1 July 2018
I’ve been infrequent with my blogging ever since I moved from Facebook to an official blog site. I realised that I am becoming more aware of the impact of sharing. It made me more hesitant, more serious and perhaps too cautious. That’s not entirely bad, since public writing of any form carries with it a big responsibility. However, I would not like to lose the rhythm of my thoughts because I am becoming over-cautious. So here goes. Again..
I have been thinking about the concept of Forgiveness ever before Ramadhan began (I’m certain everyone knows what Ramadhan is, without me having to translate. (I hope I don’t presume too much). More evidence of my reticence to pick up my proverbial ‘pen’ again, for six weeks has already passed since I intended to write about it. Perhaps I have also been hesitant because I have been struggling to live up to what I intend writing about.
In previous blogs, I spoke about how liberating it was to have forgiven the man who molested me when I was a child, despite the significant impact it had on my psyche and the development of my negative view of the world. I began to think about others who occupied space in the resentful quarters of my brain and realised that they are not that easily forgiven. How can someone who had done a big thing receive my pardon when other people who may have done lesser things, still imprison my mind with the shackles of resentment? I had to take stock. I had consistently worked on the big issue over several years and unpacked the elements as best I could before I was blessed with the mercy of forgiveness which reached my core and I was able to release. I realised however, that I needed to understand what lies behind the need to forgive. In general terms, when a human being is hurt by the words, actions or negative inferences, of another, that hurt often turns to ill-feeling towards the person. Ironically it often need not be actual words or actions or thoughts, just a suspicion that someone is offending or intending to offend that can send a person into a spiral of negative emotions. People respond in different ways. Some graciously let it pass over them, while others may experience resentment, anger and even the need for revenge. I’m sure many will agree that forgiveness for what others do to you is easier said than done. It’s not simply a question of “I will look past it and carry on”; “That’s their problem and not mine”; and the ever popular “I don’t give a *&%^ what anyone thinks!”. It hurts like hell when you are affronted, insulted or humiliated. These feeble false responses are as valid and true as the proverbial ‘sticks and stones’ idiom. These are coping mechanisms not only smack of defensiveness and transience, but also do not have a modicum of insight for either your own condition or that of the “perpetrator”. It acts merely as a cover for deep seated hurt that has the potential to fester and take over too much air-time in your precious life. How then do we manage these sometimes-daily occurrences in a way that benefits everyone and hurts no-one? Anyway, why is it necessary to forgive at all? The answer to the latter is simple. Holding on to resentment weighs you down, darkens your soul and takes up time and space that could be used and enjoyed with better pastimes. The answers to the first enquiry is somewhat more complex.
I had always thought that if you place yourself in the shoes of another, and look at a situation from their perspective, it could help you to have a kinder disposition for their transgression against you. I found this to work in some instances and not others. I could do this more often in minor scenarios where for example someone might cut me off suddenly in traffic. I’d remind myself that they were not targeting me specifically and that they may be in a real hurry to be somewhere. I sometimes find myself in that situation and may have done that to someone else. If I consciously went through that thought process, it would be easier for me to let go of such incidents. I found it more difficult in more complex situations. This would include historical big incidents as well as some more frequent occurrences. For example, when someone triggered me on some of my issues, such as saying something hurtful, insulting or which made me feel stupid or insignificant, or appeared to treat me with injustice in some way. Placing myself in their shoes wouldn’t always work in these instances. I know you’re waiting for me to give some juicy exposé about something that happened to me. I cannot reveal much detail to protect the dignity of those concerned. Incidents were narrated to me involving both my parents who were mistreated when they were young by close relatives. I struggle, even now to forgive those transgressions against them. Their hurt became my hurt. Another example of a biggie, is a betrayal by a friend many moons ago that stung. I have moved somewhat past the betrayal but am circumspect in dealing with this friend for lack of trust. Another thought occurred to me. I was readier to forgive what happened in the past but lived in the fear of recurrence of any similar incident. It struck me that I was being driven by fear of being hurt again and again, and this made me reluctant to let go and to truly forgive. On a smaller scale, recurrent behaviour from people can happen daily. Taxi drivers and road users would also always be committing transgressions that affect me and most days I can let go of these minor irritations, but these are not people I know and interact with. Bigger infractions are far more difficult to deal with. When hurt, some people prefer to just cut themselves off from offending friends or family. You may end up cutting off more and more people and make your circle smaller and smaller and your bitterness inevitably bigger and bigger, till it eats you up like a cancer. This was not an answer. I asked myself how do I get I give a ‘blanket forgiveness’ for things that happened in the past, are happening in the present and may happen in the future? Is this too much to ask of any human being? I was stuck.
In truly universal fashion, I was vexed and called upon my God. Some people call on the universe the ‘higher power’. To me there is one and only one, by whatever name He is called. I was most graciously answered through the teachings of a wise Islamic scholar, Sheikh Ahmad Saad during the month of Ramadhan. He was invited as a guest at the Pinelands mosque. Before you stop reading because you don’t want to listen to Islamic rhetoric or preaching, give me a chance. To my pleasant surprise, Sheikh Saad unknowingly provided me with the missing links. One of his talks was on the concept of forgiveness and he mentioned a simple way to approach it. Think about something positive about the person that makes your heart soften towards them. When contemplating their ‘transgression’ feel sympathy for them rather than anger, because they act that way out of basic human error. My mind started racing. Of course, if they had basic human error, as did I, why would I be slow to forgive? If I had never committed a transgression against another, I could perhaps claim such right. I too am human, I too have human frailties, weaknesses and commit errors against others wittingly and unwittingly. So why then does my heart harden when they do the same to me? I was reminded of what I was taught by another wise man, at a life-changing workshop I attended. Perhaps I struggled to forgive myself? Perhaps I struggled to accept my own imperfections and when others confront me with theirs, I am ever ready to execute because it’s easier to deal with someone else’s shortcomings than my own. I don’t mean that it is ok to justify my wrongdoings, but to be kind to myself about my mistakes. I further realised that seeking forgiveness from God then becomes easier. It is circular and obvious. We’re all human beings. We all have weaknesses and end up hurting each other in some way or the other. We seek forgiveness and absolution from what we do wrong. We therefore need to forgive others when they do wrong. However, we can only do so if we acknowledge the wrong we do. The absence of that necessary step renders everything I have to say about the subject moot. If we want forgiveness, others would too. Why can we not give it. Because we want our pound of flesh? If you get that pound have you ever truly felt vindicated by it? As much as you want it from someone else, there may be someone waiting to exact that pound from you.
It’s important to note that forgiveness, like every discipline of the mind is a process rather than an event. You must constantly practice and remind yourself of the higher path. Sometimes, you may find yourself regressing. In moments like this, I find it useful to remind myself of my own humanity and to try to forgive myself even in those moments of regression and to rise again to an elevated consciousness of myself and those around me. I find that Softening one’s heart is the key. This means looking past your own ego and focusing beyond yourself and your own pain and considering what may be driving the perpetrator’s behaviour. Reminding yourself that they may have a context, a story and a history that influences their emotional response. Perhaps they’re just having a bad day. Ask yourself how you would deal with them if they were your own child. How would you expect them to deal with you if you had committed that error against them? Would you not be finding a defence to protect yourself or your child? Why is another person not worthy of such a defence? Can you be the only one in the world entitled to kindness and forgiveness? These kinds of questions may lead us as errant humans to a higher level of interaction with fellow members of our species. Why do we need to do this? Because we are more than just matter. We have an energy, a soul beyond the physical that becomes tarnished by baser lower actions against ourselves and others. Releasing venom, resentment and ill-will clears that energy and brings us closer to our truer selves, which are ever drawn to the Source of everything. In short it liberates you from the shackles of your own mind.