To Forgive . . .

. . . is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. Those are the words of the theologian Lewis B. Smedes. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately and its intimate relationship to spiritual awakening. Whether we are talking about forgiving another person or forgiving ourselves or forgiving our past or forgiving our resistance to forgiving — whichever it may be — what we do not forgive, we have not released.  We’re still attached to it. We delude ourselves into believing that it won’t let us go, but the truth is, we won’t let it go. And our awakening happens when we have completely uncovered our true Divine self.  Trying to step into the pure light of grace while dragging that unforgiven baggage along is like trying to dance in a suit of armor. 

I had some work-related conflict with someone a few years back, and he came to see me just recently.  He had been through some challenging times in the years since I had seen him. He looked different. Softer. Kinder. Humble. He sat in my office and said that he wanted to make amends, that he knew he had been difficult in the past, even brash and unpleasant, and he knew I had been on the receiving end of some of that.  He looked me right in the eye and said, “I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry and to ask your forgiveness.” 

I told him he had it.  I told him that I admired his courage and strength in addressing this, and I told him that as far as I was concerned, it was all released and forgotten. 

The truth was, I had released it long ago. He didn’t really need my forgiveness, because I was holding onto nothing that I needed to forgive. The act in which he was engaging was a way of forgiving himself. It was an act of acknowledgement and an act of reconciliation, but at its core, it was the release of something that had clung to him even if it no longer clung to me. And I was happy to be there to participate in his ritual to set himself free. 

That freedom is what every person wants. That freedom is the goal and result of spiritual awakening. When I know who I am and when all those parts of the ego that feel pain and feel betrayal and feel any sense of separation or distrust or fear fall away like tissue paper in the rain, then I am free, and nothing can infringe on that freedom. 

The spiritual journey to awakening is the act of removing layer after layer after layer of ego until nothing is left to cover the Divine Presence that you are. Forgiveness is the removal of a layer. Forgiveness is taking off the suit of armor. Forgiveness is setting a prisoner free.

The more we engage in forgiveness, the freer we are. The more we live in the constant attitude of forgiveness, the more compassionate and loving we are. The more we practice a daily forgiveness of ourselves and our past and the people who are a part of our life, the more we live in spiritual fullness and joy. 

If you want to be fully awake and fully free, forgive everything. 

If a Picture Paints a Thousand Words . . .

. . . then why can’t I paint you?

Those were the opening lyrics to a song by Bread, a soft-rock group from the early 70s. The next line of the song is “The words will never show the you I’ve come to know.” So since we’re talking about pictures and how we know people, it seems an opportune time to talk about reframing. 

Reframing is a tool for changing the way a person or event or thought is perceived. It’s most often used to convert a negative perception to a more positive one. It’s worth noting that reframing an experience is not a form of denial. Denial is refusing to see. Reframing is choosing to see differently. It has the power to free us from the hold of past experience. 

Let’s say someone you work with, let’s call him Brad, acts in a dominating manner in meetings, interrupts others when they are speaking, and displays a form of aggressiveness that feels almost like bully behavior. You’ve been on the receiving end of this behavior a few times, and it made you mad.  Truth be told, it hurt. 

You have the option of reframing the behavior.  Is this really Brad?  Or is this just the Brad I’ve come to know? When Brad interrupts and talks over others . . . could it be possible that he never felt heard in his family? When he acts in a manner that feels aggressive, perhaps he has a deeply held fear of being overlooked or not considered. 

Now, I’m not advocating that you accept unhealthy behavior from other people. Drawing boundaries of acceptable treatment is an important form of self-care. But as you’re trying to navigate the waters of working with this person, it might be that the only power you have at the moment is the power over your own perceptions. 

This type of reframing is the heart and soul of much spiritual evolution.  It is the essence of Byron Katie’s teachings, known simply as “The Work.” In this work, Katie teaches to reframe by asking four questions: 

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can I absolutely know it’s true?
  3. How do I act or feel when I believe it’s true?
  4. Who would I be without that thought? 

So, is it true that Brad is simply an inconsiderate bully?  Can I absolutely know that Brad’s behavior stems only from inconsideration and selfishness?  We can’t absolutely know the root of Brad’s behavior, and it may stem from causes we can’t see. 

How do I act or feel when I believe Brad is simply selfish and inconsiderate? Well, I’m hurt and mad and cautious around Brad, and maybe I don’t speak up in meetings as much as I normally would because I don’t want to get as mad as I’ll get if he interrupts me again. I could list many feelings and reactions I might have, but it’s easy to see that as long as I believe Brad is simply a selfish bully, all of my energy regarding him is going to be negative.  And negative energy does not offer space for improvement or healing or peace. 

Who would I be if I didn’t believe Brad was a selfish bully? Perhaps I would be more compassionate about what might cause his behavior. Perhaps I would be able to address his behavior without the explosive energy I often feel about him. Perhaps I might even start to see him not as the Brad I’ve come to know, but in a totally different way, possibly even as the Brad he truly is. 

For information about Byron Katie’s teachings, go to thework.com 

If You Don’t Like the Weather . . .

 . . . in [fill in the blank], wait five minutes. It will change. I’ve lived in several different parts of the United States, and although I have found great differences between Denver and Nashville, Michigan and Missouri, the one thing all those places have in common is that locals will use that phrase.  If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. It will change. 

But, that’s about rain and wind.  What about life changes? Those don’t exactly come along every five minutes.  Do they? Well, maybe not every five minutes, but each one of us goes through many transformations in the course of a lifetime. 

Some changes happen like an explosion.  Maybe a happy explosion, but still abruptly, instantaneously, out of the blue. You win the lottery. You get an unexpected promotion. You go viral on social media. You lose a friend. 

My father passed away unexpectedly when he was just 71 years old. That news came like an explosion. Like a tsunami of grief. 

Some changes happen like erosion. Slowly over time, without even feeling the movement, you shift. Life is different. It may not feel different from yesterday, but if you could place today and one day years ago side by side, the change would be stark and undeniable. 

Spiritual transformation can be explosive or erosive or maybe even both. It can be eruptive, emotive, elegant, electric, . . . it all depends on the weather.  And the good news is, if you don’t like your interior weather or the type of spiritual evolution it’s bringing, you can change it.  Every five minutes, if you feel like it.  

The slow change of erosion comes about from hearing the same messages, engaging in the same practices and rituals, reading, learning, meditating, and letting our awareness unfold gently like a flower.  It is the gentle erosion of the ego that slowly uncovers the true self. 

The fast change of spiritual explosion can happen at any moment that we completely uncover the flame of our essence and reach the enlightenment that is the knowledge of our true selves. This instantaneous awakening often gets a lot of attention, a lot of books written about it, a lot of seminars and workshops created to help bring it about.  But I have found that it often happens after years of that slow erosive work. Enlightenment might appear to be a sudden occurrence, but it usually comes after years of preparation. 

We simmer before we boil.