Pillars of Purpose series – Forgiveness

Pillars of Purpose series – Forgiveness

Forgiveness is good for us. It is a voluntary process of letting go of feelings of offence, anger, hurt, and resentment – whether the person deserves it or not. Forgiveness releases the victim (that’s you) from being a carrier of bitterness and suffering. It is a natural resolution of a grief process.

 If I develop bad feelings toward those who make me suffer, this will only destroy my own peace of mind. But if I forgive, my mind becomes calm. Dalai Lama

Forgiveness is an act of love, undertaken by the mind as an act of will as much as love and compassion, and is a tool for growth and development. As such, forgiveness is a ‘pillar of purpose’, and a powerful resource in our lives.

Most religions of the world offer teachings on forgiveness.

In the Christian church forgiveness plays an important role as the basis for acceptance by God with Jesus asking in the last moments of his life “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. (Luke 23;34). The phrase to “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us” in the Lord Prayer offer a teaching of both asking and giving.

In Judaism a whole day is dedicated to forgiveness every year – the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. During this time a person is to reflect and atone for any wrongdoing. On receiving an apology, a person who is wronged is religiously bound to forgive the offender and forgiveness considered a pious act (Deot 6:).

The word Islam has root in the word ‘peace’ with forgiveness as a prerequisite position to obtain ‘real peace’. The Qur’an holds that “those who pardon (forgive) and maintain righteousness are rewarded by God. He does not love the unjust” (Qur’an 42:40).

The Baha’i faith believes all human beings are equal in God’s creation – “forgive all, consider the whole of humanity as our own family, the whole earth as our own country, be sympathetic with all suffering, nurse the sick, offer a shelter to the exiled, help the poor and those in need, dress all wounds and share the happiness of each one” (Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy).

Hindus believe in karma and reincarnation and that forgiveness should not only be asked for and given, but that proper reflection and acts of charity, meditation and purification have place in the process. Forgiveness embraces the concept of mercy, compassion and grace with unbound unconditional love.  Forgiveness is seen as a restraint on the power of intolerance and hatred.

Traditionally Buddhism does not recognise that human dealings are ‘transactional’ so the idea of being in debt or needing to atone are not directly applicable. However, an interpretation of Buddhist forgiveness is to ‘let go’ of an offence, be released from suffering and increase harmony in life, rather than asking forgiveness from a person or God.

It can be argued that the inclination to forgive is present in us all – but is it? Morally we are brought up in this world of dualism … the sacred and the profane, saint and sinner, right and wrong. But surely it is in the wisdom distilled from the learnings of our lives, the experiences, understandings, and the compassion of forgiveness found, that gives us perceptions and insights into the purpose of life itself.

Our perception of right and wrong is subjective as Tolstoy said:

 It’s not given to people to judge what’s right or wrong. People have eternally been mistaken and will be mistaken, and in nothing more than in what they consider right and wrong.

Through the challenges of life, we come to realise that none of us are perfect, we are all affected by the conditions and experiences we face, and we all make mistakes. So, though the ability to forgive is in us, it can be challenging to identify the need for forgiveness in ourselves, and then bring together the ingredients and skills of what is necessary to enact it. It can take will power, emotional energy and effort to dig deep and find the reason why you do what you do; or to find the willingness and compassion to begin the necessary reflection to enter the forgiveness process.

Once we can ‘enable’ forgiveness in ourselves we can strengthen it by meditating on the reasons ‘why’ we should forgive, and when this achieved, we are able to bring the strength of this reasoning to the fore in times of weakness more readily.

So why forgive? Well, the main beneficiary is you and your well-being. It’s hard to live with unforgiveness and it can be very damaging. On a physical level it can disrupt eating and sleeping, and it can also affect you mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well as damaging other relationships around you. It can eat away at your peace causing suffering and bitterness that can affect your mental health, even changing the way in which you view the world at large. In the long term unforgiveness takes far more emotional energy, causes far more stress and unhappiness, than forgiving.

Learning to forgive, and letting go, is, as the Rev Martin Luther King, Jn said “…  not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude”

An analogy that helped me personally to identify a constant attitude toward forgiveness arose from Taoist story about the river of life, and ‘going with the flow’.  Recognising that unforgiveness blocks the flow of life energy, I began reflecting on the ‘wrongs’ of life that I held on to as bits of flotsam. With that came recognition that flotsam catches twigs and branches, which in turn snag or become a bed for stones. Following on from that, those stones build walls, walls become dams, and dams hinder or stop the flow of the river.

It is now a regular practice for me to catch things by noticing my internal reaction to people and things, so that I can let it go. Reflection, meditation and journaling practices have helped me uncover some ‘stones’ of hurt or resentment from the past and I use conscious awareness practices, contemplation, prayer and meditation as a bridge toward deeper understanding. I have found that acceptance and letting go aid forgiveness and help build the bittersweet territory of wisdom.

 It is the confession, not the priest, that gives absolution so, ‘if you don’t forgive sins, what will you do with them?’ (John 20:23)

As forgiveness is about becoming the person you want to be, or your perception says you ought to be, here are some practical suggestions to help relieve the suffering of the future, by remedy today.

  • Consider your own behaviour – was it childish or adolescent in the light of you age and experience – are you thinking and acting out in an age-appropriate way?
  • Bring empathy and compassion into your pain, work toward insight and understanding it
  • Find something good about the person or situation that offended you, then add to it
  • Stop taking offence – discern what it is in you that needs attention, and then give it
  • Stop blaming others – about anything at all
  • Refuse to be critical or negative – if you can’t say something neutral or nice, don’t say anything
  • Practice being thankful anywhere anytime – for your health when visiting the doctor; for the food when in the supermarket; for the provision of education when at college; the fresh air in the outdoors and so on.
  • Be more aware, practice contemplation and mindful meditation
  • Do small acts of kindness – start with one per week
  • Believe in yourself, and then believe in something more than you

In closing consider that receiving forgiveness carries a responsibility to change behaviour. Its ok to make mistakes, but the response is to take the necessary actions to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

For how can we not forgive when we are part of a creation that gives us all we need to flourish?

How can we not ‘go with the flow’ of the rich experience of life, loving, living and forgiving, within the unity for which we were created?

AL

Helpful meditations on site here ... Loving Kindness, Working with Challenging Emotions, Reframe with RAIN, Gratitude of Body, Big Blue Sky – and why not try one of our contemplations…

Nostalgia, Harmony and Belief

Nostalgia, Harmony and Belief

What happens when the past takes on an intensity that shapes our present behaviour? A backward-looking life, whether shaped by good or bad experiences, spells trouble, because your thoughts and feelings are the tools that will craft your personal world, both now and in the future.

You can’t drive forward looking in your rear-view mirror.

An anagram for nostalgia is ‘lost again’. Indeed, we can become lost and disconnected from what the future holds for us when nostalgia gains a deep grip on us; and we become lost down a line of time. In this form it can become the precursor to severe depression, distorting reality. Nostalgia is a lens that simplifies many of the complexities of the past; it is not a holistic or integrated perception of the times. Nostalgia is a shallow emotion that can deny, in the present, the necessity for transformative thinking and action.

Whatever our past, we need to learn how to escape nostalgia’s gravitational pull, at least in the space where dark emotions lurk. Failure to do so affects our potential as participants in a greater existence. This being so let me metaphorically illustrate what happens when nostalgia or past hurts and disappointments begin to govern our lives.

This metaphor involves ‘God’. Unfortunately, the one concept in our English language over which wars are fought and communities split is the differing concepts of God. However, the reality is that in every mainstream ‘God-believing’ religion on earth, one of the core attributes of God is that God is an entity that one way or another touches or even permeates our existence.

For the purposes of this metaphor, I ask you for a moment to imagine God as creator of the universe, emitting a vast array of musical frequencies, notes and rhythms of life of which we are the potential receptors if we allow ourselves to tune in.

As babies we can receive and play back the odd note; as we grow older the notes become riffs[1] and melodies and then, growing into adulthood (with all the personal development that is implied), we begin to form a quartet and then an orchestra (although some of us may have more violins and others more drums). So we progressively become better able to resonate with the creative emissions of God and the universe in our lives; but then deep nostalgia or past experiences captures us and we go back in time to when we were just a string quartet or played solo.

In so doing we are reducing our capacity in ‘the now’ to play God’s song for our lives and be the fantastic orchestra we have the potential to be.

Yet, when playing in the full resonant and harmonic way that we are designed to play, our health, spiritual, relational and material prosperity and wellbeing soars.

As an internal condition, nostalgia may at times be a subtle but insidious obstacle to our reflection of the universe’s true harmonic. Another such internal condition lies in the challenges of our past. These challenges may have resulted in a legacy of bitterness or hardship, or poverty, or, more frequently, rejection. For many of us this can mean that we are now cautious about opportunities and relationships that lie in the present. We have all heard the expression ‘once bitten, twice shy’. As we respond to such sentiments we tune out of the musical frequencies of life.

Such emotional flotsam from our past becomes our baggage, a baggage of wounds, hurts, and outdated beliefs. Its legacy needlessly, and often unconsciously, causes us to drift in a metaphorical Sargasso Sea[2] of our own making, wary of repeating the same ‘mistakes’. As a result we increasingly become non participants in the construct of our future.

With a bit of self-reflection we can all recognize how often we allow the baggage of the past, with its pain, rejection, suffering or nostalgic moments, to create chains that hold us to a place, to a person or to a circumstance long since faded from the present. Such baggage reaches out, down through time and into our present world, eating at our dreams, denying our possibilities and binding our future with their legacy.

Back in the 1960s Paul Simon, of Simon and Garfunkel, wrote a song I am a Rock, which reached the charts in their Sounds of Silence album. It expresses the way in which we all can become self-limiting and emotionally insular, as we retreat from past hurts.

‘I’ve built walls,

A fortress deep and mighty,

That none may penetrate.

I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.

Its laughter and its loving I disdain.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

Don’t talk of love,

But I’ve heard the words before;

It’s sleeping in my memory.

I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.

If I never loved I never would have cried.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

 I have my books

And my poetry to protect me;

I am shielded in my armor,

Hiding in my room, safe within my womb,

I touch no one and no one touches me.

I am a rock,

I am an island’.[3]

But consider for a moment that the world is also filled with successful people who refused to allow the hurts and baggage of their past to impede their future.

People like Oprah Winfrey who overcame a childhood of abuse and molestation to become the world’s first African American billionaire; or Walt Disney who went bankrupt several times before building his successful entertainment empire. People like Thomas Edison, who, when a reporter asked him how it felt to have failed 25,000 times in his effort to create a simple storage battery, replied ‘‘I don’t know why you are calling it a failure. Today I know 25,000 ways not to make a battery.’’ Notably Edison also made over 2,000 attempts at creating a light bulb before perfecting it.

Other examples might include Helen Keller who became the first deaf and blind person to graduate from college and Franklin Roosevelt who contracted polio as a young man and refused to allow his subsequent paraplegia to have an impact on his life, becoming President of the United States of America. In the process, he became a powerful symbol of an individual’s ability to overcome the ravages of one’s past.

History is filled with ordinary people, no different to you or me, who refused to allow their past and outward circumstance to dictate their future.

The baggage of our history and culture affects and shapes our beliefs and thinking. Beliefs are those things you hold to be true that change how you behave and so creates paradigms of our reality. These paradigms can keep us closed and unexpectant, blind to the opportunities of life around us. In a brilliant illustration of what happens when we are blinkered, my favourite poet, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, once wrote:

‘Earth’s crammed with heaven

And every common bush afire with God:

But only he, who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,

And daub their natural faces unaware’[4]

Most of us tend to be blackberry eaters, missing the fire of God (however defined) all around us, with its generative possibilities for a fulfilled life, as we live in our self-limiting sensate world, leaning into the past, unbelieving that life holds more for us. To see the burning bush in our lives we need to believe that it exists in the first place. Such celestial burning bushes tend to only exist on the periphery of our vision.

We need to enlarge our paradigms. 

Paradigms are based in what we hold to be true; what we hold to be possible. In other words, they are based in our beliefs. We must create paradigms of reality that are bigger than our experience and more than wishful thinking. We need paradigms that allow us to recognise the unseen universe, the nature of being and weaving the realities of the seen and unseen into a practical philosophy of daily living.

Much is made of the Law of Attraction and its alleged premise that thoughts manifest, or make tangible, a new reality (health, wealth, prosperity, opportunity etc.). This is a casual, if not sloppy, wording. Thoughts do not manifest so much as ‘beliefs’ manifest. Beliefs are those things you hold to be true that change how you behave. Thoughts are mental processes. Dominant beliefs manifest, or make tangible, a changed reality. The belief that because you have been hurt once you will be hurt again will preclude you from opportunity. A belief that life was so much better ‘way back then’ leaves you locked up in a past that can blind you to the present.

But a belief that you can move mountains, shape your destiny, unlock riches, achieve new heights whether creative, spiritual, relational or temporal, such a belief will change your future and take you into a new dimension. Such a belief, as will be demonstrated, calls down the intervention of forces in your life that are greater than you; forces that are drawn, or are attracted, by your belief as it signals to the universe.

‘What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve’, (Napoleon Hill – Think and Grow Rich).

Belief gives an emotional quality to our thoughts, and that emotional quality has much more power for change than our thoughts alone. This is so because such belief will also encourage you to take the steps you know are necessary in your life to realise your dreams.

Beliefs are broader than material facts.

Beliefs give us confidence where the presenting ‘facts’ might lead us to doubt. It’s been said that if you want to attain your dreams, work with ideas, not facts. Dwell upon the end result, not the ‘hows’ of it. Do not worry about the logistics, the people or the money you need to make the result happen; but think of the end result you dream of. The ‘facts’ of apparent difficulties and lack of resources will be overcome by the creational storehouse of the universe.

Our subsequent actions, which actualise our new life, are the tip of an iceberg, the hidden base of which is formed by our beliefs, and between the two are our values layered with thoughts and emotions.

Beliefs form the foundation and bedrock of our being.

Change your beliefs – and you will change your life.

Do not be afraid to recognise your ability. Move past nostalgia, or saudade, rejection, bitterness and fear and become the destiny that is yours.

Guest Blogger: Dr Brian Gordon, OAM

[1] short, often repeated series of notes in pop music or jazz

[2] The Sargasso Sea is famous in mythology for its images of fleets of derelict sailing ships, crewed by bleached white skeletons, and trapped in dense mats of clinging seaweed.(http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2000/05/11/125857.htm?site=science/greatmomentsinscience)

[3] Lyricsfreak Retrieved 17 July 2008 from http://www.lyricsfreak.com/s/simon+and+garfunkel/i+am+a+rock_20124809.html

[4] Browning, E.B. 1856 The Complete Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning Thomas Crowell and Company New York p134

Health and Well-Being meditations here

 

 

Pillars of Purpose series – Forgiveness

Pillars of Purpose Series – Stillness

The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.

‘Purpose’ is defined as the reason something is done or created, or for which something/someone exists. The ultimate purpose, the purpose for human life itself, has been the subject of enquiry down the millennia. Modern-day individualistic schisms and behaviours put us at distance from the equally commonly held belief that everything and everyone is connected. Within that, most people still adhere to the idea that purpose is attached to the character and call of God, the Creator, and follow a path of enquiry, belief, faith system, or set of principles and values, to hold the boundaries of our lives.

The following are a sample of sayings and directions handed down about the importance of stillness for our well-being.

“Be still and know that I am God’ Psalm 46:10 The Christian Bible.

“To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher and founder of philosophical Taoism

“Listen to the silence. The scriptures declare that our fundamental error is wrong identification. It means, so to speak, that we have left the silence and been caught up in the noise”. Hindu Swami Atmaswarupananda

“My heart is tuned to the quietness that the stillness of nature inspires” Sufi philosopher Inayat Khan”

“The soul has been given its own ears to hear things the mind does not understand.” Poet and Islamic Scholar, Rumi.

No matter what the faith system – or lack of it – purpose offers meaning and direction in life and can shape our character and direct our actions as we live.

So how do we achieve the silence and stillness necessary for the revelation and nourishment of that purpose?

First, be still.

Silence is the Mother of the Spirit, a warm place in the heart, a place of clarity and insight. Silence protects us, and prepares us to hear beyond our own noisy selves. The stillness derived from silence opens us to the possibility of having a purpose driven life.  

As silence is the absence of sound, so stillness is the absence of movement. To still the mind is not to be absent from it, but fully present to it. If we are present to mind rather than the thoughts that continually arise and pass away through it, a sense of deep stillness of being can be achieved. A stillness of being that fully encompasses the moment-by-moment experiences of the mind and body, but without being caught up in it.

From the standpoint of mindfulness, this state is recognised as being aware.

For all faiths and beliefs, the nature and practice of a life of purpose can often be revealed by being still and allowing awareness from within and without; hence stillness is a pillar upholding purpose.

How will you find stillness today? How will you find the silence in which to heal and restore your connection to self, to the Creator, and to transcend and transform life itself?


AL
Mindful  meditations and contemplations here …

Hope

Hope

Hope can sometimes challenge us – can we, will we, accept hope in times of despair?

How do we manage the unmanageable, that thing, person, or circumstance that gives rise to emotional exhaustion and hopelessness?

To be without hope is to be without optimism, expectation, or desire for the possibility of something more, something better.

There are many conditions and situations that can lead to a sense of hopelessness – mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, disorders such as bipolar and schizophrenia, substance addiction, PTSD, a history of abuse, ill-health, the list goes on.

So called normal behaviours, such as negative attitude, reactivity from underlying stress – blaming others, anger, threats – emotional manipulation, acceptance of verbal disparagement or abuse arising from an underlying sense of not being good enough, being challenged by a crisis of relationship, health, or faith, can also all lead to a diminishment of hope.

Often at these times we ask the unanswerable question ‘why? – why is this happening to me?’

The circumstances and challenges of life are often not personal, they are simply a condition of living, of being alive. No one is promised a life of happiness, we all know that in life we will experience times of unhappiness, a time when we, or someone close to us, will become ill, be in a situation, or develop a condition, that makes living testing.

We also all know that no matter how much we pay attention and look after ourselves, our hair, skin, clothes, and try our best to eat a healthy diet and exercise, we are still all going to depart this life, and lose it.

So how to think about this sense of hopelessness that can arise from living life. It begins in the mind. Our brains run on cycles or patterns of thoughts, as do our emotions and the associated behaviours we enact at these times. Without something to change or break the cycle, it will continue through to its end. Without options to intercept, giving the possibility of something else to take place, we are doomed to continuously repeat the cycle that can lead to hopelessness or despair.

In these times it’s important to recognise that your perception is not necessarily the reality.

Your thoughts can be distorted and inaccurate. Becoming more aware of your thoughts rather than engaging in the usual cycle, can help you identify the patterns, and with practice, the mental and emotional triggers that start the cycle off.

Here are some other things to try if you are feeling a lack of hope:

• Challenge your inner belief, and argue the opposite
• Instead of asking yourself ‘why?’ ask ‘what?’ – what can I do?
• Problem solve your situation, either to change how you feel about it or to solve it
• Develop and plan – then take the first step on it
• Talk to a trusted person or a therapist
• Consider faith.

Faith is a wonderful antidote to hopelessness.

The benefits of religion to mental health are known and are consistent across age, race, gender, nationality, and socioeconomic status. Human beings through the ages have constantly sought things to deify. There is a great comfort in knowing that everything is not just up to you, you don’t have to, nor can you, control life, that when you are fearful or call for help someone is there – you are not alone.

Spirituality and faith are a mystery, a mystery imbued with hope.

Movement is also a practical and potent way to help free up the feeling of being ‘stuck’ that can lead to hopelessness. Taking up the practice of Tai Chi or Yoga can help free up fixed mental structures/patterns. By creating more fluidity in your space, an openess of mind can occur more easily. 

The Ability Life website exists to offer encouragement toward a deeper inquiry into the mystery of life and to nourish well-being. Thanks to neuroscience, eudaimonic well-being has been proved to have a positive and healing effect on human genomes. Greek philosopher Aristotle spoke of eudaimonic well-being as ‘central to reasoning, happiness and a rich fulfilling life’, and ‘a start point for thinking about the nature and purpose of human life, its virtue and its ultimate fulfilment’. It is our hope you will find our blogs, contemplations, and mindful meditations beneficial to yours.

AL

Note: This information is a helpful guide only and not as a replacement for seeking professional advice and assistance.

The Constant Gardener

The Constant Gardener

Over the years I’ve dabbled in gardening from time to time, but lockdown has given me the opportunity to really get stuck in. When all the children had left home I filled my empty nest with a few hens in a corner of the garden and looking after them helped to fill the mother- shaped hole gouged out of my life by the departure of offspring – offsprung!

A few years down the line and my chicken- keeping responsibilities are few as I’ve become used to what they need from me, which isn’t much. The space once occupied by childcare responsibilities has shrunk, but so too has the therapeutic value of hen husbandry. While life outside the home has provided much in the way of distraction and fulfilment, home has once again become the focus of my life in lockdown. Where to find succour now? More hens? Too much poo. A dog? Too much hard work! No, the family menagerie is complete – just ask the cats. And so I came to dabble in the garden once again.


Unlike previous short bursts of interest, the many weeks of lockdown have made a constant gardener of me, and as I have stuck with my daily toil I am now beginning to see – literally – the fruits of my labours. More than this, though, I have begun to tune in to the timescale and rhythm of nature. Where once I wore a watch every day, wrote all my appointments diligently in a planner and managed my schedule to keep all my commitments, now my perspective of time is more measured.


However impatient I may be, the dwarf beans won’t germinate any faster. The spray has subdued the powdery mildew for now, but unless the roses are sprayed again in a couple of weeks – and then again – the disease will keep coming back. Keeping to nature’s timescales is surprisingly different from keeping to other people’s, or even my own. In the early days of lockdown the loss of routine and structure in my daily life left me feeling rudderless, drifting. Now I struggle to remember which day is the Zoom meeting I recorded in the diary which has become my notebook. The natural pace of the natural world is soothing me.


It won’t last. Winter will come and my planner will be out again as I examine my dormant garden through the window, from my cosy armchair indoors. There will still be Zoom meetings to schedule into the diary, but also personal get- togethers to organise and attend. Hugs! But my garden is calling me to look to the coming spring, to plan out my seeds and plug plants, enrich the soil for the harvest ahead, move things round to keep the soil from exhaustion. I don’t want to lose this new and ancient rhythm of life. I choose to keep it, to make my other interests and commitments work around it. Like my spiritual life.

Guest Blogger K Atha. Psychologist, Preacher, Mother of Five. UK

For guided meditations and contemplations click here