On Forgiveness

What if I told you there was a way to be free of all suffering, lifted from the heaviness of life’s drama? What if I told you that it was completely free? What if I told you that you already hold the key to this freedom in your own heart? Fortunately, it’s just that simple.

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I won’t lie and tell you that it’s easy, but it is simple. It’s not complicated.

Forgiveness is perhaps the most valuable key to our inner freedom. And we are 100% in charge of the work of forgiveness. Nobody other than ourselves can dictate who or how to forgive. Despite what we may think, there is no pain too great to let go of. None of us is given more than we can handle. If, however, we allow ourselves to believe that some past hurt is too big for us to forgive (which remains our right), we can no longer justifiably blame any ‘offender’ for our ongoing pain. The offence is long gone, and it is we who are choosing to keep it alive in our minds (often unconsciously), refusing to face the raw freedom of forgiveness. And this is ok. We need not get further tangled in guilt over this. We can simply face the pain as we are able to and release it.

Forgiveness is an open door, an opportunity. We are completely free to take it on or pass it up, as we see fit. It can be tough work. Many of us become so identified with our particular pains and burdens of hurt that we cannot imagine living without them. The very prospect can seem downright frightening. We feel as though a part of us may die if we forgive fully, or are fully forgiven. The anger, guilt or resentment we hold becomes a wall that defines us, and we mistakenly perceive this wall as a sense of security, when it is actually a severe limitation.

These limitations dam up our energy and attract further negativity. Trapped inside, we play out our painful narratives over and over, digging deeper trenches of pain. By flooding these walls with self-identification we make ourselves vulnerable to attack. We choose to give these limitations their reality and we bring about our own suffering. Whether a rude comment in passing, a perceived slight, or much worse, anything we take personally is bound to hurt us. But even in extreme cases of pain, imposed upon us unjustly, we are STILL in complete control of our forgiveness. We can choose freedom, however painful a journey it may be, or we can remain prisoners of our past.

When we hold a grudge, or bottle up our hurt feelings, we are allowing a person or an event to hold great power over us. We are blindly scattering our force outward and pointing the blame the same way. This will never lead to reconciliation. But once we take complete responsibility for ourselves, no matter how serious the hurt we have endured, we see that it is actually impossible to blame anyone else for our suffering.

Even Jesus (from most accounts a pretty righteous dude) said, as he was dying, to forgive his tormentors, “for they know not what they do.” This is some real wisdom. It seems Jesus could see that those persecuting him were acting from ignorance. They were acting out of the blindness of heavily-conditioned egos. They were not to blame. Their minds just happened to be muddled and cluttered, full of ideas imposed on them by others, which they had accepted and invested in. This model of forgiveness brings to mind a quote from ‘The Peaceful Warrior’; “Those who are the hardest to love [or forgive] need it the most.”

At its very core, unconditional forgiveness is love.  This wisdom can radically change how we interact with life and one another. We can examine the folly of our former ways and shift into a new perspective, realizing that we need not take anything personally. We can help one another find the courage to forgive, and we can take responsibility for our own behaviour, both past and present, forgiving ourselves for whatever wrongs we may have committed. We come to see that by moving through these hurts and these ‘wrongs’ we can learn and grow, gaining deeper insight into our own hearts.

The further we anchor ourselves in the freedom of our forgiveness, the less likely we are to encounter further ‘offences’ needing forgiving. Our forgiveness enables us to boldly hold out our hearts, and our wisdom becomes a shield keeping us from feeling wronged by anyone or anything. We come to see that we are all just doing what we can with what we were given. Of course we can do better, continuing to learn and grow from our mistakes, but there is no great rush, and quick forgiveness is the best way to move forward.

So now we can ask ourselves, is there someone I need to forgive?  Is there forgiveness I need to receive?  The silence which follows these questions holds the answers. Once fully received, this forgiveness gives us permission to live our lives fully.

Silence is the Teacher

Silence is essential. We depend upon the absence of open space. We cannot experience life without this fundamental emptiness. In no uncertain terms this void has given rise to us, and indeed to all life. And yet it seems that this void is what so many of us are running from. Our lives today are so frantic and caffeine-fuelled that we hardly ever stop to really listen; to hear a symphony of leaves rustling in a breeze, to hear our own breath passing through our nostrils, or to hear our innermost thoughts.

At the core of our being is a window opening to this cavernous infinity literally teeming with the boundless potential of pure emptiness – the fabric of the universe. To come directly in contact with it feels rather frightening if we have not checked in with it lately. But as we allow it to express itself, patiently observing all that arises from this space, we become clearer and freer, more able to truly connect and express ourselves from the depth of our being.

Some fortunate souls have lived lives closer to the centre, not having strayed so far from themselves, and may not have as jarring an experience in connecting with their core, but it seems more and more the norm that the countless diversions and distractions of modern life are alienating us from the peace and simple wisdom of our own inner silence. When was the last time you sat for a few minutes without any input and simply paid attention? No TV. No phone. No music. No book. Not even drifting off to sleep. Awake and alert, just you and whatever thoughts or feelings are stirring about in your present experience. Have a go at it. See how quickly you try to run away. See how soon your thoughts try to busy you with ‘more important matters’.

The demanding and rapidly-expanding speed and scale of our consumer society finds us so often at odds with ourselves that many of us have stopped taking note. It hurts to look inside, so we keep occupied, believing our sheer busy-ness to be some sort of virtue. We are always ‘behind’ the eight ball, playing catch-up in work that has been force-fed us, competing with people we call peers, secretly hoping their failure may lead to our success. What kind of sickness have we been infected with? But we need not feel guilty about this sort of thinking, if we are even aware enough to recognize it. We can simply acknowledge it for what it is, culturally-fed momentum spinning about our heads. This conditioned thinking is only problematic to the extent that it goes unnoticed, or believed.

But a simple step toward silence unravels all of this toxic content, reshaping the very context of our lives, allowing us to see more deeply who we are and to engage with life in a more playful way, free of the desperation of competition and scarcity, no longer obsessed with what everyone else is doing or thinking, finally free to be and do as we see fit with every moment given us. We come to see that each breath is a gift, inspiring and informing us, offering us a chance to become who we really are. Living from this inward and private space of silence, we no longer seek consensus, news or approval from those around us, and yet we understand more clearly our union with everyone and everything. In this space we can speak freely from our hearts and we can listen deeply from the hearts of our brothers and sisters, offering the simple healing power of our presence, free from distraction.

 

Well over 150 years ago, Henry David Thoreau warned of the dangers of losing touch with ourselves, sacrificing our inner silence for the superficial ‘juice’ of society (his mention of the post office might as well be Facebook today):

When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbour; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters proud of his extensive correspondence has not heard from himself this long while.

Back to Work

I have been on a long break.  Four months, essentially.  After nearly a year of hard work (for which I have little ‘to show’ at the moment), I took a good long break.  I went wandering through South America.  I have been home for more than a month and I am just now getting back into the groove.  Or trying.  I am committed to a firm work schedule and I am challenging myself to meet deadlines, both short-term and long-term.  But I will not risk taking it seriously.  Throughout all of this work, I know there is nothing important that I can actually accomplish.  Everything of real importance is already sorted out.  It’s all sewn up.  The best I can do is remind someone of what they already know.

 

Nonetheless, I can be playful with this creative project, exercising the discipline necessary to write the beautiful story I have been living.  I am living.  I believe we all have a beautiful story to tell.  We can each see for ourselves.  My story is just one more drop in the ocean.  Although it is all true, believing it can be distractive – certainly for myself, but perhaps for you too.  It can pull us away from the most important part – the heart – the real core of the story, which remains unspoken.  This is the same of any story, I feel.  Instead of getting lost in the various facts and details, allow yourself to sense the undercurrent carrying it all along, and, most importantly, notice how you feel.  Facing these feelings will help us to see what we need to see, or, more aptly, how we need to see.  Not that there is any great need, per se, though we certainly won’t regret the ensuing insight.

 

We can’t fake feelings.  They can’t be manufactured, as far as I understand.  We certainly influence them, and, on one level, we have set them all in motion, but as feelings arise in the moment, their presence cannot be denied.  Although we try our best to look away from certain feelings, we only succeed in saving them for later.  This sort of repression can be likened to a subtle form of procrastination.  Often it is blatant.  Eventually, we have to face it all.  And it seems that through observing all of these feelings, our stories unravel.  The little narratives that have carried us along for most of our lives begin to weaken and slip away.  And the overarching story becomes more beautiful in the process.  It doesn’t change the events that have transpired, necessarily, but we come to see more clearly what our actual relationship with them is.

 

And this can seem scary, at first.  It often does.  These feelings are pretty raw.  They are powerful.  And we feel exposed in such honest self-reflection.  But before long we begin to feel freer and lighter, more and more willing to face whatever else may be lingering in the depths, preventing our peace, which is ever-present and forever available to us.  But we cannot reach for it.  We can only allow it.  And sometimes this takes work.  Facing ourselves in all honesty, examining the stories we have been telling ourselves (and others) is indeed hard work.  But it is most definitely worth our while.

 

I have a friend who once told me that life is a long weekend.  As soon as I heard it, I loved the idea.  I felt it to be deeply true.  I shared this philosophy widely for a while, but soon began wondering where life’s inevitable work factors in.  I have also heard it said that when you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.  But I wonder if maybe it takes a bit of work to get to that point.  I feel that sometimes hard work is exactly what we need.  And we don’t always want to do it.  Where does hard work fit within the framework of a long weekend?  I suppose if we are up at the cottage and need to fix the deck, or the dock, a bit of hard work is unavoidable.  And this tends to feel pretty good, once done, but is often a bit of a slog to get through.  While this seems to contradict popular philosophies urging us to ‘follow your bliss’ or ‘do what you love’, I feel that hard work can be a valuable part of our love, strengthening our endurance.  Our love provides enough space to bury our heads from time to time and plough through unpleasant tasks.  And when we break through, we usually feel the rewards of our hard work.

 

And the hardest work of all may be complete effortlessness.  Can we sit in perfect stillness?  Can we watch ourselves quietly and patiently to observe our most deeply rooted habits and stories?  Give it a try, and you may see that truly doing ‘nothing at all’ is rather difficult.  This sort of paradox is often unsettling for our minds.  But if we allow ourselves to simply observe this apparent paradox, and our reaction to it, eventually the inner storm will settle, and we can come to see that so-called ‘cut and dry’ or ‘black and white’ distinctions are not what they appear.  These divisions created in the mind are more like the two sides of a coin.  Eventually, all opposites meet in the middle.  And this is balance, as strange as it may seem to us at first.

 

So, for the next six months or so, I endeavour to balance hard work and great discipline with patience and peace, honouring the effortless, all-embracing love at the centre of it all.  With very rare exceptions (perhaps none at all!) I will be posting at least one update here per week, aiming for Mondays.  Aside from this, my main project will be rising early to slowly approach the mass of words I have gathered over the past year or so.  By chopping, trimming and softly massaging these words, I hope to find the core of the story coursing through them and allow it to emerge and string together some sort of coherent whole.  It will most certainly be hard work, but I will allow my love to lead me through it.

 

I wish you all the best as you endeavour to let your love lead you through whatever hard work may be facing you.  It can’t be avoided forever.  Once we get at it, we are wiser and stronger for the sheer will to step up and face each passing feeling, whatever it may be.  Pleasure and pain come and go, but the truth of love underpins and transcends it all.  See this and be free.

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A Few Photos From The Road

I have been on the road for 48 days now, just moving through Cuba, Colombia and Ecuador so far, and though I meant to be posting on here much more, I have not taken many opportunities to do so.  I have snapped a few photos here and there, but I am not carrying a computer with me, or any other device, and I drop in to Internet Cafes only sparingly.  All the same, here is a very random assortment, picked mostly by lottery.

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As I said, a bit random, but there they are.  Maybe I will find a better format to lay them out.  I will post an album on facebook in a month or so, once I am home and have a chance to comb through them.  

Enjoy!  

Much love from Vilcabamba!

An Update on Recent Writing – Reflecting on Self-Creation

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It seems I have not been writing much lately. That’s what it seems like – especially if you look here. But appearances can be deceiving. In fact, I have not written so much in all of my life as I have in the past month (though not in volume, certainly in consistency and pace).

I have clicked in to gear, even while failing and recommitting dozens of times daily, and I am producing more work than I could have imagined. I must admit that it was a deadline which spurred me on. I am hitting the road again in two weeks – leaving this old home of mine, this beautiful cocoon – and I have amped up my discipline in hopes of finishing the first draft of this massive book I have been working on. It has grown a bit out of control, and I have no idea what will become of it, but I can’t say I mind. I have discovered the true value of this creation is the creation itself – the act of creation, not the outcome. Truly expressing ourselves is an incredible path to truth and freedom. Results are far less than secondary, and never final.

I had been dreaming this book up while I travelled around Europe, and I was telling people all about it along the way. Over the past year (particularly the past seven months) I have finally been writing it. It has tasted some wild highs and lows, and yet I have been blessed to mostly sit back and observe these extremes with plenty of perspective, not getting too wrapped up in the waves.

It has been one of the greatest challenges of my life. I have never worked so hard before. It has been entirely effortless at times, and lots of fun. More often, though, it has called for a depth of discipline I never knew I had access to. And yet taking space to relax and do absolutely nothing has been just as vital as the work, allowing things to settle and connect. There is a fine line, a razor’s edge, that seems like a complete paradox, which finds me pouring myself completely into this project, my life story, even as I know, simultaneously, that it is ultimately meaningless. It doesn’t matter one iota. Not in the big picture. It will never fully express what it endeavours to express, and yet I sense it can express much more, too. So I guess it’s just for fun. I don’t know if I have merely imagined these ideas, but they have at least enabled me to create without attaching any importance to the result of the work.

I have been learning a lot as I have been writing this memoir. This matters far more to me than the thoughts, feelings and stories I have been collecting. I see that the work is, at once, entirely for myself and also an act of total service. It might just end up the world’s longest, most self-absorbed and self-revelatory journal entry ever. I honestly don’t care if anyone ever reads it. But I will keep working away at it, to bring it as near as possible to the state of being ‘finished’, whatever that might mean. I trust that I will know when it gets there, or someone will slap me and take it from me. Either way.

The act of composition is a funny one. It seems as if we are all doing it anyway, largely unconsciously, weaving our little life stories as we walk along our road, making it all fit, feeding it with meaning. To bring our narrative under the light of real seeing, however, exposing it to the naked page, is a daring act. It can be absolutely terrifying. I’m not patting myself on the back here, claiming to be particularly brave or courageous, either. In fact, I’ve never felt more consistently vulnerable in all my life. But I feel that this vulnerability, this uncertainty, has become some kind of strength. I am learning to lean into this mystery. I know intuitively that life is real in this raw open space. And I am doing my best to live from this tender, authentic centre more and more.

This is a complete reversal of the general operating principles that seem to have prevailed in recent western society. They seem to have prevailed. But we know that appearances can be deceiving. I see that these principles, of conquest, competition and consumerism – principles of capitalism, basically – are eroding the very foundation upon which they rest. The bloodsport of money, which we call an economy, if left to its own devices, ends up with one person holding it all. What good will it do them, or anyone else? Life goes on. Balance is inescapable. We don’t need money. Life existed before it, and will long outlast it. Seeds sprout and food grows. We share and we eat. We build, we live and we love. In the end, human community prevails.

But I have digressed, and will reel it in before this becomes a rant. I am nearly done a draft.  Then it is time for a break. On March 5th I have a flight booked to Cuba. I am chaperoning a mission trip. I will likely be out of touch for the duration of my stay. I have a one-way flight booked to Venezuela on March 19th. I am hoping to drop in on a few friends scattered about South America. I have had some friends and family members question why I am starting in Venezuela. I have even had a few urge me not to go, citing political instability and great social unrest. I can’t say I know why I am going, but I trust life entirely, and I trust that a way will be made for me. If I am not meant to go there, something will come up and intuition will guide me elsewhere.

I believe this is the case for all of us. I believe that if we walk out in the direction of our dreams, even if it takes us straight through our greatest fears, we will awaken more and more to our deepest and truest self. This journey need not be literal. The real journey is within, though sometimes it may also be mirrored outside of ourselves. We are all creators, building our lives, blindly or otherwise. The more we see, the more pure our creation becomes. But it is dangerous to consider ourselves as ‘in control’. Stop trying to arrive.  We’re already here. I feel the best service any of us can do is to simply let all that is inside of us out. A lofty ambition, perhaps, but absolutely worthwhile – essential, even. This pure creation is even closer to us than within reach; I see it to be within release. All we have to do is let go. See clearly. This surrender is the hardest work of all, and it is absolutely effortless.

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Good luck. ;) Travel light. Send me love as I journey. :) I will try to get some photos and travel posts up here as I am able to throughout my South American jaunt. As ever, I don’t know when I’ll be back, so I won’t pretend, though I don’t plan on more than a couple of months.

De-cluttering Our ‘TO DO’ Lists: Honouring Responsibility Over Obligation

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WHAT TO DO?

What do you have to do today? Really. Look it over. Whether you have an actual list in front of you or just a stack of tasks gathered in your mind, have a good look at it. Ask yourself; is all of this necessary? Is any of it necessary? Who says so? Even if that voice in your head barks back ‘I say so!’, inquire. Who is that voice? Is it really you? Or might it just be a collection of expectations and obligations that a life of conditioning has imprinted upon you? This may be a frightening thought, that some entity other than ourselves is driving our minds. But this ‘conditioning’ need not be seen as intentionally oppressive, as if some evil perpetrator were sitting in a wingback chair, laughing, hands held together in a pyramid, fingers dancing back and forth while we silly mortals fall prey to some grand evil scheme.

SEEING THROUGH OUR CONDITIONING

Conditioning has just happened. This is simply how life has developed so far. It’s a part of our growth. And not all conditioning is bad. But when we are blind to it, it drives us. It fills up our ‘to do’ lists with endless things that we feel we must do. The extent to which we can see this conditioning at work is the extent to which we can become free of it. After all, it is in the nature of a mistake to disappear once we discover it. And then we can watch our ‘to do’ lists thin out significantly. They may go blank altogether. And they may remain that way for a while – empty. And that’s ok. After running a marathon, whether finishing first or last, it’s reasonable to take a moment to gather our breath, maybe have a sip of water and walk it off. Similarly, when we wake up to see we’ve been running in circles for most of our lives, we are permitted to take a bit of a breather, to walk it off. We may feel aimless for a while. (We’ll certainly appear it!) This is ok, too. Gradually, we can begin introducing new items to our ‘to do’ lists, when we feel up to it, and especially when we feel inspired to act from a place of conviction – a place of deep truth. We are no longer merely following commands, but seeing action arise from our natural impulse for love. We do what we want to do, what we love to do. We can begin developing ‘to do’ lists with intention. It’s our inattention that has kept us spinning in hamster wheels for so long. It’s time to rise and shine.

CLARIFYING OUR UNDERSTANDING

What I am talking about is a subtle but vital distinction which can revolutionize our lives. This is the fine line between obligation and responsibility. But what’s the difference? How do we discern which is which? Sometimes it’s a razor’s edge. And it’s more often not even about what we do, but how we do it. Are we doing something because we have to or because we want to? It is not always so simple, though this can be a good place to begin our inquiry. Fortunately, for fuzzier matters, a bit of patient reflection can help us understand which voice we should be honouring.

So what is obligation? Well, to feel obliged to do something seems to imply some sense of pressure, some external force, whether from the expectations of our family, our work, or society at large. These are tasks we would seldom take upon ourselves to perform. But responsibility is literally the ability to respond. Response-ability.  It’s all right there. This is an uprising of our truest self, a deep moral sense of right action, appropriate to the moment. And it always comes from within, expressing itself in a completely unique way through each of us. Still, it can be difficult to strain through the many voices chattering inside of us to figure out where each voice is coming from, where they would have us go and what they would have us do.

TRIMMING DOWN OUR BIG ‘TO DO’s

This is where thinning out our ‘to do’ lists can be so helpful. It’s a two-way street. It may feel a bit scary, at first, and maybe even a little crazy, but by stripping away our excess ‘busy-ness’ – if only for a few days, allowing ourselves to breathe and relax – we can begin to see what is truly important in our lives. It will emerge all on its own. And we can learn to prioritize more wisely. As we do this, we may hear old voices rising up inside, telling us we are letting people down, or letting ourselves down. But if we can weather this storm, perhaps we can stop worrying about ‘let downs’ and learn to let up and let go. Maybe we’ll realize that what we want is not what we need, and what we need is not what we want. Facing this can be disorienting. But if we can exercise a bit of bravery – just enough to take a small step out of our comfortable routines, letting go of our ‘to do’ lists for a while – perhaps we can become more of who we truly are, surrendering the rest, and ending up a greater help to ourselves and others, growing and serving in ways far beyond what we had ever imagined possible.

TAKE A CHANCE – RELAX

Why not try letting go? Maybe all you have to lose is all you need to lose to be truly free. Take a deep breath in and let go of everything else. Exhale and feel the release spreading through your entire body. This is our natural state. Inner peace is our effortless inheritance. There is nothing it asks us ‘to do’ but let it in. So be still. Go deep. And ask yourself, what do I really have to do today?

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Express Yourself

This is how to speak from the heart.  I am teaching myself.  I am learning.  I often work with ideas as I write and I feel physically oriented in my head, but right now, as I type this, I am focusing attention on the centre of my chest, allowing myself to feel whatever is there.  I am not trying to create anything.  I am just speaking.  The song ‘Express Yourself’ comes to mind.  To mind?  To heart?  Where is it that ideas arrive?  Where do they come from?  Maybe it doesn’t matter.  Not now.  I may end up chasing my tail.  And even just there, I caught myself up in my head, feeling myself there physically again.  I have recalibrated.  Holding strong in the expansive heart-centre.  Mmmmm….that feels right.

So why do we spend so much time in our heads?  I feel it is because so much of our sensory information is processed there.  Or that seems to be the major locus of so much sensory input, at least.  The eyes are wired to the brain, and the ears are right there, too.  The nose is in the same neighbourhood.  The tongue, too.  Right off the bat, that’s four out of five senses all located around the head.  It’s no surprise that so many of us have become so tied up in our minds.  But where is the mind?  The Pixies asked us this.  A valuable question.  Where is my mind?  Why do so many of us assume it is in the brain?  What proof do we have?  We can feel sensations all over our bodies, and within our bodies, too.  I’ve been doing it a lot more, lately.  I find it a welcome relief, a sort of recalibration, after so many years of residing in my head.

Since my diet shifted away from much of the junk I once put in it, I am able to feel the inner activities of my body with much more clarity and awareness.  It’s something else.  I highly recommend it.  I can feel my body balancing itself, healing itself.  I can feel things moving around in here, and I know intuitively that it is doing what it needs to do.  I can stay out of the way and let it do its work.

I haven’t been consciously growing my hair or fingernails, nor can I claim credit for my digestion, but it all happens.  The intelligence of life seems to have these things figured out.  Where do we draw the line, deciding what processes we control, and what has been automated?  Is it all just a continuum of learning and assimilating various lessons and subsequent functions?  Who knows?

But I am just rambling.  I guess I should feel free to do so on a blog.  I am expressing myself, and I have been listening to this song on repeat since I mentioned it earlier.  (Check it out here.)  I highly recommend it.  And feel your heart while you’re at it.  I feel that if we all made a habit of this, feeling our hearts as we lived life, things would naturally iron themselves out.  Life can simplify itself – maybe the best we can do is let it.

That’s it for the moment.  I am off to New York with my brother now, to celebrate the New Year with Neil Young at Carnegie Hall – an awesome Christmas present from our folks.  I trust we will have a great time there, a first visit for both of us.  And as this Christmas season winds down, I hope that we can all enjoy the epiphany upon us, the simple epiphany within us, and learn to appreciate the peace in our hearts, and to express ourselves freely and fearlessly.

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