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 . . . . . . . . . . .
Certified: Community & Workplace Trauma Educator Traumatology Institute.
Associate Member American Academy Of Experts In Traumatic Stress.