When something so horrid as the shootings in Blacksburg occur, or the emotional equivalent happens in your life ~ a sudden and terrifying diagnosis, the end of a marriage, an attack, an abuse ~ first there is shock, then denial, and then sadness, anger and grief. These are the steps most of us take, and in many ways, they are required.
Unfortunately, many of us never completely make it through the healing process, embarking upon the difficult journey across the ocean of sorrow until we find ourselves washed clean upon the shores of forgiveness. Holding onto our suffering seems easier than the journey, but in reality the truth is, in choosing to live in our wounds, we condemn ourselves to a life filled with unecessary suffering.
Like quicksand, unforgiveness cuts us off from The Source ~ from our spiritual ground, so to speak. Like hungry spiders, we sink our fangs into the energy of the people who victimized us, weaving a web of wounds around them, and instead of letting go... which would set us free and help us grow, we choose to drink from an endless source of self-pity, hatred, and excuses for not moving forward.
When faced with a wall of grief so high there is no way over it, and so long there is no way around it ~ there are two paths we can take. One leads nowhere. We sit for months, years, perhaps a lifetime on the threshold of sorrow, clinging to the pain as if letting it go would somehow condone the brutality which gave birth to it.
The second path, the one paved with ashes and lined with thorns, is the only route inward. And, any mystic will tell you the path that leads inward is the path that leads forward. Walking straight into a veil of sorrows is the only way to leave a trail of tears behind you. Leaning into the source of our suffering and holding it with the sincerest compassion, befriending our woes without maliciously judging ourselves for the way we are feeling, seeing ourselves and others as God sees us ~ with the deepest love ~ this is the great and honorable work of self-healing and transformation.
Buddhism has taken me down this ever-widening path of an awareness that All is One. If one is cut down, we all feel the pain. If one commits unthinkable crimes against man or nature, ultimately, we all suffer the consequences. Jesus spoke the very same truth when he said, "Love your neighbor as yourself, love your enemies as yourself." I venture a guess that what he meant is: Your neighbor IS yourself... you and your enemy are one and the same. In one way or another, we are ALL victims, and all of us are victimizers. It is the way of this imperfect world we live in.
Shift your perspective for a moment and consider what I just wrote, because I honestly think it is true. To love your enemy is to love yourself. To love your neighbor is to love yourself. To love and nurture this planet is to love yourself. To send love to our leaders is to send love to ourselves.
In loving yourself, you are loving the world.
In healing yourself, you are healing the world.
I'm not talking kum ba ya New Age fluff here. When you unmask your sorrow, you will find joy. And, when we face our wounds instead of being devoured by them, we are one step closer to healing the world.
If all of this seems impossibly difficult, or even blasphemous to you ~ this idea of radical forgiveness and love ~ extend a palm to me. Outstretch your hand. I am placing a beaten, broken, barnacle-encrusted shard of a shell in the palm of your hand. When it touches you, it scrapes into your skin a bit, and you might indignantly say, "Ouch!" and glare at me because of it.
I would instruct you to look at it, and imagine for only an instant what it would be like to embody the shell. What would it feel like ~ who would you be like if your soul was as tramautized as the shard cutting into palm of your hand?
I don't know what your answer would be, but I do know what my response is. When faced with the most unforgiveable crime, it might be helpful to remember that no one on the face of this earth hurts another soul without it coming from a place of deepest suffering within themselves. We have no idea what misfortunes or tortures others have had to endure in this life, so in some small way, grant your antagonist some grace. The more you allow grace to flow through you and into the world, the more grace will come into you to replenish what you have so generously given.
Look again ~ is not the cup that holds your wine the very
cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
Not one is left unburned.
Look again in the heart of your enemy. Unmask your sorrow.
Are you not looking at yourself?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
THEN a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the self same well from which your laughter
rises was often times filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your
being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very
cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit,
the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart
and you shall find it is only that which has given
you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping
for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow,"
and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with
you at your board, remember that the other is
asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales
between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at
standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh
his gold and his silver, needs must your joy
or your sorrow rise or fall.
~ Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Posted by susan at April 17, 2007 1:29 AM
Beautifully written Susan. Last night during the end of our choir practice, someone prayed for this tragedy to be handled with the same grace which was demonstrated by the Amish. We indeed live in a broken world.
Posted by: jayne at April 17, 2007 6:45 AM
Oh, Susan, you so often write what is in my heart. This piece is outstanding. It praises understanding, love and peace. The tulip in tears is absolutely tender and beautiful.
Posted by: janet at April 17, 2007 1:09 PM
It is good to be reminded of Gibran's words; it has been many years since I read that. Thank you.
I am grateful for your insight and wisdom. I struggle tonight with processing this numb grief.
Posted by: beth at April 17, 2007 11:54 PM
Thank you Susan, for your gracious and wondrous words and insight. I must confirm to you and all here that many times that I did go deeper into my sorrows and sufferings, and have come out in healing and joy.
Last night I did sit in Tonglin and sent out healing for the families of the victims and for those like the gunman, that they might find healing somehow.
In case you sometimes wonder if you make a difference, you make a difference in my world. And that makes a difference here in Bahrain.
I like that you said that in loving yourself, you love the world and in loving your enemy, you love yourself. I think also, that if you hate another, you hate yourself. And what if one should direct their hate towards me, I hope that I can have what it takes to open to that person with a heart of compassion.
I bow to the divine in you all.
Posted by: Bob at April 18, 2007 7:01 AM
I'd like to remind my readers that this practice of walking through one's grief and humbly crossing the ocean of sorrows will release you upon the shores of forgiveness, and is not limited to the big dramatic events like Virginia Tech. The journey requires humility, but when we realize forgiving the wielder of our wounds comes 'round full circle to ultimately bless us, and that we are all one, the shield of humility doesn't seem so difficult to pick up.
The first wing of mindfulness is experiencing the reality of your pain, and the second wing is holding your pain with tenderness and compassion. Being wounded in this life is universal. How we respond to our wounds to a huge extent is the measure of the amount of suffering we encounter in this life. Pain is a given ~ forgiving ourselves and each other in order to release the pain is optional. The choice for health and peace is not an act of the mind, it is a step your soul takes ~ it is a decision of the heart.
Hi Bob! (comment below) All the way from Bahrain.. we miss you on Wednesday nights, and am touched by your honest words.
Posted by: susan at April 18, 2007 11:53 AM
Thank you, Susan...
Posted by: dan at April 19, 2007 2:13 AM
Thank you. I needed to be reminded again of the futility of unforgiveness - how it's hurts me more than it hurts the other.
Posted by: Ali at April 20, 2007 9:26 PM
Yes, thank you.
Posted by: Dana at April 21, 2007 2:55 AM
Thank you Susan - your words helped me to pinpoint the emotions raging inside of me, to be able to put words to them and deal with them.
Posted by: aola at April 21, 2007 1:00 PM
Wonderful post, dear Susan!!
Posted by: jzrart at April 21, 2007 2:39 PM