Tuesday, November 3, 2009


More often than I like to admit it, I sometimes find myself in the grip of powerful, negative emotions. In these times, Kathy, the being on this planet who IS my Dharma, always reminds me to begin the process of unwinding from these entanglements by forgiving myself.

In those highly charged moments, when the storm of habitual thoughts and resultant feelings is at its peak of intensity, forgiving myself is the last thing I ever think to do. I am not only in the grip of my thoughts, I am gripping them as well; clinging for dear life to whatever old and outworn ways of being I imagine will save me, as my little boat named "I, Me & Mine" threatens to capsize in the tempest.

Eventually, I am able to feel my breath again. Soon, I can disengage from the mind by connecting with the fact of this sensory reality (rather than believing stories that have no reality to them whatsoever). Then, I can leverage the tiny space created by the breath to open my heart just a crack to let in some healing light. By and by, I do forgive myself, and I invite myself to start over again. I can begin to feel compassion for myself for being the work-in-progress that I am.

The more I make my way through life and the Dharma, the more I have come to trust and rely upon the extraordinary power of forgiveness coupled with compassion. Even if I have to be reminded of it from time to time.

Here is a teaching story I first heard from Jack Kornfield during the autumn retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in 2001. It was only a few weeks after the tragic events of September 11, and we had just learned that the United States was unleashing a rain of terror on the people of Afghanistan. To me, it was, and is, a powerful lesson in forgiveness -- of others, and of ourselves:
In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he or she is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, about all the good things the person in the center has done in their lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy is recounted. All their positive attributes, good deeds, strengths and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. The tribal ceremony often lasts several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.

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