On Forgiveness…

Forgiveness is possibly the hardest thing for us to do as human beings in this ‘vale of tears.’ We hang on to past slights as we are pushed here and there by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and the heart, both as muscular and as larger spiritual organ, becomes constricted, and beats in a more irregular rhythm. And as in meditation, a lower heart rate is more efficient, but pain or fear or unusual excitement can increase the rate of the heart, and lead to other problems. In the end, to avoid pain, we close down the heart, and live, in Thoreau’s words, lives of quiet desperation.

One of the most amazing occurrences in the bloody twentieth century was the victory against apartheid in South Africa. After years of bloodshed and oppression, rather than bloodshed and revenge, South Africa chose forgiveness and reconciliation. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written a glorious book with his daughter, the Reverend Mpho Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, which in this jaded age of promises not kept should be required reading for us all. In the book, the Tutus talk about forgiveness as an essential and ultimate step in healing, and prescribe four steps which include admitting the wrong and acknowledging the harm; telling one’s story and witnessing the anguish; asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness; and renewing or releasing the relationship.

In his Preamble he talks about the joy of voting for the first time in South Africa, something that stopped me short as I recalled the most recent anti-voting ballot initiatives throughout this land of ours, and the low numbers of voters at the polls. This sense of sacredness to the national and local vote is mostly absent here, as we take voting for granted.

We take far too many things for granted, unless as we go through that vale of tears we are hit suddenly where it hurts most. Sometimes it seems as though we have lived charmed lives until the rug is pulled out and we find ourselves free-floating in a world that no longer has those imagined solid foundations; whether it be through bereavement or illness and pain, or perceived betrayal, or financial reversal, or any of the many things that can befall a human being in a second, and turn day into night. The only thing we can control, as Viktor Frankl says in Man’s Search for Meaning (another must-read book!), is “the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Today I choose the four-step way to forgiveness and healing. Namasté.

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