Forgiving the Unforgiveable
Forgiveness is quite a challenging topic. It is one of those topics around which we have many images, concepts and ideas.
However, forgiveness very often doesn’t work, even though at the core of many spiritual teachings, and of Christianity in particular within the context of the Western world, there is this idea of forgiving one’s enemies, forgiving those who have hurt us. The reason why it seldom works is that most often it is the ‘Good’ struggling to forgive the ‘Bad’.
Often there is contained within this attempt towards seeking resolution and forgiveness an inherent, and frequently veiled, sense superiority. Forgiveness takes place when we meet what is and when we meet the other individual as an equal.
Contained within the previous statements is an issue for many individuals. How do I meet the perpetrator as an equal?
When we do our inner work, when we investigate our heart, when we have the courage to look at topics such as hatred, jealousy, bitterness, a sense of being hard-done by, our need for justice, or our need to punish. When we have the courage to see how often our benevolence is not actually benevolent.
The ‘good’ regularly triumph over the ‘bad’ with much more enthusiasm. We see clearly with almost guaranteed predictability that today’s freedom fighter invariably becomes tomorrow’s dictator. Our world is full of such examples and is still suffering under the heavy burden of the cycle of victims and perpetrators, with many groups of victims frequently claiming more ‘rightness’ than the previous group or other groups.
When we are able to face with absolute clarity, and through telling the absolute truth to ourselves, we can clearly see how ‘goodness’ can be the Devil himself dressed up as an Angel of Light.
When we are able to face the inherent and hidden sense of superiority and look at our own shadow, we will then be able to meet the perpetrator as an equal. When we meet the other as an equal there is no need for forgiveness. It doesn’t have to be attempted, it doesn’t have to be tried, it simply happens. And it happens with and through the truth that resides in the silence.
When we are able to look at a perpetrator and feel, experience and know completely what it is that they have done to themselves, forgiveness becomes meaningless. When someone murders, rapes or harms another; what have they done to themselves?
One of the problems we have as a culture is how the teachings of Christ have been distorted by religion. We have become a very punitive culture and within this philosophical framework the ‘bad’ have to be punished. What we are then left with is that ‘the bad’ need to be punished and the admonition that we have to forgive – a teaching from Christ (and other enlightened teachers).
We keep on trying to do that: the bad have to be punished, and we are supposed to forgive. Together with this is the message that as victims we are good, and that the perpetrator is bad. Unintentionally we also believe that if we forgive, this confirms us as the ‘good’ person and although the forgiveness takes place, the ‘bad’ person remains ‘bad’.
There is the huge contradiction in all of that. One is very ‘old testament’ in nature and one is part of a distorted teaching. Religion is almost always a distortion of the teachings of the master be that the Buddha, be that Krishna, be that Christ.
One that the greatest crimes committed by Christianity on Western culture is to tell everybody that they were born in sin. This is the birthplace of self-hatred. If that is the seed of our culture, if self-hatred is the foundation upon which we built our culture, how then are we able to forgive the unforgivable?
This can really only be done once we experience the depths of our own heart, for the heart is very broad and it leads us into a whole other universe that contains all at the higher and lower aspects of ourselves. Existing within those worlds is also our shadow and we often feel justified in wanting to be punitive towards the perpetrator, or even cruel. We justify that by saying that ‘they are the bad one’ and we are the ‘good one’.
I’m not suggesting that we do away with our legal systems. Indeed sometimes society does need to be protected from an individuals who can be very sick. However, what kind of society created that person? What kind of society creates despots? What kind of society creates rapists? What kind of society creates people who steal?
We live in a culture where some of the greatest thefts are sanctioned or ignored. We tolerate corruption and lies in the world of big business, we allow our governments to take military action for invented reasons and yet we label those smaller groups defending themselves as terrorists – the ‘bad’ ones.
We live in a world in which an individual from a disadvantaged background who steals a radio or car might find themselves in prison, and the elite who steal millions roam the streets and still run corporations – or governments! We have a lot of inequality. we have lots of ideas about who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’, we have lots of ideas about whose crimes are not ‘as bad’ as other people’s crimes. Within the seed of Western culture, and in all cultures on the planet, there is this notion that there are others who are ‘badder’ than us and there are others who are ‘better’ than us.
As we have the courage to meet what is in our own heart we begin to experience that perhaps we are afraid to love, really afraid to love.
Why is this? Perhaps we were raised by a family, neighbourhood or culture in which we experienced a lot a hatred. Perhaps we were raised in Beirut or Belfast or on the West Bank, or in an impoverished ghetto or in another part of the world where there is hatred towards or from other groups, or perhaps we were raised with religious abuse, or in a culture of blame that always seeks to blame others and especially outsiders for misfortune.
When we are exposed to such hatred as children we get know that the core of hatred comes from a betrayed and wounded heart. We can then become too afraid to love: because if we love, maybe that will happen to us, maybe we will turn to hatred too. In avoidance of this we close ourselves off behind a wall for we instinctively we know that hatred and love are different sides of the same coin.
Forgiving the unforgivable starts with an experience of one’s own heart, inclusive of all aspects of the heart. An ability to really look at our own shadow, to really know what is present, to really know what is hiding there in the hurt.
It behoves us to look through the heart with clarity at what the perpetrator did to herself, what he did to himself? Can we cross the floor and meet the camp commandant of Auschwitz and stroke his cheek and say ‘go home to your family, you are needed there’? It is very easy for us to say ‘well, he deserves all of the suffering that is on its way to him’ and indeed, the wheels of Karma turn and there are consequences for our actions. However, what I’m proposing is that we bow with respect to the heavy consequences they have indeed brought upon themselves and have compassion for their family and descendants. Do we really want to revel in the thought of another’s suffering? Even if it is self-created?
When we look closely at the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of such individuals we can know that the impact on them is grave. What if you are a descendant of slaves, perhaps an African-American, can you look through your heart at the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the slave owners? When there has been ill gotten gain, shame and guilt have a deep impact, not only on the perpetrator, but also on their descendants for several generations to come – what is apparent is that this negative impact can also be felt and witnessed with the descendants of the victims. The descendants of both victims and perpetrators mirror one another in many noteworthy ways.
Teachings form an awakened heart is an invitation to look at the truth of that which says we are better, the truth of when we say that we are trying to forgive, or that we need to be more forgiving and inclusive up those ‘bad’ people. We really need to look at the truth of what that means.
One of my greatest awakenings was to realise that the thing being sought is not lost, it is the seeker that is lost. We do not awaken, it is awakening that calls us.
Forgiving the unforgivable can only come from honestly meeting our heart with all of its contents, from our willingness to tell the absolute truth. When we let go of the story of who is the ‘good’ person and who is the bad person, the story of being hard done by and the need to punish or be punished, when we have the courage to do all of that, it really becomes the the courage to choose peace and the courage to challenge our need to be right.
Our need to be right emerges from own need to punish the other in response to our deep pain. We need to ask ourselves this: When I am in my need to punish the other, who are we imitating? We are indeed imitating the perpetrator.
That which is unforgivable only becomes unforgivable within our own heart when we exclude someone from the human race. When we exclude someone as bad, it goes against the nature of our soul and the nature of our heart, which is to be inclusive. In reality it is ourselves that we cannot forgive, that’s the truth of the matter.
When we came into this world brimming with innocence as young children we loved everyone and everything. Then we lost our innocence, and we are yet to forgive ourselves for the great betrayal of Self, for being too afraid to stand in our light. When we are unable to forgive another, and when we exclude them from the human race, the reality is we are unable to forgive ourselves for what we allowed to happen and for our participation in exclusion after that. The soul can only include, the heart can only include. The heart encompasses everything, it excludes nothing. The awakened heart is the universe, it is God and everything and everyone belongs.
What this article did not say
Whenever I discuss this topic there can be reactions that lead either the listener of the reader to draw conclusions come from wounded reaction – this is understandable when we have been deeply wounded. I shall repeat a couple of things here:
– I am not suggesting that individuals such as rapists, murderers and those guilty of heinous crimes against humanity be ‘let off the hook’. I am saying that we can bow to the fate that awaits them, the fate that either political forces or the force of law that will deliver. The freedom of the heart allows us to love, pray for and include those who have been terribly lost.
– Not wishing vengeance, not wishing to see the other punished is not the same as saying that the law should not take its own course.
– Almost all victims blame themselves in some way for what was done to them. When we meet what is and see the perpetrator for what and who they are, a mother, a father, a son, a cousin, a child etc… Then we begin to see ourselves for who we are.
What this article did say: Freedom
When we are able to see the other for who they are and lament their loss as well as our own, we are no longer bound to them, no longer bound to carry them throughout our life. This gives us freedom. When we can bow with deep respect for the consequences to their soul and on their fate we become truly free. This is a deep and profound inner movement that can only take place in the heart once we release our stories of right and wrong.
What about my memories?
Memories of events can seem to be etched upon us. However, as we do our inner work, the emotional charge around what happened reduces.
What is important to realise is that we can only heal what did happen, not what should not have happened.
Memories are bothersome, even tormenting, when we still have difficulty and accepting what is. Acceptance of ‘what is’ is KEY to any path of healing. When we are still crying out ‘It should never have happened’ then our memories of the event will still plague us, perhaps for years. There is very little point in arguing with reality. We can only heal what actually happened, not what should not have happened.
The first step is to acknowledge that it happened and then accept that it happened. Accepting that it happened is not the same as giving permission for others to do the same, it is simply not arguing with reality.
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