Monday, March 15, 2010

no brakes, no seatbelts, and no anaesthetic

Sometimes life brings us drastic change -- disease, war, natural disasters, things that are larger than ourselves which we cannot control -- and sometimes we walk into it, or stumble into it. We've all heard the convenient little tidbit of "New Age" philosophy that states, "You create your own reality". There's certainly a level on which our perceptions shape the narrative we tell ourselves and others about our experience. It is also not far wrong to say that our perceptions are shaped by the choices that we make from moment to moment.

However, there's a dangerous "blame the victim" sort of slant implied by this bit of folk wisdom. We've all taken the stance of the victim from time to time, and certainly there is a responsible way for any adult to step out of victimization into empowerment -- I may have not caused the earthquake that destroyed my house (at least not directly or consciously), but I am in charge of rebuilding it. And if we burned the house down by getting drunk and falling asleep while smoking, well, we can't exactly blame the liquor store. But I feel a little uneasy about over-simplified statements of "Karma" (a complex philosophical framework that is mostly misunderstood by Westerners) or "drawing experiences to oneself", when considering things like child abuse, racism both institutional and social, famine, inter-generational poverty, and genocide. Even when faced with unintended consequences of one's own actions, to minimize the suffering experienced by saying the person "brought it on themselves" isn't exactly the sort of compassion I'm comfortable displaying in public.

In reality, or so I believe, we all brought everything on ourselves by being born; but we didn't deserve any of it, even the good things. However, for me to hold onto blame for someone who I believe has wronged me is just another way to hold on to suffering. In my experience, keeping score regarding what I perceive as harm done to me by others doesn't result in some sort of cosmic actuarial reckoning at the end of the day or even at the end of life. My fear, and I have good reason to fear this, is that there is no great cosmic reckoning of any kind, ever, other than in an unimaginably gradual process of random movements in the universe. Instead, the only reckoning I will experience is the one I bring about by the immoderate and reckless act of forgiveness.

We often see small children forgiving and sharing with others in a manner which seems angelic and pure to us; but it's really only a matter of the degree to which they feel the pain of their experience in any given moment. You and I haven't changed much since we were children. Sure, we'll share and forgive and include and all that great stuff -- when it's comfortable and convenient. Everybody likes to be perceived as a "nice person". It's when giving and forgiving hurts that it truly has any meaning. Anybody can throw crumbs to the birds; it takes a different sort of person to see a bird fly into a closed window and go check if it's injured. I think a good many of us have an "I gave at the office" approach to those who come to us with hands outstretched, reduced to a level of desperation in which they are incapable of feeling any shame for begging. But we need to help, however much we may resist it. It's like we have two voices in our heads -- or rather, one in our head and one in our heart. The one in our head says, "You'll be taken advantage of," and the one in our heart only knows how to say "I love you".

The secret to all this is that forgiving is easy, or at least it is past the first step. It is impossible to forgive anyone else if we can't forgive ourselves -- that is where it must begin. "I chose this" cannot be a self-condemnation; rather, it's an acceptance that we are not that special in our suffering. Miraculously enough, I have discovered that once I drag myself over that first terrible hurdle, everything afterward is a cakewalk. If I can fully and completely forgive myself for my mistakes, laziness, cowardice, even moments of cruelty, I have everything I need to forgive others. In forgiving myself I don't let myself off the hook; to the contrary, it's claiming a whole other level of responsibility for my actions. Once I've set aside luxuriating in the self-pitying voice that says "I suck!", I am confronted by the task of making ordinary human amends for my ordinary human misdeeds. You aren't a f?!?-up; you f?!?ed up. Get clear on the difference between those two statements, and you can get clear with anyone about anything.


Katherine Jenkins said...

Eric, Nice to see your writing here again. Yes, forgiveness is important and you aren't a f#%? up. Life gets strange and crazy at times, but I know there is a light a the end of the tunnel for you. Perhaps it's in your writing that we will see this light. That's how I see it! Peace to you, Kathy

Heather Conroy said...

I hear you Eric. Forgiveness really does brings acceptance and healing of F@#$edupedness. I also believe that it is really hard to love another person if you don't love yourself. And it is really hard to do this work by yourself.There are people who will help you make the changes you need to make happen more speedily. Unfortunately the process will still be effortful and somewhat painful. Fortunately it will be infinitely rewarding and worthwhile.

Aine Butler-Smith said...

You're right that one is not the sum of their mistakes just because they make mistakes; they are human, and besides, mistakes are opportunities for learning. Some of what you say about blaming the victim I agree with but there is the flip side of the coin of those who want to feel themselves benevolent and let off the hook of complex thinking and problem solving in complicated situations, by throwing support or sympathy to those who have been victimized and end up doing more hindering than helping by enabling a sense of victimhood.
To me everything is about finding the optimum balance.
Great post, great food for thought and discussion.