Saturday, March 28, 2020

Having Lost a Lot, We Grieve

     Covid 19 has shocked many of us out of our comfortable, trance-like, self-absorbed complacency. We hoped that we could float through life comfortably, without being overly bothered by the ridiculously miserable life circumstances of so many in the world, the escalating extinction of species & meltdown of our environment. But now suddenly, we're (almost) in the same boat as our fellow human beings around the globe. Almost, because we are able to comfortably remain in our homes to minimize exposure. Almost, because even if we do become infected, we're rested & well nourished to better fight the infection & have ready access to proper health care. Not so for the millions trapped in sprawling refugee camps and slums around the world.
     Nevertheless, we are now grieving for our lost innocence (naivete), our lost illusion of safety, our lost illusion of control over life. 
     It's very useful & beneficial to deeply understand our grieving process:


     “The five stages of grief are: 

Denial: shock and disbelief that the loss has occurred
Anger: that someone we love is no longer here
Bargaining: all the what-ifs and regrets
Depression: sadness from the loss
Acceptance: acknowledging the reality of the loss

     (These) describe only a general process. Each person grieves in his or her own unique way. …

     The fifth of Kubler-Ross’s five stages is acceptance. At this stage, we acknowledge the reality of loss. We take some time to stop and breathe into the undeniable fact that our loved ones [or other important relationships or possessions etc] are gone. There’s nothing easy about this stage. It can be extremely painful, and acceptance doesn’t mean that we are okay with the loss, or that the grieving process is now officially over. However, there’s been an assumed finality about this fifth stage that Elizabeth and I never intended. Over the years I came to realize that there’s a crucial sixth stage to the healing process: meaning. This isn’t some arbitrary or mandatory step, but one that many people intuitively know to take and others will find helpful.
     In this sixth stage we acknowledge that although for most of us grief will lessen in intensity over time, it will never end. But if we allow ourselves to move fully into this crucial and profound sixth stage – meaning – it will allow us to transform grief into something else, something rich and fulfilling.
     Through meaning, we can find more than pain. When a loved one dies, or when we experience any kind of serious loss – the end of a marriage, the closing of the company where we work, the destruction of our home in a natural disaster – we want more than the hard fact of that loss. We want to find meaning. Loss can wound and paralyze. It can hang over us for years. But finding meaning in loss empowers us to find a path forward. Meaning helps us make sense of grief …
     What does meaning look like? It can take many shapes, such as finding gratitude for the time they had with loved ones, or finding ways to commemorate and honor loved ones, or realizing the brevity and value of life and making that the springboard into some kind of major shift or change.
     Those who are able to find meaning tend to have a much easier time grieving that those who don’t. They’re less likely to remain stuck in one of the five stages. For those who do get stuck, this can manifest in many different ways, including sudden weight gain (or loss), drug or alcohol addiction, unresolved anger, or an inability to form or commit to a new relationship out of fear of experiencing yet another loss. If they remain stuck in loss, then they may become consumed by it, making it the focus of their life to the point where they lose all other sense of purpose and direction. Although you can’t pin all of your troubles or vices on getting stuck after a loss, there is almost always a connection.
     Grief is extremely powerful. It’s easy to get stuck in your pain and remain bitter, angry, or depressed. Grief grabs your heart and doesn’t seem to let go.
     But if you can manage to find meaning in even the most senseless loss, you can do more than get unstuck. When circumstances are at their worst, you can find your best. You can keep growing and finding ways to live a good and someday even a joyous life, one enriched by the lessons and love of the person who died [or memory of other serious loss].” 

      David Kessler. “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.” Scribner, 2019.

      David Kessler's recent (15min) television interview: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/amanpour-and-company/video/grief-expert-we-are-grieving-world-we-have-now-lost-hpbtkk/
      A recent magazine interview: https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief?fbclid=IwAR1QHDM0Q8ROEgqFdvv7lNl9p1NDxReunkDjYjceMQ98MJi6-AOBXdKfzls

www.etsy.com/ca/listing/265479760/what-if-i-fall-quote-print-erin-hansons?ref=related-2

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Control? Separateness?

     Every once in a while, "the shit hits the fan." We are now in such a time (logic behind toilet-paper hoarding?).
     But when things are "normal" aren't we deluding ourselves, sleepwalking through life?

     "Don't hope for a life without problems.
      An easy life results in a judgmental and lazy mind." Kyong Ho

    The only thing we can directly control is our attitude. But because we mistakenly believe that external circumstances completely determine how we feel, we invest almost all of our time & energy struggling to control external circumstances & other uncontrollables: constant change, aging, sickness & death. This is an "illusion of control."
     Related to this compulsion, we spend our lives convinced that each of us is a separate, solid 'thing' - a 'self' independent from & usually in a competitive / adversarial relationship with other people, animals, a harsh uncaring environment, life itself. Loneliness & isolation is becoming an increasingly common, serious psycho-social / medical problem. This is the "myth of separation" - the sense of a contracted, separate self. Einstein long ago felt that the most important question a human being needs to answer is: "Is the universe a friendly place or not?" And if we deeply believe that the universe is unfriendly, peace of mind is rarely possible. Joan Borysenko. “Fire in the Soul. A New Psychology of Spiritual Optimism.” Warner Books, 1993.

     But our deeper intelligence tells us that, we're profoundly interconnected & interdependent with everyone & everything - AND - science shows that we're only truly happy while intimately engaged with whoever / whatever we're dealing with in each successive present-moment. Killingsworth MA, Gilbert DT. “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind.” Science 2010; 330(6006): 932.

     We are very slowly, very gradually evolving beyond, growing up from fear-driven autopilot reactivity ("fight / flight / freeze" - our frightened child mode) and embodying mature balanced kind behavior appropriate to our long-term common good ("tend & befriend" - our wise grandparent mode). The individual / collective contracted ego rigidly insists on remaining isolated & unchanged, trying desperately to retain a sense (illusion) of personal / group control to prevent dreaded chaos. But our deeper intelligence ("heart" / "gut") draws us to expand into, reconnect with a far deeper, more expansive, meaningful life.
 
     From a recent Scientific American article:
     "People who believe that everything is fundamentally one differ in crucial ways from those who do not. In general, those who hold a belief in oneness have a more inclusive identity that reflects their sense of connection with other people, nonhuman animals, and aspects of nature that are all thought to be part of the same 'one thing.' This has some rather broad implications.
     First, this finding is relevant to our current fractured political landscape. It is very interesting that those who reported a greater belief in oneness were also more likely to regard other people like members of their own group and to identify with all of humanity. There is an abundance of identity politics these days, with people believing that their own ideology is the best one, and a belief that those who disagree with one's own ideology are evil or somehow less than human.
     It might be beneficial for people all across the political spectrum to recognize and hold in mind a belief in oneness even as they are asserting their values and political beliefs. Only having 'compassion' for those who are in your in-group, and vilifying or even becoming violent toward those who you perceive as the out-group, is not only antithetical to world peace more broadly, but is also counter-productive to political progress that advances the greater good of all humans on this planet.
     I also think these findings have important implications for education. Even if some adults may be hopeless when it comes to changing their beliefs, most children are not. Other beliefs - such as a belief that intelligence can learn and grow ('growth mindset') - are extraordinarily popular in education these days. However, I wonder what the implications would be if all students were also explicitly trained to believe that we are all part of the same fundamental humanity, actively showing students through group discussions and activities how we all have insecurities and imperfections, and how underneath the superficial differences in opinions and political beliefs, we all have the same fundamental needs for connection, purpose, and to matter in this vast universe.
     Perhaps now, more than ever in the course of human history, we would benefit more from a oneness mindset."
       Scott Barry Kaufman. "What Would Happen If Everyone Truly Believed Everything Is One?"
Scientific American, October 8, 2018 https://getpocket.com/explore/item/what-would-happen-if-everyone-truly-believed-everything-is-one?utm_source=pocket-newtab


“If a living system is suffering from ill health,
the remedy is to connect it with more of itself.”
Francisco Varela

"When we seek for connection
we restore the world to wholeness.
Our seemingly separate lives become meaningful
as we discover how truly necessary we are to each other."
Margaret Wheatley



Sunday, March 15, 2020

Appreciating the Subtle

     Equanimity, peace, & other subtle states are seldom appreciated or discussed these days. When we do notice subtle states, we tend to dismiss them as "boring" or rush to escape them! We overlook or dismiss most of life; instinctively cling to pleasant experiences; and instinctively reject unpleasant experiences. 
     Unless we deeply understand & minimize this conditioned, trance-like reactivity, we will continue to create unnecessary suffering for ourselves & others.

     Equanimity’ can be defined as: "a gentle matter of fact-ness with whatever comes up in experience. In a similar way, a scientist is trained to maintain the detached viewpoint of a neutral observer."
       Shinzen Young. “The Science of Enlightenment. How Meditation Works.” Sounds True, 2016.

     “Being bound neither by delight nor distress is a classical description of the mind-state of equanimity. Bikkhu Bodhi describes this mind-state as a ‘considered mind’ (‘because a prejudiced mind, a mind that has already been made up, cannot consider anything that is contrary to its accepted views’); a mind that has become pliable; become stable; become flexible; reached a state of not fluttering. This is a concentrated mind, without blemish, purified and cleansed with all defiling tendencies gone.
     This is admittedly an accomplishment of a buddha (with a small b) and a tall order for those not trained in the mental discipline. Still, in investigating deeply the workings of our own minds and meditative experiences, we may be able to catch a glimpse of some of the attributes described above. This glimpse, in turn, is a peek into the mind-state that has gone beyond [seeking] delight and [avoiding] distress.” Mu Soeng 
       Mu Soeng, Gloria Taraniya Ambrosia, Andrew Olendzki. “Older and Wiser. Classical Buddhist Teachings on Aging, Sickness and Death.” Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, 2017.

     "... my hope (is) to have ‘traversed the world’s attachments’ (and therefore achieving) a state of equanimity and contentment rooted in wisdom. Contentment is a state of mind and need not rely upon a particular set of external conditions. We are accustomed to thinking that we’ll be content once this, that, or the other thing takes place, and we thereby put a lot of energy into trying to make those conditions manifest. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Even when it does, when we reach a goal (such as retirement) or fulfill certain criteria (such as having a comfortable place to live), it may still turn out that we are not content. Either the conditions change, as they are wont to do, or we find that new desires arise to clamor for our attention once the old ones are fulfilled.
     At any given moment, the quality of one’s experience will be defined by whatever emotional states are arising. Riding the roller coaster of desire, we might be gratified half of the time and distressed the other half. We are being told by the Buddha, however, that we also have a third option – not climbing on board in the first place. Any moment with desire is a moment entangled in suffering. Any time we want things to be different than they are, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. This is because delight and distress are two sides of the same coin, and we cannot have one without the other. It is precisely because he is not consumed with delight that the Buddha can ‘sit alone, without being consumed by regret.’
     Many people will say that it is worth the distress to experience the delight. As we mature, however, we may find ourselves drawn more to the middle range of experience, the state of mind described here by the Buddha in which the fires of desire no longer burn. This is of course the best-known metaphor for awakening: ‘the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion have been extinguished (nirvana).’ Conventional wisdom assumes it is boring and bland in this middle emotional range, but those who have experienced firsthand the equanimous quality of mind that comes from true mindfulness know better. Unencumbered by the emotional highs and lows, the mind is capable of a remarkable clarity and immediacy. Delight and distress do not spice up our experience as much as they confuse and obfuscate it.
     If our contentment depends upon receiving the things that delight us or avoiding what causes distress, it will remain shallow. At the deeper end of the pool, the mind is more calm, more focused, and hence more powerful. Awareness itself is the most astonishing aspect of the human condition. As we learn to orient toward it more often and more skillfully, the contentment described here by the Buddha becomes increasingly accessible. Profound well-being awaits us here and now, in every moment, and can be reached simply by ceasing the attempt to get somewhere else." Andrew Olendzki 
       Mu Soeng, Gloria Taraniya Ambrosia, Andrew Olendzki. “Older and Wiser. Classical Buddhist Teachings on Aging, Sickness and Death.” Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, 2017.




Friday, February 28, 2020

We're All Doing Our Best, and Yet ...

     We're all just trying to do our best to be happy, no matter how our behaviors may appear to outside observers. In the process, we unintentionally create, or at least maintain, a lot of needless suffering for ourselves & others.
     Meditation, first & foremost, allows us see clearly, with a far deeper intelligence (than the conditioned, fear-based, self-talk-filled, superficial level with which we're usually identified).
 
     In his fascinating paper, Roger Walsh MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry, philosophy, anthropology & religion, describes his remarkable insights & discoveries during meditation, despite his strong initial skepticism & fears
     These same fears keep many away from meditation. And even those of us who choose to meditate, only disengage from our momentum of distracted self-talk ("the story of me") very, very gradually, at our own pace. The shift from noisy psychological defenses to the sublime silence & stillness of our deeper intelligence tends to be slow & delicate.


     “Whereas initially I had believed that the inner world must of necessity harbor unwholesome collections of monsters, which I had avoided confronting all my life, I now came to think of this inner world as a very attractive, pleasant source of positive information.
 
     I was beginning to agree with the statements such as those of Willis Harman (1962): ‘We are all hypnotized from infancy … We do not perceive ourselves and the world about us as they are but as we have been persuaded to perceive them.’
     … it was becoming clear that from the perspective of this hypnotized, illusory world view, my symptoms and defenses appeared not only logical but optimal. It would have seemed stupid to act in any other way. And here was the key to a new understanding of the nature of defenses and resistance. If from our perceived world view we are already acting optimally, then of course we would resist change of any type and would seek to strengthen our defenses rather than relinquish them. To relinquish them would feel like sacrificing those very strategies which we believe to be essential for our well-being. Now I could begin to make sense out of the old adage that neurotics don’t come into psychotherapy to get better; they come in to learn how to be better neurotics. A corollary of this is that the really important growth choices involve changes in the beliefs, perspectives, and viewpoints from which we are perceiving rather than attempting to change that which we are looking at. That is, the changes are process, second order, contextual, or perspective changes.
     These insights gave me a very new perspective on the nature of personality, neurosis, neurotic symptoms, self-actualization, authenticity, and courage. Now I could look at people and see that each and everyone of them, each and everyone of us, was courageously coping with reality and themselves as he or she believed, and hence perceived, them to be. Furthermore, they acted and perceived with total commitment in ways that seemed to them absolutely necessary and appropriate. Moreover, each person daily created and endured an extraordinary amount of well-intended suffering in a continuous battle which was fought day in and day out with total but almost totally unappreciated commitment and courage. For each of them, for each of us, every response appeared to represent the optimal self-actualizing strategy, and I could now understand the humanistic psychology position as enunciated by Carl Rogers (1959) that the ‘basic actualizing tendency is the only motive which is postulated in this theoretical system.’
     Thus it became apparent that many of the beliefs and fears I encountered were not unique to me but rather were widespread in our culture. This raises the interesting question as to what extent they are transmitted and taught to us as part of the cultural hypnosis mentioned above.” 
       Roger Walsh. “Journey Beyond Belief.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 24(2); 30-65, 1984. https://drrogerwalsh.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Journey-Beyond-Belief-1984-J.-Humanistic-Psychology-24-2-30-651.pdf




Sunday, February 23, 2020

Maturing Beyond "Ordinary Happiness"

     Many people deeply believe that the universe is unfriendly, and that "ordinary unhappiness" is the most they can hope for. A pervasive subconscious sense of "lack" haunts many of us. 
       David R. Loy. “Lack & Transcendence. The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism.” Wisdom Publications, 2018.
     Sadly, most of us don't actually know what a deep, meaningful life means, looks like, OR that it is available.

     Roger Walsh MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry, philosophy, anthropology & religion at the University of California, states: 
     "... behind conventional religions with their myths, rituals, beliefs and dogmas, are hidden disciplines for practices for training the mind to induce the same states of consciousness that the founders had realized, and thereby opening up similar possibilities for all of us.

     Religions tend to get started when an individual has some sort of breakthrough of some kind. Different founders have different kinds of breakthroughs, but they have spiritual breakthroughs of one kind or another. And the people who are effective in initiating traditions that have lasting power provide several things. First they provide an insight, a vision, a spiritually-informed understanding. Then they’re also able to transmit partly charismatically, partly technically – that is they offer a variety of practices by which other people can have the same realizations for themselves, so that they transmit two things. One is insight, understanding, a vision of the way the world and we look from that awakened place, but secondly, a set of practices which allow others to have the same insight, understanding & state of consciousness and test it out for themselves.
     Now over time, as we all know, there tends to be a process of ‘truth decay’ – over time, the deeper or higher realizations tend to get lost or sidelined somewhat and what remains tends to be the belief system and the rituals around it. And in most religions, the ‘esoteric side’ – the real practices that can actually induce transformative states and psychological-spiritual maturation – tend to have become marginalized to a certain extent, to different degrees in different traditions.

     One of the real tragedies in our culture is that we have no understanding, let alone popular map*, of developmental stages beyond the conventional. So we have no encouragement or call to mature beyond conventional levels, which means that most people stultify at the conventional level, having no understanding that there’s something more
     There is data from multiple fields – developmental studies, psychotherapy, psychedelic work – that the psyche really does have inherent in it, a pull to development. Maslow called it ‘self-actualization,’ other people have called it ‘self-transcendence,’ ‘moksha drive,’ Jung’s ‘individuation,’ etc, etc. And, when that drive is not recognized or fulfilled, it creates a deep profound dissatisfaction
     And the tragedy is, because our culture has no understanding of this call, that malaise is not recognized for what it is. And people look for substitute gratifications of one kind or another. And the trouble is that you can never get enough of what you don’t really want. 
     So there is this inherent growth dynamic in the psyche, this fact isn’t recognized, which leads to enormous suffering in our culture. Maslow called these ‘meta-pathologies’ – pathologies, not of psychosis or neurosis, but existential pathologies that emerge for people. 
     And we have to have a realistic view of what post-conventional development looks like, because it’s not all sweetness and light. Every new stage brings forth new opportunities, new capacities, new understandings, and new problems. There’s a dialectic of development. Every new stage has its new challenges and difficulties. 
     And one of the big problems for us in our culture for anyone who starts to move beyond the conventional is there’s no map to understand the problems that emerge and very little in the way of remedies.”
       Roger Walsh, in an excellent 2hr interview by Rick Archer: https://batgap.com/roger-walsh/

     Four excellent recent books specifically deal, in-depth, with psycho-social-spiritual maturation well beyond the conventional:
     Amoda Maa. “Embodied Enlightenment. Living Your Awakening in Every Moment.” Reveal Press, 2017. 
     Shinzen Young. “The Science of Enlightenment. How Meditation Works.” Sounds True, 2016.
      Dorothy Hunt. “Ending the Search. From Spiritual Ambition to the Heart of Awareness.” Sounds True, 2018.
     Bonnie L. Greenwell. “When Spirit Leaps. Navigating the Process of Spiritual Awakening.” Non-Duality Press, 2018.

     * Those who specialize in this area do have "developmental maps": http://www.johnlovas.com/2013/11/fowlers-six-stages-of-faith.html
 



Friday, February 21, 2020

Meditations: Structured & Unstructured

     “There are many types of meditation practices in various traditions and also outside of traditions. They generally fall into one of two categories: structured or unstructured time sitting in silence and being still.
     Structured practices include concentration practices, such as counting or focusing on the breath, reciting a mantra, or visualizing the guru, and they are used for gathering the scattered mind and developing the ability to focus the mind in one place. They are useful practices in that they initially show the seeker how very active the mind is. They will frustrate the seeker at first; he will be sure he is not doing the practices correctly because his thinking keeps interrupting his focus on the object of concentration.
     Over time, concentration practices do quiet the mind, and they have been shown to have benefits in reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and bringing moments of calm into a troubled life or a restless mind. If these are the goals, they are quite useful. If you are a seeker of the Truth that frees one from one’s ‘self,’ however, they may or may not lead to liberation, since the ‘meditator’ may continue to feel separate from the meditation.
     Unstructured meditation is an invitation to simply sit without attempting to control anything that arises. It is an invitation to be – to be the silence, not the one who is trying to be silent; to be the awareness, not the one who is trying to be aware. It is not about controlling experience or maintaining a certain state of consciousness. True meditation reveals what IS before any ‘state’ of consciousness. There can be moments where there is no thought, no ego, and no time. We are conscious, if even for a moment, of being what we ARE.
     This type of meditation occurs when consciousness sinks into the unknown, into the depths of silence, where there is no ‘meditator.’ It is a deep listening to silence. Whether thoughts appear or do not appear is not a concern. We are not efforting to maintain a ‘state,’ but rather coming to rest in our natural state. This form of meditation does not engage the ego, as do so many structured meditation techniques. Of course, in the beginning you will encounter the noise of your ‘narrator,’ but you are not engaged in battle with your thinking. In fact, as consciousness comes to rest in its home ground, we discover that thought cannot interrupt the awake silence we eventually discover is our true nature. It is just another phenomenon that comes and goes in the Heart of Awareness.
     This kind of meditation can render the ego more and more transparent, since we are no longer striving to make something happen. It is a beautiful opportunity to unhook from our digital and virtual worlds, from our goal-oriented minds, and simply rest as what we are. We begin to see that when we are not struggling against our thoughts or feelings, something knows how to realign itself with its true nature. In this type of meditation, we also come to connect with the deep well of silence and wisdom into which we can drop our most important existential questions. Into this depth of knowing, we can inquire: Who or what am I, really?

       Dorothy Hunt. “Ending the Search. From Spiritual Ambition to the Heart of Awareness.” Sounds True, 2018.

Fogo Island, Newfoundland

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Simplifying Life

     Meditation practices "can begin to soften our stance toward our self, toward life in general, and open us to what transcends the habitual. They are invitations to become intimate with the wisdom of silence and stillness.”
     Dorothy Hunt. “Ending the Search. From Spiritual Ambition to the Heart of Awareness.” Sounds True, 2018 


     "… accept simultaneously the world you see and the world that sees you.
     There is you and then there is the world. If there is even a small gap between them, we fill it with thought. As long as we create this gap, we will never understand. But in Truth, there is no gap between you and the world. To become one with your object is true openness of heart. This is why we do zazen." 
       Dainin Katagiri. “You Have to Say Something. Manifesting Zen Insight.” Shambhala, 1998.


It's not that "I" hear the birds, it's just hearing the birds.
Let yourself BE hearing, seeing, thinking.
It is the false "I" that interrupts the wonder
with the constant desire to think about "I."
And all the while THE WONDER is occurring:
the birds sing, the cars go by,
the body sensations continue,
the heart is beating —
life is a second-by-second miracle.
But dreaming our "I" dreams
we miss it.                                 Charlotte Joko Beck


     “The thinking mind is always thinking about things – it’s always one thought from where the action is. It’s far out to realize that when you’re completely identified with your thinking mind, you’re totally isolated from everything else in the universe.”         Ram Das



     “When we truly live each moment, what happens to the burden of life? … If we are totally what we are, in every second, we begin to experience life as joy. Standing between us and a life of joy are our thoughts, our ideas, our expectations, and our hopes and fears.
     It’s our judgment about what we’re doing that is the cause of our unhappiness.
       Charlotte Joko Beck. “Nothing Special: Living Zen.” HarperCollins, 1995.

Hiking Fogo Island, Newfoundland

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Power of Forgiveness

     We've ALL experienced various forms of trauma, and as a result, are ALL contracted to varying degrees. This contracted state distorts & negatively impacts our perception, behavior, & ultimately our capacity for intimacy - to deeply appreciate ourselves, others & the world.
     This author writes from deep personal experience, hard-earned wisdom, as well as formal education. It's much easier to remain stuck in the contracted state, than to follow her advice & start healing.

     "The choice to meet suffering consciously, and then to open wider than this suffering, is the act of forgiveness. Very often there’s an idea that forgiveness is something you do, perhaps a kind gesture, the writing of a ‘letter of forgiveness’ to everyone who’s ever hurt you, or a turning of the other cheek. But the action is really an inner one. It’s the choice to open wider than you want to, wider than you can even imagine.

     Sometimes, you can really believe that you’re choosing to meet suffering consciously and yet somehow you’re still a victim of this suffering. For example, when you’re in the grip of a dark emotion and you feel it intensely, you think you’re meeting it completely, yet it doesn’t dissolve. The pain is like a rock; it just stays there. In this case, there’s still a subtle refusal to let go of the victim story. To open wider than the suffering is to be willing for the victim to die. As much as you say you no longer want to be the victim, the death of this victim is synonymous with the death of self, because victim-identity is a primary part of the ego’s scaffolding. The question to be faced here is this: ‘Who would you be without the victim?’ This isn’t to be replaced with another idea of self, not even a positive self! The question is one that functions to take you deeper into the core of being where there is no self, but only if you are willing for the structures that uphold your sense of self to come tumbling down.
     Of course, when trauma runs deep, if you’ve been physically or emotionally abused by someone in your family, a stranger, or by a collective force (such as Holocaust or political exile), it’s difficult to forgive. After all, the abuse did take place and you were indeed a victim of someone else’s violence, hatred, or insanity. Letting go of the victim story is certainly not about condoning injustice or cruelty; it’s not about making a wrong right. It’s really not about the ‘other,’ but about you. Holding on to ‘it shouldn’t have happened’ perpetuates a grievance. This creates an energetic contraction that freezes your life force, locks it into the past, and prevents full engagement with life now. One of the primary handicaps of trauma is the inability to ‘cope’ with situations that invoke strong emotions. There’s often a withdrawal from the deeper current of life, a closing down of the feeling-nature that shows up as an inability to be intimate (either emotionally or sexually), and a very high sensitivity to the stress of new situations, unexpected events, and loss. But even though this self-protective pattern continues way past the original event, it is possible for the energetic knot of trauma to be released.
     Through having the courage to face what deeply hurts and ‘sitting inside it’ without judgment, there is a dissolution of the grievance. It’s precisely this ‘sitting inside the grievance’ that was not possible when the traumatic event originally happened. The resistance to the horror and pain of the original event created a kind of splitting off of consciousness as a form of protection, and then the overlay of a story that says, ‘This shouldn’t be happening.’
     Forgiveness is, first and foremost, an inner journey. It’s about you. Are you willing to put an end to your inner conflict? Are you willing to meet the violence, hatred, cruelty, injustice, unkindness, greed, and ignorance in you? Are you willing to see that each of us is capable of dark feelings? These feelings may or may not be acted on, but the point is that we are each capable of experiencing these feelings. Forgiveness is the natural outcome of letting go of inner conflict. It begins with taking responsibility for your inner experience rather than continue to avoid the pain by throwing it outward through blame and retaliation.
     The power of forgiveness is poignantly encapsulated in The Railway Man, the autobiographical story of Eric Lomax, a prisoner of war in World War II who suffered brutal torture at the hands of the Japanese. This experience left deeply buried emotional scars in his psyche that created havoc in his personal life. Many years later, after uncovering in himself a desire for revenge, he set out to kill his former tormentor. But in meeting him and pouring out his story of pain and hatred, he saw at the same time the humanity within his tormentor and the inhumanity within himself. As his heart opened, his inner reality was transformed and a tender friendship developed between the two men that lasted until they both passed away in old age.
     At the core of every human being is a desire for love and wholeness: all acts of terror and horror are misguided attempts to find this. When you are the one who has been hurt by these terrorizing and horrifying acts, it may seem like it’s impossible to believe this. Each one of us is called to dig much deeper into our inner knowing, to see that when the desire for love and wholeness moves through a form that has also suffered and been damaged, it comes out in distorted ways. At the root of this distortion is an ignorance of true nature and a consequent acting from a belief of separation. From this belief, all fear, hatred, violence in the name of justice, and other endless harmful acts are inevitable. Seeing that ignorance is the root cause of all suffering opens our hearts. We see but do not judge; we see without a story. This is the essence of compassion, redemption, and resurrection. As Jesus said as he was dying on the cross: ‘Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.’
     An open heart allows the forgiveness of others, the world, life, God, and the self. In choosing to open to the mystery of this moment with all hits horror, you, as a separate self, die in this moment as it is, and what is revealed is the unending glory of an inner power. Forgiveness has the power to heal, for your sake and for the sake of the world. It’s a power that defies all opposition. And it’s more potent than any action.”


       Amoda Maa. “Embodied Enlightenment. Living Your Awakening in Every Moment.” Reveal Press, 2017. I highly recommend this powerful book.

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