Why is it hard to forgive? (Part 2)

WIP (Manish)Four self-protective mechanisms that never let us heal !

My last blog on the above topic resonated with many readers. Some of you shared deep insights on “forgiveness” from your life experiences. From your comments, I have summarised four main themes about what keeps us stuck in our emotional wounds.

 

Illusion of forgetting
Forgetting is not forgiving. It’s only a quick fix that keeps us way from real healing 

Imagine a thorn pierced your bare foot. It’s so painful that you didn’t want to touch it. You stopped walking that path and swore to never see that thorny bush again. That’s forgetting. However, a part of the thorn still lives in you and every time you walk, it hurts.

Forgiving, on the otherhand, is coming to terms with the reality. Developing courage to look at the wound directly.  Pulling out the part of the thorn that does not belong to you. Healing what’s yours. Keeping the lesson. And, developing courage to walk the path again if you chose to.

When in pain our first reaction is to protect ourselves and so we tend to cut-off the relationship or situation that we associate pain with. Forgetting is like taking a painkiller to survive the night. Suppressing pain makes sense when it’s unbearable. However, our attempts to cut off or forget makes pain unpredictable and chronic. The real root cause never gets addressed. And the pain surfaces again and again in other life situations and relationships.

Novelist Paulo Coelho captures this difference while saying “Forgive but do not forget, or you will be hurt again. Forgiving changes the perspectives. Forgetting loses the lesson.”

Prison of stories
We are hurt not cause of what happened but the stories that we tell ourselves about the same.

Lets look at our most unforgivable wounds. What hurts us now is not the incident itself. It’s the memory of what happened. When we feel violated or wronged, we weave a story. We tell this story of our own pain, shame, blame & victimhood to ourselves again and again. Its like rubbling salt to keep the wound fresh. Why do we do that? 

Transactional Analysis defines such behaviour as “rackets” we get stuck in. If we examine deeply, we are stuck cause there is an illusionary pay-off and a hidden cost to our persistent stories of pain. We often repeat these stories cause we believe that it may help us feel justified or righteous about our victimhood. Or it may protect us from future insults. Whatever our payoff is, it’s illusionary. It would never heal us. The cost of living in pain is way too high as compared to justification about that pain 

What happened is as unpredictable as what would happen. Each actor in our play had his or her own story. Any attempt to figure out who is right or wrong is a zero-sum game. Forgiveness is letting go the story we tell ourself about our suffering.

After 27 years of unjust imprisonment, Nelson Mandela exemplified the act of forgiveness in his quote— “As I walked out the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

Myth of resolution 
We can wait for life-time to seek resolution for our hurts or find another way to unleash their creative purpose  

As we heal our wounds thru forgiveness, deeper ones may surface. Some go back to childhood. Some pre-verbal. Some come from the collective suffering, from many lifetimes of disrespect and violence. When such a deep void opens what do we do? How do we forgive when the perpetrators are long gone or incapable of any confrontation or reconciliation? And what do we do with those arrows that have become part of your tissue? 

My friend Rie Gilsdorf made a great suggestion on Facebook post referring to the book, My Grandmother’s Hands, by Resmaa Menakim. She said “when the arrow is so deeply embedded and enmeshed in scar tissue, there’s no way to pull it out any more. But perhaps we can digest it, dissolve or catabolize it with an accompanying release of stored energy”

I feel she pointed out to what I now call “radical acceptance”. Radical acceptance is as simple as innocence of a child and as sophisticated as spiritual mastery. It may take us lifetime to embody it or it may happen in an instant without any training whatsoever. Forgiveness, true forgiveness, could be that simple and easy. It is the act of  gathering all our courage and saying “Whatever happened, happened. I know I can’t change the past. However I choose to influence the future. I fully embrace the current reality, with its incompletions, pain and hope. My past alongwith it’s joys and sufferings is my gift. It’s a part of who I am. I embrace it with gratitude and I step forward with confidence.” 

Sometimes resolution is not an apt solution. We seek deeper resolution and integration within. Psychologist Carl Jung reflected on the importance of integrating for our own development. “Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries”. 

Hidden purpose of wounds
Wound are an invitation to step into higher spiritual realm and unlock our creative energy  

Imagine that the jewel you were looking for all your life was delivered as a dagger pierced in your heart. What would you do now? Walk with pain and curse the messenger or thank them for the dagger and heal your wound?

In Sita Ramayana, Devdutt Patnayak writes about a lesser told story from the famous epic Ramayana. Royal maid servant, Manthara had influenced Queen Kaikeyi’s to ask King Dashrath (Ram’s father) to send Ram on exile. Everyone hated Manthara for corrupting Kaikeyi and bringing grave misfortune to Ram. When Ram discovered that what did he do? He met Manthara and forgave her. Ram could see the divine purpose for which he was born. He could see that Mathara had only done a divine error to enable his path. He accepted that and moved on.

Now that’s mythology not our daily life. However, we do have little Ram and little Manthara living within us. We do have deep power to forgive and wisdom to see the divine path we are born for.  It’s important to understand that emotional pain is a doorway to our spiritual growth. The unforgivable “other” has showed up in our life in a particular way to help us deal with some aspects of our own mess. In a mystical way they hold a piece of the puzzle that we long for our own liberation.

Forgiving requires courage– to look within our wound, to reframe our pain as our teacher, to rise beyond transactional field of right or wrong and embrace that grand play that we are all part of. 800 years back Rumi noticed that field— “Out beyond our ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.. I will meet you there”

….

I am grateful to my readers and their contributions. It’s helping me (and hopefully all of us) in deepening our practice of forgiveness. 

Wishing you a wonderful new year 2019

Cheers 

Manish Srivastava 
(Artwork by Manish Srivastava)
http://www.sacredwell.in

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Unfamiliar familiarity

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A rustic old man. Sitting next to me. In the middle seat of the aeroplane boarding at Abu Dhabi airport. His head low, feet tapping, carrying a restless, nervous energy around him.

An elderly lady, similar to his age, was sitting on the window seat. She was getting worried by the restless man. She asked the air hostess for a change of seat.

As I settled in my aisle seat I sensed the restlessness and discomfort that I was edging in the little 3-seat space on this plane.

The old man, grey-haired, unshaven, foul-smell coming from his mouth, looked very different from the way I would define a cultured international traveller. Yet, his rustiness, including his childlike curiosity to gaze at my iPad, was endearing.

I asked him, if he was okay?
He rested his head on the TV screen and said nothing.

An air hostess came by and inquired if he needs any medical attention. I translated the same from English to Hindi for him. He told us that he had an headache but he needs no medicine. Later he shared with me that while he was coming thru the immigration check, his daughter was in a different queue and she is held back. He was getting worried, what if she is in some trouble. I asked the air hostess to make the announcement. Our plane was still boarding.

He got curious seeing me help him, and asked me in Hindi:
“Kya aap Pakistan se hain?” (Are you from Pakistan?)
“Nahi, Mumbai.. India.” (No, I am from Mumbai… India), I replied.
“Musalman (Muslim)?”, he further asked seeking some familiarity.
I was a bit reluctant to disappoint him again and said, “well, I am Hindu”
He responded with some assurance “chalo aap insaan hain, achchhe insaan” (Well, you are a human, a good human)

This short conversation seemed important for him to establish familiarity and relationship, that he could only find at a humanity level. Not national. Not religious.

We continued some conversation. I was assuring him that his daughter might be delayed in the long immigration queue for non-US passport holders at the Abu Dhabi airport. Every time a new passenger would board the plane he would hopefully look for his daughter to enter. And I would look at him to hear his relief. I secretly started chatting a Buddhist chant, that I used to practice few years back, for well being of his daughter. Somehow, I became a member of his family.

In the meanwhile, the elderly lady at the window seat started engaging with us by assuring the old man that the plane would not leave till his daughter is back. They started talking and the old lady exclaimed with a sense of new found familiarity.
“So you are from Pakistan, I thought you are an Indian!”

They spoke for some more time trying to figure out each-other’s native cities, community, caste etc. But their familiarity was short-lived. I could guess that inspite of their same country of origin, they had significant differences. The lady was turning uncomfortable with old man’s inquiry. The old man quickly resorted,
“Sabsi badi baat, aap insaan hain” (biggest thing is that you are human).

Once again, I found in their search for familiarity, they could not find a lot in common except their country and language. Finally, the relatedness was established as a human, beyond caste, class, creed and gender.

Three of us had been through awkward exchanges. While he thought, I might be a Pakistani Muslim, I happened to be an Indian Hindu. While the lady on window seat, expected him to be an Indian Hindu, he happened to be an Pakistani Muslim. Yet in that moment, we three were connected by a deep human emotion. A longing of a father to reunite with his daughter. Inspite of our non-familiarity, we were connecting to eachothers’ emotions like a family.

The old man shared his deepest fear. He was scared– what if his young daughter is abducted from the airport. Such things can happen in the world where he came from. He was shivering and stammering while saying that. His fear was real to him. He also shared that he was suffering from diabetes and the blue lunch box in his lap carried insulin. So far, I thought that this rustic village man was carrying his food in the blue lunch box. I regretted my judgements.

His open-heart sharing touched my heart. I thought of my father, who is quite emotional and rustic like him. I touched his shoulder and assured that “she will come”. Part of me was growing worried too.

Somehow, some other elderly men and women sitting around me started relating to this side of me. A women asked me to guide her to her seat. A man asked my help in opening his water bottle seal. I became aware of my youthfulness and felt valued in helping elders.

Suddenly, the old man next to me jumped in excitement.
“Meri beti aa gayi!” (my daughter has come)
He was half standing, trying to reach out to the aisle, bending over me and extending his hand out. His lips shaking, eyes wet, love evident.
I could see a young beautiful women walking towards us. She was assigned a seat somewhere towards the back of the plane. She looked at her father from distance, showing her hand as if asking him to relax. She looked tired and embarrassed by her fathers emotional expression. As she went pass our seats, she just said, “baad mein sab batati hoon” (will share everything later).

The old man folded back his extended arm trying to cope with the emotional expression that could not meet a response in reciprocation. He then turned to me and shared his gratitude for helping and comforting him. He said that this is father-daughter love and paused for a while. I held his shoulder again and asked him to relax.

This exchange between father and daughter had another quality of unfamiliar familiarity. An old rustic father deeply caring and expressing his love and worry. A young, modern daughter, feeling embarrassed to receive and respond to that love in public. The unmet longing of a parent. The overwhelmed distancing of an adoloscent. A real yet incomplete family.

I looked around the plane as it took off. So many people from all ages. Fathers, daughters, sons, mothers, wives, husbands. In spite of our distinct religious, national & racial identities, we are deeply familiar to each-other in our being as a human… longing for love…

(the sacred well)