In my relatively happy life, I have had to learn to forgive. Fragile creature I am not, but people have still stabbed right through me — sometimes intentionally, sometimes w/out malice. And there were times I felt I could not possibly survive.
I share this because I have learned — painfully, the hardest of ways — that very few people wake up planning to hurt me. Even the most grievous of injuries (often inflicted by those who love us deeply) were never about me. Sometimes those who hurt me were unaware, and I suffered in frozen silence. Sometimes they made choices I couldn’t accept, a different kind of wound. Other times injuries spiralled from misunderstanding, from poor communications, from bad timing. And there were times when people were simply not themselves: ill, medicated, in altered states for whatever reasons.
My beginner’s heart flinches, wants a shell, craves armour when people fight. I am not afraid of snakes, carry even large spiders outdoors, don’t run from wasps, and think bats are great. But fight in front of me, and I am a puddle of quiver and quake. I am six years old, and my parents are screaming. Even these many years later, I have nightmares when people fight.
Because I can never fix it. Long ago and in a time far away, someone told me: Britt — you didn’t break it. You can’t fix it. But I want to. I always want to.
So here’s what I have learned about forgiveness: read Thich Nhat Hanh’s Taming the Tiger Within. At one time, the anger I felt was like an illness — a lethal fever that consumed me. I have rarely been as devastated, as hurt. But Thich Nhat Hanh asked me: What if this person you love died? Is this anger what you want to remember? If you knew that this person was going to die tomorrow, what would you do?
I won’t pretend it was easy, learning to forgive. It may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But the pay-off — the reward — grows. Once done, you know it can be done again. And again. And the person I forgave did not take advantage of me, thinking I was weak. Nor did I have to accept the behaviour — I still fought that. But I let go the anger, the resentment, the hellish fire that consumed me. And I healed. Every night for weeks I breathed: in/out; in/out. I bought a wrist mala and slept with it. I reminded myself that forgiveness is not about the villain but the victim. Is about healing for the wounded, not mercy for the thief.
As a year of the dragon, I am all about fire. But anger is fire at its worst — nuclear, Hiroshimic. Forgiveness is fire that comforts — warm blankets when you’re chilled, coming inside after snow. I am cooling down the fires in my beginner’s heart to comfort levels, not conflagration.
So there you have it. One of the hardest lessons I am still learning. But one of the most important my beginner’s heart knows.