Thursday, March 26, 2009

Suffering & Forgiveness

Last night I had a call from my brother who had just spoken with my mother on the phone.  He wanted a little help in sorting out the cryptic messages my mother was doling out to him.  We are such strangely interesting creatures, us humans.  At 7 o'clock when I spoke to her, my mother seemed fine, even cheerful.  When my brother talked to her 2 hours later he experienced her as extremely low and depressed and understood that the doctor was discontinuing meds because her cancer had progressed to a point where this seemed the best choice.  (Neither of these things are exactly true.)

My brother and I had a heartfelt  chat and agreed that really our intentions were to be helpful to my mother and that consisted of being supportive and truthful (not necessarily nice, if that makes sense) and hopefully engage in some sincere communication with her.   He felt the same sense of sadness about her choice that I had experienced the night before  and that was somehow strangely comforting to me and made me feel connected to him.  In the end he could understand that at 94, she might be tired of her life and feel like she'd had enough and if she wanted to actively pursue leaving the world that we should honour that choice.

All this got me thinking today about suffering and forgiveness.  Today I took a break from "my mother" and went out to the country.  It was a slightly mild Spring day that even offered a little lick of sunshine.  We drove through some lovely pastoral farmland and  stopped at a Fair trade farm that makes their own chocolate.  We sampled one that had salt and maple syrup and alderwood smoke, one with lime and coconut, another with enough chipotle pepper  to send me into a coughing fit.  I finally chose one to buy, with the most heavenly taste of vanilla, cacao nibs and rose essence.  In case you're wondering what this has to do with the Dharma, let's call it skillful means.  Sometimes you need a break from your suffering.  If it is possible, sometimes you need a little "shelter from the storm" as Bob Dylan would say,  to rebuild your energy so you can stay balanced and deal with the stressors in your life.  It is not running away or avoiding I don't think, when it is undertaken with some mindfulness.  And so we drove and wandered and walked, shared a little rice and kale with miso sauce and some dosas and dahl in a lovely little community market cafe.

Someone mentioned "forgiveness" in their comments the other night .  And that got me thinking about it.  What do you think the opposite of forgiveness is?  My first answer would probably be to "hold a grudge" but I suspect anger is
perhaps the hotter, more intense opposite.  But how do we forgive someone  if the forgiveness doesn't naturally arise?  Are there things we can do to cultivate this forgiveness?  Notes from James Baraz's "Awakening Joy" course I took last year say, "True forgiveness is based on understanding why people act unskillfully. ... According to the Dalai Lama, an essential component of compassion is realizing that the other person's words and actions are not about you, but about their internal reality, which has intersected with yours." 

 Baraz also mentions a couple of other points regarding forgiveness which seem helpful to keep in mind.  "Forgiveness is what frees up energy and allows our hearts to open to life and greater well-being."   He also reminds us, "If you find yourself contracted, disconnected and suffering because you're caught up in anger, forgiveness may be your main practice to awaken joy."   And I think it is also helpful to remember, "If you're not yet ready to forgive someone, then forgive yourself for being just where you are, particularly if you judge yourself for feeling the way you do.  We can't hurry up the process.  Sometimes hurt take a while to heal."

So forgive me if I've gone on too long.  You will feel energized by forgiving me!  (See what a service I have done.)  And if you haven't gathered anything else here, you might be happy to have discovered that chocolate is definitely an aspect of  of skillful means!  Bon appetit.


  1. Beautifully said...

    You make me laugh and cry all at the same time:)

    After reading your blog I remembered that Ezra Bayda has a wonderful chapter on "Forgiveness" too, in At Home In the Muddy Water, so I went to the bookshelf to find it and realized I need to read it again...

    So - Thank you...

  2. Ezra Bayda, one of my very favourites. I dont have that one, in fact the one I had (Being Zen? I think it might have been called) wandered off with my daughter. Any time she shows the least bit of interest in the Dharma I am happy to give her any of the books! I think she actually reads bits of them from time to time. I have had Muddy Water from the library and I will look it up again.

    I put him in the same category as Joko Beck (in fact is he a student of hers?) They're both so clear and pragmatic, wonderful reading.

    bows to you,