I forgave someone last month who really hurt me. I sat next to him in Griffith Park and listened carefully as he spoke about things he never thought necessary to tell me. I asked questions that I thought didn’t need asking, and got answers I should’ve been aware of months ago. I felt betrayed. Angry. Resentful. Shamed. My heart burned as it finally received confirmation of what it already knew to be true, but was too scared to admit.
In situations like these, it feels like the whole world is crumbling down around us. And that’s because it is. The things we had become comfortable with– the structures, relationships and perhaps the very fabric of how we see ourselves are called into question, their flimsy foundations revealed at last.
When if at first you find yourself resisting the collapse, don’t. This is an important time, and what you do next will determine where you go. Often, new life catches us off guard. We want to be prepared for the changes, foolishly thinking that the structures and ideas and languages that we’ve built will somehow prepare us when the paradigm shifts. But that is not for us to control. It is not our task to be prepared and control. It is our task to adapt and survive.
Thanks for the gift, but you can keep it.
My teacher once told me this great anecdote about Buddha. There once was a Vedic priest who grew weary of Buddha’s ideas because he was losing members of his congregation. So in a fit of rage, he stormed into Buddha’s house and yelled insult after insult after him. When he was finished, Buddha looked at the man gently and said, “When you have a house guest bring you a gift you don’t like, what do you do?” The priest paused before answering, so confused by the question that he lost his anger. “I suppose I thank him but tell him to keep the gift for himself.” Then the Buddha smiled and said “Thank you, sir, for this gift of anger. You may keep it for yourself.”
They say hurt people hurt people. But I don’t think that hurt has to be contagious. We don’t have to throw our hurt onto others, blaming them for being the cause of the world falling down. So sitting there in Griffith Park, looking at the face of a person I thought I knew, I realized that I had it within my power to let go of these stones he gifted me. The hurt I was feeling was his hurt, not mine. The anger and betrayal, all belonged to him. Somewhere along the way, someone taught him that this is how to deal with suffering. Place it on others. Be cold. Ruthless. Unloving. So when I looked at these wounds and saw who they really belonged to, my heart burned again. This time with compassion.
“What you did was not right. You may not realize that now, or ever.” I said “But you know, I forgive you.”
“I don’t need your forgiveness. I didn’t do anything wrong.” He replied, angrily.
“Oh.” I said. “Please don’t misunderstand me. The forgiveness isn’t for you. The forgiveness is for my heart. So that I can move on.”
There is creativity in the darkness.
When we are sitting in that darkness, in that rubble, we forget that we’ve got space to choose what happens next. In that moment, we become the Creator. We have the power to shape this new world through our actions. We are like an artist facing a blank canvas. It is scary, but it all begins with one soft, vulnerable movement. And then another. And another.
I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt anymore. It does. And there are times when my heart still smolders with disappointment and anger and jealousy. But now they are just normal, human emotions that flare up in reaction to a painful situation. And they are quickly soothed with the realizations that I do not have to carry them forever, that they are a sweet reminder of the extent to which I feel, and that feeling is such a beautiful gift.
If you are in the throes of suffering, stop and look right into the abyss. Peer into the blank space where everything has collapsed. Breathe. Options will present themselves to you. And whatever you choose to do next, perhaps let it be something consistent with your core values. Something that makes your heart resonate. Something that brings a little life and grace into the rubble.
Don’t let anger, despair, and fear stop you from creating the most vivid, wildly beautiful existence you can possibly think of. Begin here.
I am so thankful for this lesson, however painful.
These are things I tell myself in the darkness. These are things that serve kindling for the light.