Recently, I had attempted to apologize to someone here privately. I soon discovered that my attempt became something to ridicule on another site. In large part, the following is my response...
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-=[ Making Amends ]=-
“As you start to let go, you let go of your desire to change what has already happened. What’s already happened is complete. That’s a big step, because anytime we want to change what has already happened, we re-create it over and over again in order to change it. So when that drops away, a lot of patterns drop too, because you no longer want to fix what’s already happened.”
“Most of us live our life as though our thoughts are both who we are and facts. But neither is true. Thoughts are just that -- not facts, and not true. The good news is you have the ability to let go of any thought, and thereby change both the way you feel and how you act in life.”
Recently, I sent a message of apology to someone here on the ‘Ply. There was a part of me that felt she deserved whatever I threw at her, but I know from experience that self-righteous indignation is the noise we make to drown out our own bullshit. Though I felt justified for attacking her and putting her hypocritical shit on Broadway, I also knew inside I had to let that go. So I sent her an apology -- privately. Shortly thereafter, someone informed me that my apology was the subject of a blog on another site-- something held up for ridicule. Again, a part of me felt hurt -- but I reminded myself I didn’t apologize because I expected anything from the person. I did so without even the expectation of an acceptance. I attempted to make amends because, 1) it’s what I have to do to forgive myself, and 2) because it came from the heart. These incidents reminded me of the following post I wrote a few years ago...
The path I follow, the path that sings to me, has a long history and set of cultural values that emphasize forgiveness. Actually, the path I follow is an integration of sorts of integral psychology, Theravadan Buddhism, and the good ole Twelve Steps. What follows here is part of my journey back to love.
During my first ten-day vipassana (meditation) retreat, our teacher led us through a meditation on loving-kindness (metta). She began by asking us to think about people we had harmed and ask for their forgiveness. In order for us to open to love, she said, we must forgive. We must empty ourselves of the resentments and guilt from the past so that we can fully open our hearts to love.
I remember thinking about ex-girlfriends, my parents and other family members, long lost friends, my mother-in-law at the time, even that lady that… well you get the idea. I breathed in the sorrow and I asked, “why did I hurt you?’
Next, we were asked to think of people who had hurt us. I settled in my breathing and the very same people came to my mind.
What was that about?
As an addict in recovery, I had written a Fourth Step -- “a searching and fearless moral inventory” -- and I saw the same pattern: The people I hurt were, more often than not, the very same people who hurt me. This was no mere tit for tat; at least I didn’t see these patterns in that way. I saw it as an example of how intimacy triggers these struggles for me. I was seeing what my loved ones in recovery told me I would see in “working” the steps: the whole pattern of my life. I’m seeing more clearly today the essential entanglement of love and fear, of intimacy and alienation. The truth of this contradiction continues to unfold for me to this day.
During the time of my first retreat, I was married to beautiful and remarkable woman, let’s call her by my pet name for her: “Fo-head” (cause she had a prominent forehead). She was actually supportive enough to encourage me to go on this ten-day retreat in the first place. Now, for those here who have been married, you know that ten days is a luxury in married life. LOL! I am eternally grateful for that gift.
In loving-kindness (metta) practice, we took three types of relationships: with people we love, with those we feel neutral toward, and with difficult people. As I undertook this practice, I quickly realized that my wife fell into all three categories! I loved her dearly as my life’s partner; sometimes I barely recognized her as we passed each other; and sometimes she was the object of all my frustrations.
This is true...
Step Eight: “Made a list of all persons I had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”
When I first read the above step early in my recovery, I wanted to skip all the previous steps and just go immediately to that one! Luckily, I had people in my life who acted as guides. They patiently explained to me that before amends can be made, one first has to go through a process of self-discovery and self-forgiveness in order for it to mean anything. We all say, “I’m sorry,” but how deep is that? If you can’t forgive yourself, then how can you forgive another? For those of you who say otherwise, I’ll tell you you’re only fooling yourself.
In making my list, I saw clearly, probably for the first time, the people there: my parents, my brothers and sisters, my exes, my wife, my friends, all the most important people in my life, all the people I loved the most. This showed me that the work I needed to do was here right now, in front of me.
My spiritual growth and personal development doesn’t hinge on reading a new book, or adopting a new esoteric philosophy, or reaching some transcendental mystical experience, but rather on something as seemingly simple as recognizing that the person laying next to me in bed was a precious gift in my life: she was my lover, my teacher, my friend. Still, how many times did I come into conflict with her? How many times did she push my button so that I felt anger and fear? How many times did I want her to think or behave differently, thinking she didn’t understand or appreciate me?
On and on…
It was a revelation for me because here again, I was confronted with the whole pattern of my life: what Zorba the Greek called the “Full Catastrophe!” The blaming, the judging -- the wish to control.
What my path teaches me about this is that these habits, these patterns, are the result of my past actions and that I can change these in this very moment. I can look up from my book and smile. I can start again with a fresh breath, a fresh kindness, right here in this very moment. If there’s something that any relationship requires, it’s this ability to let go and stop the war and begin again with kindness. I’m an expert on forgiveness, I was married. LOL!
If you can’t forgive, a relationship, whether platonic, familial, or romantic, won’t last very long. At most it will be a very painful one.
Step Nine: “Made directs amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
I didn’t speak to my father for more than ten years. And with good reason. He hurt me repeatedly, from the time I can first remember. Finally, as a young man and having endured another betrayal at his hands, I decided I would cut him out of my life. And I did… for ten years or more.
During all that time, my father made repeated attempts to contact me. He would leave the message that he loved me. Big fuckin’ shit, I would think. It was during my incarceration that my father began writing to me regularly and it was during that time we first opened the door to the possibility of reconciliation. I was in my first year of recovery, however, and I was cautious because I didn’t need to foolishly open myself to someone who had a history of hurting me. But I began to see this as a possibility. I became willing.
Two years passed, and I was married with my own son and wife. I knew that I would have to, for my own sake, reconcile with my father and that first phone call was difficult. I lay in bed and thought about it (never a good thing) and finally I called. We spoke, and he accepted my amends and offered his and we cried. I didn’t know it at the time, but at that time my father had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and he knew his time here was limited. We left off with the agreement that we would respect each other as son and father, but also as men.
After speaking to my father, something else came up. There was another messier resentment lurking inside of me that I carried. I had idolized my father, but he had failed to live up to my ideals. My father was an addict. I adored my father but he failed me somehow and these feelings complicated my relationship with him.
It’s these complications that make the amends process difficult. Painful relationships rarely go in just one direction. We hurt each other. Many times, I have found myself making amends to people who have hurt me -- oftentimes more than I’ve hurt them. And this is why we don’t go straight to Step 8. We first have to develop the ability to stay on our own side of the street. To resist the temptation to think of what others might owe us is the biggest step towards some measure of sanity in our lives.
Yes, my father was all that I can say he was, but here I was, a father myself, someone who had grappled with his demons. Who was I to judge? Didn’t I fall into my own addiction? Didn’t I also abandon my son? When we point the accusatory finger, my friends reminded me that there are three others pointing right back at us. This a good point for those here who enjoy defining themselves in relation to how much better they perceive themselves when compared to others.
Oscar Wilde said that “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” When I finally got clean and wrote that first inventory, digging deep into the history of my resentments and the ways I acted them out, my feelings began to change. I began to see my own part in the problems I had with my father and I began to feel compassion for the difficulty he and my mother had in raising their children. They did the best they could with what they had.
In accepting my own failures, I learned to accept my parents’ failures. I realized that they too had parents that were less than perfect, and that they tried to be good parents.
As I continued going through my Step 8 list and making amends, something wonderful happened: I began to feel free for the first time in my life. Not all my amends were happy affairs. I still have people in my life who may never forgive me and that’s Ok because I have become willing to make these amends. Some of my amends stories are miraculous, like the time my son’s mother woke up from a coma and certain death while I was attempting to make amends to her. Other times, it was quite the opposite: I have had people curse me out and chase me from their lives -- some have even thrown things at me. To these people I totally understand, sometimes we can’t forgive and that’s OK, I just want to undo my part of that insanity. Others, after initially holding grudges have since reconciled and have expressed to me that the process was a healing force in their lives.
After an exhaustive Step Nine, I began to think that there was something missing from my list. There had to be more than I remembered. I meditated on my list and on my life, and there was something missing. Then it came me: the person who had been hurt the most by my actions was me. Ultimately, forgiveness is not just about forgiving others. It’s being forgiven and forgiving ourselves. For many people, this is the most difficult task in spiritual development. In the final analysis, making amends to others is to make amends to ourselves, since while hurting others we hurt ourselves in the process.
My entire path can be seen in this way. Each step I take is an amend to myself, repairing my connection through spiritual means, becoming honest with myself and others, making amends, passing on the gift. For me going back to school after so many years was an amends to myself. So was picking up my meditation practice and learning to be more compassionate with myself and others, more forgiving.
To forgive ourselves means pursuing our heart’s true desire. The Buddha said that we could search the whole world and not find a person more deserving of love than ourselves. Is this a possibility for you? To see yourself as equally precious as anyone else on Earth?