Tuesday, March 5, 2013

When an Ancient Hatred Becomes A Present Love

When an ancient hatred becomes a present love that is true forgiveness.


Untrue forgiveness is what most commonly falls under the notion of forgiveness. How often have we heard it said I have forgiven my X (my parents, my sister, my in-laws, etc.) for what they did to me. The “for what they did to me” is the tip-off that a grudge is still being held. A person who feels this way has pardoned a criminal in their eyes. This person is still a criminal  for what they did in the past and the past still binds them both because it is brought into the present. How many times have you heard this: “What happened in the past is completely irrelevant now”?  Anyone who says this has released themselves from the past and stepped into the freedom of the present. In fact the things we have truly forgiven are forgotten, not because we can’t remember them if we wanted but because we no longer have the need to remember them. There no longer is a grudge to keep alive by remembering.


True forgiveness is a kind of transmutation of hatred into love. This is the alchemy of greatest value. How is this alchemy accomplished? One way is to take yourself out of the center of your awareness. This is not so easy to do because almost all our thoughts flow in an effort to maintaining the centrality of a self-image that is inherently false. That is why it takes so much effort, so many thoughts. Spiritual practices of all religions address this very need to take one’s false self out of the center of awareness. This is why we do rosaries or do malas; this is why we meditate; this is why we dedicate merit or pray.


This false self hides in many guises. It can seem to be another person. In fact we carry around false images of people in our minds all the time. Because these images are in our minds they are us, not the other person. I will illustrate with a story from my own life. Growing up I was terrified of my own father and I was not the only one. My brother and 2 sisters were terrified as well. After we grew up and left home anytime 2 or more of us siblings got together the first and only topic of conversation was how awful our father was. In a certain sense it was a “survivors” mentality, a confirmation that this really happened because part of the experience of childhood was being blamed for things we hadn’t done. I had to carry around within my mind the image of an insane father in order to verify my own sanity, or so it seemed. At a certain point my own family life fell apart in divorce. Amazingly one outcome of this life’s “failure” was that I formed an intension to heal my relationship with my father. Very quickly after this I realized that the image I was carrying around of him did not jibe with who was standing in front of me in the present. With this realization I was able to be present instead of being “past” when I was around my father. It was not always easy to be present with him and I would stay until I could not tolerate it any more but I kept going back. I’d sit and listen to him, simply that. My tolerance for listening to him grew and almost as if by magic he began to soften. Until in tiny bits and pieces he began to be able to hear something that I would say. Finally this ancient hatred did indeed become a present love and I now count my own father among my dearest friends.   

The Power of Dedicating Merit

There is a Buddhist practice where the merit of a spiritual practice is dedicated to others. It is simply the intension that others may benefit as well as one’s self from the self-healing a spiritual practice has induced. In my experience the power of self-healing is so great that it extends by itself quite naturally and often mysteriously to others. It is not necessary to form an intension to do so however it is a further blessing to do so consciously. Knowing that others benefit from our positive actions can increase our joy and motivation for doing them. I will tell you a story related to me by a dear friend named Nan. She was at one time working and living at a Catholic parish house although she herself was not Catholic. One evening all the others living there went off to do some spiritual practices and left Nan alone. The gist of it was that she was excluded because she was not Catholic. This induced a state of jealousy in Nan that was so intense she finally sat in front of her picture of Jesus and prayed for release of this jealousy. She vowed not to get up from prayer until this had transpired. Nan had some psychic abilities and that evening she “heard” this, that her prayer for release from jealousy indeed was to be answered and not only that someone else in that same city would be released from jealousy that night ask well. Nan arose from her praying with a light heartedness and sense of well-being.


In a past article I described how my relationship with my father was healed. There is more to this story. The repercussions of that healing eventually extended to my sister. My sister’s solution to her feelings about our father was to cut him off, to have no contact what-so-ever. This ironically was my father’s own solution to his feelings about his mother and now he was to taste the other side of it. For some reason I began to attend Al Anon although there was no one in my immediate family who was an alcoholic, or so I thought. I personally gained a lot by attending meetings. I began the process of learning how to undo the sense of victimhood. But there were other aspects to attending that I could not fathom. I sometimes would come home from a meeting and cry my eyes out without knowing the reason, or the same thing would happen after reading some Al Anon literature. One night it seemed I had no way of stopping the tears. Then one day out of the blue I got a phone call from my sister. She said she had just checked in to an alcohol rehab center; she would be there for about a month and she was afraid of becoming sober but she was going to do it any way. I was shocked. She then went on to say she had been drinking since she was a teenager. She had hidden this so well no one in the family had a clue that she’d been drinking that much or for that long a time. I promised her my mental support of well-wishing as she underwent this treatment ( prayer was not in her belief system at that time).


Her treatment was successful but although she was working the 12 steps, including the eighth step of making amends she felt for her emotional safety she had to keep our father cut off. And so it was for over 10 years. Meanwhile I was making progress in reconciling with my father. My sister and I would talk from time to time as her busy schedule permitted and I described to her how I had become friends with our father. She was actually able to hear this. Slowly though her own self-healing, my-self-healing and our father’s self-healing she has been able not only to reconnect with him but now even enjoys the contact. And my father is still reeling with a sense of profound gratitude at the reconciliation. And so I offer this as a story of hope and as an example of how self-healing is contagious. May the merit of our collective healing ripple out across our planet and beyond!

Mind Fasting for Lent


Lent is a time for giving things up and what better practice is there than giving up things that are hurtful to us like negative mind states! During Lent I have been conducting a weekly mind fasting group for the members of the church I go to, the First Christian Church of Ukiah. I thought I’d share with you a little about what we’ve been doing.


There are some things in this world we have a choice about and others where we have no choice. The most important choice we have is where we direct our attention. It is the most important because it can lead us to freedom. Initially we may have no choice about what we think. Thoughts arise in the mind unbidden however we can chose to pay attention to them or not. Redirecting our attention away from a thought takes away its power. It may arise again, and again but if we consistently redirect our attention it will dissipate and leave us in peace. This is called mind fasting. If you think this sounds suspiciously like meditation, you’re right! Why then call it mind fasting?


I picked up the term mind fasting from Thomas Hora who was a psychiatrist in NCY. The term highlights the mind’s the need to feed. It’s need for constant thought and sensory stimulation. This is why we all have TVs, is it not? The TV is an unending supply of sensory stimulation for the mind to feed on. Many people keep the TV on in order to get away from their own thoughts. They prefer the TV to the unending stream of thoughts in their own minds. In my opinion this is like feeding the mind junk food. If we turn off the TV we can begin to learn to turn off the flow of unwanted thoughts in our minds. Then we won’t be dependent on television to get away from our own thoughts. Fasting cleanses the digestive tract; likewise mind fasting cleanses the mind stream. Through mind fasting the number of thoughts decreases. There is actually some breathing space between thoughts. And eventually the quality of our thoughts improves to something that is healthy and nourishing to us. 


In redirecting our thoughts we need an object of contemplation to keep returning our attention to. One of the best such objects is our own breath. It is constant. It maintains our life. It is always with us and so we can always redirect our attention to our breath. Directing our attention to our breath connects us to ourselves. It draws us inward.


This process of mind fasting slows our thoughts down. This is of great benefit to us. It allows for relaxation. Thinking takes a lot of energy. Thinking creates a lot of stress. And so we can relax in the evenness of our own breath.  This is called unwinding the mind. Initially this may be all we attain from mind fasting and it is a lot but you should know a consistent practice over years can lead to the ultimate freedom from unbidden thought, a relaxation so deep you have yet to experience it and the end of searching, the end of suffering. However to whatever degree our thought slows down, there we will experience a taste of relaxation, and a taste of freedom.