaches that there are three forms that duhkha represents in the experience of distress in human living.
First, there is the suffering we experience as physical pain. We all know what this pain is. When we suffer a physical injury, the brain signals the body with a response to the wound. The pain we feel serves an understandable purpose: to rest the wound. Over time, as the injury heals, the pain signalling slowly subsides and we eventually return to living without the constant reminder that an injury to our body has taken place.
Emotional pain, the pain we feel as a result of our trauma, is another form of duhkha described by the Buddha. This second type of duhkha, is the emotional suffering we experience that is brought about (in the Buddha's teaching) by any situation of change. The Buddha says that all things in life are impermanent and if we resist this impermanence, we will suffer emotionally in the body and in the mind. This includes even the feelings directly related to this form of suffering, including the actual emotional distress itself.
This idea also includes our happy or blissful feelings and the Buddha also teaches that the actual reality of impermanence, of all experience, applies to all humans universally in life. This concept too, is an easily accepted description for a cause of suffering in the human experience.
The third form that duhkha takes in the Buddha's teaching is produced with our insistence that we are independent beings, unconnected to one another and to all that is. The 'I' we believe we are, does not stand alone in the Buddha's understanding. All things and all human beings, including what we might think about in terms of our being a separate and independent 'self' is not truth in the Buddha's understanding.
The truth, according to the Buddha, is that we are, in fact, interdependent. He further suggests that we must learn to accept this interdependence in order to achieve any end to the suffering we experience in our human experience of living and being in the world.
Western society, very much promotes this idea of individualized separateness from our fellow man. We live in North America very individual lives that dictate to us a form of human competition. We all individually seem to be on a solo, separated quest towards some unseen subjective prize.
In seeking the achievement of grasping hold of this symbolic trophy, whatever that trophy may be, we seem to need this competition to demonstrate our worth to our fellow man. We've learned in our culture to proudly state that it is for this reason, the personal achievement of whatever subjectively represents for us the individual prize, that our separate self matters, somehow, in terms of us being and feeling alive.
We suffer in living this competitive life. We suffer too, when we feel, as we do in our experience of trauma, that PTSD in our lives is a symbol of failure in our society. This is the stigma we live with in our illness, an internal sense of failure reinforced in the attitudes towards mental illness from the society in which we live.
For example, we see evidence of this angst in the homeless people now seemingly filling the streets of our inner cities. Many in this population, suffer with mental illness and addiction, caused by the emptiness that our society has imposed upon their souls. These lives, broken and torn apart, are the direct result of individual humans, traumatized in unimaginable ways, forced, as assumed failures, into our inner streets of ultimate despair.
In a society bent on individual competition, as we live in North America with the ultimate trophies being money, fame, status and power, we end up with these outcomes in people's lives. Outcomes where people are judged as winners or losers in the game of western life.
A second example of the human competition we experience in North America, stands out in business. Concepts of capitalism have driven us, it seems, further and further apart from any sense of collective harmony. There is competition in capitalist business. The largest companies with the greatest mass of wealth and resources are the ones we deem most precious to us, in terms of societal achievement.
The problems we are now experiencing globally, with environmental destruction of the planet we call home, stands as evidence enough to determine that all people in our society, individually and collectively, are suffering tremendously. Global warming of our climate, the ultimate symptom of this suffering, is proving itself to stem from the individual human activity we engage in practicing corporate competition. Denying our interdependence with one another, with the earth, with the universe and all that is, might well be destroying us individually, collectively and is demonstrating environmental evidence that we are killing the very planet we call home.
Add traumatic experience to this already somewhat sick way of life, and we experience the pain of western living, beyond any magnitude that we can explain. Many in our western culture, thrive in feeling the power and wealth when these prizes are actually won. When these trophies are not achievable? We suffer. We seem to need, as well, to dominate anyone we feel is a failure and we judge, the homeless for instance, through very cloudy eyes, now lacking any sense of compassion that interdependent living might well bring.
Will we learn to accept the Buddha's advice? Will we choose a new way of life in western society? Will we learn to abandon this concept of individualized and corporate success based on prizes of wealth, status and power as the ultimate measure of our individual worth? Will we come to learn the value of interdependence and draft for ourselves a new way of life?
It would seem, we must.
Suffering can end and the Buddha's teaching to us the truth, that all life is interdependent, could make all the difference. In healing our experiences of trauma, we learn to resist our sense of individualized failure and pain. By coming together in our experience and sharing a collective sense of hope, we can engage in an individual and collective healing.
By moving away from the isolation of individualism and by forming collective human tribes, compassionately engaged in healing, we can find mutual understanding and support. For it is in this interdependent sharing that we can move out of our individual modes of simply wanting to survive, into a common, more collective goal, of helping one another to truly be . . . . alive.
Please accept this challenge, coming into our Easter Season. Reflet upon this diagnosis of suffering as defined by the teachings of the Buddha. Next month, we will discuss the suffering of the the Christ, as means to perhaps understanding, even more fully, our experience of suffering through our personal healing of trauma.