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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Forgiveness

ForgivenessForgiveness

by Prem Prakash



In virtually all meditative traditions, one finds instructions to "release" thoughts, "let go" of attachments, and "cease clinging" to likes and dislikes. These verbs imply that a quiet mind is not so much something gained or accomplished, but something already existing, underlying our present chaotic condition. The quiet mind is revealed when we loose ourselves from binding impediments, such as grievances against others.

I was at a yoga retreat a number of years ago, where a woman asked Baba Hari Dass a question about an interpersonal problem that had plagued her for some time. Baba Hari Dass told her that the answer to her dilemma was to let go of the problem.

She sat quietly for a moment, and I could see that his words had deeply penetrated her mind. Suddenly her eyes lit up. As they say, she "got it!" In awe and wonder, she asked, "You mean... it's that simple?" "Yes," Baba Hari Dass responded with a chuckle.

As if unsure of her immense good fortune, she double-checked, "It's really that simple?" What could Babaji do but smile sweetly and re-assure her, "Yes, it is that simple."

It may be that simple for a master yogi, but it certainly doesn't seem that simple, or at least that easy, for us. What is it that keeps us so trapped in emotional suffering, in dissatisfaction, in a guilt-ridden past and a fearful future? My observation is that we have an uncanny resistance to forgiving and forgetting, a drunken unwillingness to release the past and its hangover on our present.

We tend not to see other people in the present. We "hold them to a place," defining them based on previous experiences. We fail to permit them the grace to change, to grow. Instead, we anticipate that their personalities will remain static. Our beliefs then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even if others do change for the positive, we refuse to acknowledge their growth by clinging to their past. Thus our relationships remain stuck.

Forgiveness is generally thought of as some special grace that we bestow upon others. First, we interpret someone's behavior as damaging to us or those with whom we identify. Then, out of the supposed magnanimity of our hearts, we give them a break and bestow our forgiveness upon them. I think forgiveness is actually more of a relinquishing of our victim consciousness. Forgiveness is a willingness to release all of our reasons, no matter how seemingly righteous, that keep us from peace. Forgiveness helps us get our power back, reminding us that we are the source of our own experience of the world.

This doesn't mean that bad things don't happen to generally good people, or that we have to meekly accept everything that is directed our way. Free will means we can deliberately choose the environments and beings with whom we would like to share our lives. Most of us have very little free will, however, because we are pushed and pulled by our attractions and repulsions, many of which are unconscious, into experiences over which we have little control. Through forgiveness, we come to recognize that our own consciousness is the origin of our experience. With this recognition, our personal power to control the flow of events in our lives increases, and we garner a certain potency over the manifestation of our world.

Spiritual practice produces the awareness that we are not our bodies. We are consciousness, within which thoughts arise and pass away, similar to the way clouds appear and disappear in the empty sky. As we realize our existence as separate from passing mental conditions, we garner a willingness to release negative thoughts. Security is not obtained by fighting negative thoughts, but by realizing that our identity is not threatened by releasing them. The sky exists regardless of the presence of clouds.

We can learn to see that grievances and condemnation bring suffering, and forgiveness delivers peace. Then we can choose what brings us peace and release what causes us to suffer. One doesn't have to be a great genius to participate in this process. One does, however, need to be willing to let go of blame and guilt allied with the past, and anxieties and fears associated with the future. The peace we are seeking cannot be found in yesterday or tomorrow. The past is a memory and the future mere imagination. Forgive your brothers and sisters, forgive yourself, forgive God, and "be here now", in the peace and spacious freedom that forgiveness provides.