Forgiveness and Priorities, Life and Death


True forgiveness isn’t colored with expectations that the other person apologize or change. Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time—just like it does for you and me.        ~~Sara Paddison

Hello all, blogger slacker returns 🙂

I’m at my parental units home in The Middle Of Nowhere, MO for a bit.  My mom is in hospice and is declining steadily so I’m here with her for the duration.  I’ve been up with her most of the night, just being with this experience, being with her in the last few days of her life.   It’s a deep and rich time,  full of life and death and all the depth times like this hold.  It’s like being a midwife… full of extremes,  full of emotion, a time of holding on and letting go.  It’s  Bodhicitta at it’s finest.

One of many discoveries in this time is that when one’s mother is dying it also creates a sense of oneness with others who have walked this path before me.  It seems to open up a well of deep grief in us that is almost primal in nature.  I’ve heard many stories from people about their own mothers and their own journey down this path, pensive stories full of laughter and tears.   These conversations inevitably involve themes of love, sacrifice, priorities and forgiveness; many have talked about how making forgiveness a priority  is such an integral part of the journey and a good life.   I agree.   Forgiveness comes from words meaning “to allow,” and literally means “for giving.”  Naturally all of this emotion swirling around got me to thinking about feelings, what we do with them and about for-giving.

First and foremost, forgiveness does not mean accepting unacceptable behavior and it does not mean condoning abuse.  There is nothing “spiritual” about putting up with abusive behavior.  Compassion begins with self and good boundaries are compassionate to and for everyone.  But I do think forgiveness means to let go of my anger about someone’s unacceptable behavior.  Forgiveness means that I give up the hope of a better past for the more realistic hope of a better future.  As the saying goes, forgiveness is to set a prisoner free and then realize the prisoner was me.  I think when we forgive we give up the sense of being a victim so we can set ourselves and another person free.  Really what we are giving up is the sense that we have a right to continually punish someone for harming us.

I find a lot of people hold onto past hurts, thinking they will somehow lose a lesson if they forgive too soon.  My experience is that the opposite is actually true.  When we forgive,  we really give the lesson and resulting freedom to ourselves.  If I hold onto old hurts or abuse, the truth is that I’m the one hurting myself over time, not the original person I charge with the harm.   So when forgiveness becomes a priority for me  I can experience a deeper sense of overall freedom in every area of life.  I think the whole of the spiritual life can be summed up as let go, let go, let go.   Granted, some things are easier or harder to let go of or forgive than others.  But let’s get honest:  Sometimes I need to be forgiven too and at times the hardest person to forgive is me.  At the deepest level, I have come to believe that it doesn’t really matter what other people do.  What matters is how I respond to that and what I choose to believe about myself as a result.

Buddhists speak at length about the roots of suffering and happiness, and in cases of cruelty or harm, aspire for the wrongdoer,

May you experience happiness and the roots of happiness.  May you be free from suffering and the roots of suffering.

There is understanding and acknowledgment that harm has been caused, intentionally or not, but that holding onto it only creates more suffering.  There is acknowledgment that pain and betrayal are not just personal but also universal.   I’ve probably hurt others too, so maybe it’s best that we all experience happiness and the roots of happiness.  In cases of extreme cruelty or harm, the kindest thing that can be done for all is to be free of the roots of suffering and instead tend to the roots of happiness.

Christian scriptures tell us, “if you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven.”  Theologians and scholars tell us this does not mean God won’t forgive us, but the truth is that unforgiving people tend to be somewhat vengeful people and vengeful people tend to harm other people,  so round and round it goes.   So if I refuse to forgive you, it probably signifies a deeper wound or hurt  in me and if I can’t forgive myself for mistakes, I probably will find it hard to forgive others.  Holding onto that kind of hurt and resentment often results in depression, rage, or a soul-sucking detachment which separates us from God.  Therefore we don’t feel the love and mercy of the Divine because we don’t let it in.  It’s always there, but if I don’t let it in then I can’t experience it.  If I can’t experience it, I certainly can’t embody it or give it to you.

So I was thinking about all of that this morning…thinking about priorities,  thinking about the folks I know who make letting go and forgiveness a priority–the truth is that they are the happiest people I know, in spite of a lot of past pain.  I’m feeling a full range of emotions today, experiencing deep awareness… I’m almost too present, if that’s possible.  I’m watching my mother decline and observing how those around her deal with their own pain and fear about her passing.  It’s abundantly clear to me that in many ways their pain is much greater than her own.  She’s actually pretty comfortable and ready to let go and move on, like a weary traveler just wanting to get home.  Those left behind are the ones in the most pain, much of it related to the normal human fears of the unknown.   Sometimes  it’s hard to watch yet I find myself really wanting to stay present to it, looking for the balance between care-giving, clinical knowledge and my own feelings.

I was thinking about my mother’s grief about the death of her own mother, about how that is especially poignant in this time of her own decline.   My mother had more time with her mom than I will have, probably about 15 years longer than I will.  Ten years after the death of my grandmother,  we all still laugh about and grieve that powerhouse of a woman and  I think about all she had to endure and forgive.  She seemed to make forgiveness a priority and she had a lot of things she needed to forgive, from what I know about her life story.  But rather than use those things as excuses to put up walls or shut down, she instead used them as a means of prayer, of letting go, of moving on.  Not in denial, but in a choice of how she wanted to live.  God knows that wasn’t perfect or constant.  In spite of my memories of her as how Heaven would smell, she was quite human and had her own issues.  But she kept plugging along at it— she made it a priority.

I have been thinking about that a lot.  I’ve been sitting with my own feelings about all of this and thinking about all the relationships in my life.  The truth is that my experience is up to me,  so I’m working on making this time as peaceful and fluid as it can be– that’s my priority today.  I’m borrowing prayers today, and sending out a few of my own…I got a lot of calls this week from people going through a hard time…broken hearts, broken bones, broke and hungry, broken lives.   I’m observing all of this with keen interest and curiosity.  The veil is very thin today and as hot as it is here, the air feels crisp, like the first bite of green apples in the fall.

Given all of that, I had a chat with myself this morning about priorities and what is important to me.  Today my priority is loving-kindness to myself and others and, as of this writing at 6:00, I think I’ve done OK with that so far. But we’ll see. I don’t have enough coffee in me yet to do much damage.  But given all of that, I am making metta my priority today.  I’ve been practicing metta meditations for years.  There is a reason they call it a practice.  Metta basically means loving kindness.  If you’d like to learn more about all of this, you can read about it here.

This is part of the instructions from the Buddha to his followers about this practice…

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill will,                                                                                                                                   May all beings be at ease…

Today I am thinking about all of these things and about all the relationships in my life.  There are so many, and they are so good, and I am so grateful.  Today I aspire we all experience happiness and the roots of happiness.  May you be free from suffering and the roots of suffering. May you experience love and forgiveness, be clear about priorities and maybe give those around you an extra hug today.  May you live in peace,  love and experience giggles, joy and a boundless heart of happiness.

Peace and blessings 🙂

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