I'm sure you've heard people tell you the importance of forgiving those who have wronged you in the past. Many times I've sought to forgive people who have angered, scared, disappointed or hurt me. And if we're honest here, the reality is that I find the process to be totally unsatisfying and a wee bit inauthentic. At the end of the day, I can't seem to forget the hurt some people have inflicted on myself or others, either intentionally or not, and wonder why the hell they did it in the first place. For most situations, I'll never know.
To forgive others is to free yourself; theoretically I do understand that. But I often wrestle with the real nitty gritty: the damage done to my life or things I care about is often so substantial, just forgiving another person or persons seems, well, useless. I don't see those people fronting my therapy bills, or explaining to my current friends why I'm having sudden panic attacks and need to bail on our plans, or figuring out how to best hide the literal and spiritual scars all over my body. It almost seems like they just go their merry little ways, and I'm sitting there, forgiving THEM. Fuck you, I think. I want THEM to pay, at least a little bit.
Recently I've been uncovering a wealth of past trauma, triggered by what should be a good thing: improved health and weight loss. Suddenly I'm gifted with a healthy, vibrant body of a woman half my age; I can climb trees and wear a bikini, isn't that great? At first it was like Christmas: I bought a bunch of new clothes and paraded in front of the mirror. I could run down the street with ease, I could do pullups, I could go to the beach with confidence. I felt great, I felt pretty, I felt strong.
Then one day, while driving (why does this stuff always pop up while driving?) a black ball of rage consumed me. My entire body stiffened and I began to hyperventilate. I was reliving, through my spankin' new body, an episode in which I was brutally violated. I thought I had dealt with that event and moved on in life (that's what survivors do), and to an extent I did come to grips with the violent event (I did "all the right things", there was no mistake it was not a consensual situation), but what I hadn't released from my being was the rage at what happened after the event: my friends taking sides, my boyfriend dumping me, sleepless nights and self-doubt, the authorities failing me, and me realizing I'd never see justice, not the way I felt it should be. The only recourse I had was to bury it all deep. Not so ironically, I really took to the current fashion of the time, which was oversized rock t-shirts and baggy jeans. My feminine figure was not my friend. And here she was again, the body we all want back, and with it, uncanned pure rage. I realized my very being had been put on trial during that time (what was I wearing, was I sober, did I say something to trigger the event, maybe I liked being choked out and didn't acknowledge my masochistic rape-y kink, the perpetrator was handsome so why would he be attacking me, why would he deny it happened, and of course, why me), and as you can imagine, I was VERY resentful. But powerless, then and now.
Like an onion, more feelings emerged through my body in the days that followed: shivering rage, frozen fear, hot panic. My joy at reaching a new stage of health quickly turned into a bubbling cauldron of past traumas, often at the hands of people wielding power and trust over me, me always feeling little and helpless. How the hell am I supposed to forgive any of these people who preyed on a girl or woman half their size? I found myself itching for a fight, often snapping at the people around me, wary of any personal comment, good or bad. I could not untangle the wrongs of the past with the present moment, and I certainly could not forgive anyone, then or now. The message received was: the world is not safe. It never was. This was dark news indeed.
One evening not too long ago I was sitting on my couch, when I suddenly saw a strange vision: I saw a little boy standing in front of me. He was shirtless and in shorts and was crying wildly for his mother. It was totally heartbreaking and a little bit unnerving, it was like seeing a ghost, he was transparent but clearly there. Right as he faded away (it only lasted a couple seconds), I recognized him as a friend of mine, but this had to have been about 30-some years ago! It was totally bizarre, and I sat there for a while trying to process what I just saw.
For whatever reason, I was receptive to a traumatic moment in his childhood, like a call for help that went floating through time and space and arrived with little pomp in my living room. I don't know what may have happened to him, but wondered, if there was something I could do to help, what would it be? I situated myself into a meditative state and imagined sending him back a message through time: you will be okay. I imagined calming him down. He wanted to run away and hide (don't we all when we're traumatized?), and I imagined asking this little kid where he'd go, and we went to a little forest together and sat. Eventually he wanted to explore this little retreat and I told him he could stay here for as long as he wished, it was a safe place, and I was only a short ways away if he ever needed me. When he was ready to come home, I told him I'd help him find his way.
After running through this imaginative meditation, it occurred to me that I could do this for anyone, including those who had wronged me. I might not be able to forgive them for the things they've done, but what if I could go back to a time in their youth and send them a message of hope? Many of us have had times of distress and trauma, and its common knowledge that many perpetrators have, in the past, endured violence, abuse and trauma as children or young people. I could imagine my abusers or bullies during their own times of tribulation, at a time of vulnerability, and send them a message of hope or love. I don't know how time and space works, but perhaps just those little thoughts focused back into the recesses of time can not only help them, but maybe alter the course of time itself. I often wondered whose voice I heard in my head during dark times in my own life, a voice that told me to hang in there, or get help, or otherwise provided assistance to me. I used to think maybe it was a guardian angel or something; now I wonder if it was just my own voice of compassion towards my earlier self. Maybe we could suggest ourselves into a world salvation through this kind of meditation?
But truly, what I finally was able to to do was direct the energy of forgiveness into a format that really did provide me immediate relief. I am doing no harm, I am utilizing the loving kindness we all have access to, and I am putting to bed the anger, hurt and pain that these episodes in my life have emanated. I also found in these meditations that my mind, body and spirit work together in a new way, and the pain I cause myself in the form of powerlessness dissolves.
Since putting this form of meditation into action, the hyper vigilance has died down, and I've found that even the most difficult of people I interact with don't seem to bother me in the same way. I am settling into my new mode of health without so much fear and anger swirling around myself. I see my body not as something to protect or hate, but a wonderful expression of life and energy, and I'm learning to negotiate with it versus attacking, numbing, or ignoring it. If someone hurts my feelings and I'm unable to resolve that with them, I take that energy and refocus it by sending them loving kindness into the past, to the boy or girl they once were, and my own feelings soften up. Sometimes I can see their story line in a new light, and see how the message "the world is not safe" impacted them, too. I sure know how that rings to me.
I challenge you to take a moment and try this kind of meditation. Maybe think of your mother or father as children, when they were in a fearful state, and send them a symbolic form of hope and love. Sing them a song, or invite them to a safe imaginary place. If this is too much and you find it distressful, perhaps use yourself as the recipient of your meditation, and think of a time of trouble. Send yourself words of strength or hope. It won't change the past, but can soften up the brittle, rigid emotions that surround it and maybe allow you to see another perspective, and perhaps allow you to forgive yourself.