In the past post, I discussed suffering from the Buddha's point of view and following the Easter season, I was going to reflect further on the topic of suffering through the experience of the Christ. Because this opportunity 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 I think of forgiveness, I find myself dealing with what others describe as one of the most difficult concepts for human beings to grasp. Responding to evil with a compassionate heart, seems so contrary to what I've learned is human nature. Much of the trauma we've all suffered, seems to us unforgivable.
I'll own that at least.
I can accept, when my mind and heart are together set-right, any human story of meeting hatred with love. I admire those who have walked peacefully to confront injustice. I'm blown away at how some can forgive others pretty much on the spot. I'm not there myself yet, but do hope to get there over time.
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. They each took peace-loving action, practicing all the way non-violence. While persuading others to do the same, they both understood their challenges towards the systems in their societies that were standing in humanity's way, may well cost them their lives.
They, 'did it anyway', as Mother Theresa is known to once say.
Spiritual figures, 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."
As The Christ was being horrifically and publicly murdered, his prayer for those carrying out his execution touches me still very deeply. (I once portrayed the Christ when I did some time adventuring in Community Theatre).
I love to hear stories about troubles that end with lessons of forgiveness and reconciliation. However when I ask forgiveness of myself, towards myself, depending on where I might be in terms of where I'm at in the moment with my recovery: Where forgiving others is difficult, forgiving myself for being human isn't coming any more easily.
My reactions still to the hurts imposed upon me by others this past bunch of years, stillll end up being expressed as anger, anxiety, depression, self-righteousness, hatred, or even outright revenge.
My own default-mode thinking often leaves me still feeling only betrayed of late by far too many.
Studies in well-being and psychological health teach time and again that one of the keys to recovery is for us to learn to develop habits of gratitude for life itself.
To twist the thinking of Rousseau with my own slant, "I breathe, therefore, I am. In gratitude, therefore, to breathe is life enough."
In recovery we are tasked to find compassion for ourselves too. It's by nurturing self-compassion, we'll grow to find the ability to forgive all that trauma has infused into our being, and to let go of past hurts any others may have intentionally or unintentionally put upon us when we need from others the precise opposite.
In recovery, when we choose seeking a return to the sense of wellness and wholeness that we have so tragically lost (this is shared by many) 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 to me 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, I'm told by those helping me, might always seem to be that single-step out of reach.
"Hmm," in response, said I. "Forgive the unforgivable?"
This seems so impossible to imagine still to me. What this forgiveness challenge coming up hopes to remind me, and any others who might choose to participate in the challenge along with me: Is a call to remember the human model of forgiveness for us to consider, South African prisoner turned South African President, one of my own heroes in the life, 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 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 compassion, freedom came for Mandela, completely, both within himself, and without.
Forgiveness truly is the kindest thing we could ever consider doing for ourselves in recovery. Our perceived enemies, those responsible for our trauma experience, those who caused us even further harms, 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.
I'm admitting I'm not yet personally there. But, I'm now keenly aware that to forgiveness, ultimately, is precisely where I will, one-day, choose to go.
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.
As many say, and intellectually I do know this is true, considering the messengers who've all succeeded in forgiving, as Nelson Mandela got to. Those who've learned to forgive, have been through often quite horrific abuses and oppression put upon them by power:
"We forgive-for our spirit to be free of the poison that is anger towards that which is past, and therefore can not, once done, be changed."
I'll leave with these words by Desmond and Mpho Tutu:
"For with each act of forgiveness, whether small or great, we move towards wholeness." ~ Desmond and Mpho Tutu: The Book of Forgiving.
Isn't that what full-recovery is meant to be about?
Be Well . . . . . . . . . . .
The Buddha teaches that human life itself is an experience of suffering. In Buddhist philosophy, the illnesses of the human condition, with suffering (or duhkha), are 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. To face that reality, the suffering, is the reason I've learned as to why we bury away the story of our personal traumas inside. We hide away the truth, denying us the opportunity in doing so to actually feel the pain, on way to healing it.
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. 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 of trauma-the pain of which seems to not wish to ever end.
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 (in reality, to prove to the ego that we matter). 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 is most important, somehow, in terms of us being and feeling alive.
In Western Culture: We learn best how to become humans 'doing' one-thing-or-the-other. Resting on accepting that we are, in fact, humans 'being' isn't something we've been taught to do all that well in the West.
We suffer in living this competitive life. Even before trauma hit me upside the head, I'd started to sense the meaninglessness of hoping to be some rising star that the world is to take notice of. We suffer too, when we feel, as we do in our experience of trauma, that falling-down in our lives is a symbol of failure in our society of the worst degrees. This is the stigma we live with in our illness, for instance, that is 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, being forced-out by the rest of society as assumed failures. Thus how these folks end up spilling into our inner streets of ultimate despair in cities.
In a society bent on individual competition, as we exist as humans in North America with the ultimate trophies being money, fame, status and/or 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, not dependent upon WHO we are; but, rather, we are judged as 'good human' or 'bad human' in many ways based on what we do (for work) that allows us to WIN all these apparent prizes that are there. It's as though we've accepted that all life is a carnival.
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, human-harmony. There is competition in capitalist business. It's said that capitalism needs this competitiveness itself, for capitalism to stay alive.
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. Those at the top in these now globalized corporations are the one's too many of us admire the most, and strive to model-ourselves after.
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, with philosophies of competition and capitalism carried around as though they're biblical commands. 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 really matters, is destroying us individually, collectively, and is impacting life as we know it in dangerous ways today. With environmental evidence to the negative piling up on us, I've personally had to wake up to the reality that we are killing the very planet we call home. As we continue to kill the planet, we threaten the life of every bit of life that lives with us. At the end-of-such-a-game, we see the most tragic, potential outcome of all now staring us right in the eyes if we're not afraid, or in denial deep-enough to look:
We're threatening now the life of the human species, us, itself.
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. This is what the Buddha says-we suffer because we desire too much. I'd argue that we desire actually many things we don't even actually need.
We seem to need, though, to continue to do our very individual best to find ways dominate anyone we feel is getting ahead of us. "Keeping up with the Jones'", it's called. Whoever the hell these 'Jones' folks are that we're in some race with them, I've no longer much of an idea.
Vulnerably expose ourselves in our society as a failure?
Oh, my, can we judge.
We judge and condemn the visibly homeless for instance, through very cloudy eyes. I've sensed personally in Canada that we're now lacking any sense of compassion for our fellow-humans at all. We've lost, it seems, near every bit of energy to that interdependent living, and understanding, may have in the past opened us up in terms of social conscience. "It's all-about-me" it seems. I admit, I couldn't see this when life was working for me-when I could still live the competitive life as motivation to live at all.
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. Those of us living with trauma on-board, with the illnesses of traumatization seeming to control practically every thought: I'm beginning to accept that the Buddha has much to offer. I view him as perhaps the worlds historical first, and best, perhaps, therapist.
Suffering can end, the teachings of Buddhism suggest. The Buddha's teaching to us is the truth: All life is interdependent. Getting back to knowing this truth, could make all the difference for North American Society in the years of increasing warming of the planet which we can't any longer deny is what the human species will face in the not-so-far-away future that lies ahead.
In healing our experiences of trauma, I'm getting how important is is that we learn to resist our sense of individualized failure and pain. What I mean here, is that the judgments that stigma adds to our suffering: Have NO PLACE at all in terms of being included in our recovery journeys. Stigma is so lacking in truth, anything stigmatization has to say deserves no attention, in my view, any longer at all.
By coming together in our experience and sharing a collective sense of hope, we can engage in an individual and collective healing-which is a huge part of why I choose to maintain this blog. I want to be as open as I can, sharing my personal journey, so that any others who might find the site, at the very least, will learn how not alone we are in this experience we share.
By moving away from the isolation of individualism (says the Buddha); and by forming collective human tribes, compassionately engaged in healing, others suggest:
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, over time, moving into a common, more collective goal, of helping one another to truly be . . . . alive.
Please accept this challenge, coming into our Easter Season.
Reflect upon this diagnosis of suffering as defined by the teachings of the Buddha. Give it some serious thought. Consider, not becoming a Buddhist (unless that intrigues you enough, of course, that you wish to get all-the-way-into tackling your trauma issues via "The Eight-fold Path".
Next month, I'll discuss the suffering of the the Christ. I'll share my take on that subject, as means to perhaps understanding, even more fully, our experience of suffering through our personal healing of trauma:
According to the story of the Christ-God knows exactly what human suffering is.
How 'not alone' does that make a mortal-trauma-infused-human feel?
If even God knows human suffering: To me, that suggests: Nobody is ever truly alone as we work said suffering out.
For A Quality Read That Represents The Healing Value Of Considering the Buddha as a Teacher: Her's a link to "Buddha's Brain", written by Rick Hansen, PhD.
I've enjoyed learning more deeply about the Buddha and Buddhism with these two courses available on Coursera:
Buddhism and Modern Psychology
Tibetan Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World
For Some Readying From Robert Wright, Professor For The Buddhism and Modern Psychology Course: Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment.
Thank you for stopping by.
Be Well . . . . .
Darren Michael Gregory, Curator, The Trauma Recovery Blog
Certified: Community & Workplace Trauma Educator Traumatology Institute.
Associate Member American Academy Of Experts In Traumatic Stress.