“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 . . . . . . . . . . .
Associate Member American Academy Of Experts In Traumatic Stress.
(Currently Needs Renewal).