Recently, on a trip to week-long visit my Teacher at Chuang Yen Monastery in New York State, I took a day to visit with some friends in Stamford, CT. It was so wonderful to visit with them and to visit some of my favorite places. During our visit, one of my dear friends announced that she had something rather serious to talk to me about. The look on her face was concerning. As she began, I could tell that she had to have struggled with whether to tell me what she was about to tell me.
“It’s come to my attention that several of your old friends have been calling you a bully, they are accusing you of bullying them.“
I was shocked, and didn’t really know what to say. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know how to feel. This news was particularly disturbing given the work I do with Upasanti Village and the the adult bullies that torture children mentally, physically, financially, verbally, sexually. I was stunned and my friends were angry. Such derogatory language, defamation and name-calling are not behaviors we are accustomed to among friends.
Upon my return to CYM, I explained what had happened to my Teacher, Bhikkhu Bodhi. “These are people with small minds, small worlds and even smaller hearts. All we can do is wish them well and learn how not to be in our own lives. We learn how to make this world a better place, and by recognizing how we do not want to be, we grow into who we want to be. Full of compassion, empathy and joy.” His words helped settle my heart and I was able to dismiss the comment as nothing more than people who are stuck in life….stuck in the same cycles their own misery. And as we all know, misery loves company.
Instead of hurtful words, be the light. Share a compliment or don’t say anything at all.
A well-placed kind word has the power to make someone feel seen, that they matter, and that you care.
Try and recall the last time you received a compliment. Maybe it was from a stranger at the grocery store who told you they liked your sweater. Perhaps it was a friend who let you know how much they appreciate your advice. Regardless of the source, you probably felt a lift, a boost of self-confidence…..it may even have put a smile on your face.
Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Put quite simply, compliments make us feel good, both when we get them and when we give them. They’re an expression of gratitude that elevates both the giver and the receiver…..a form of awareness, a way of paying attention. It costs us nothing to give someone a compliment, but the rewards can be great.
Soon after he attained enlightenment, the Buddha went walking. He was probably wild to stretch his legs because he was sitting under the Bodhi tree for forty days, according to legend (some scholars believe this not a literal number but an ancient expression for “a very long time”…..forty days in the desert, at sea, under the tree, etc.). But he also walked in the spirit of looking at the world with new eyes. What else would you do after you saw the very heart of reality? Everything probably looked astonishing.
His radiance, his je ne sais quoi, was so striking that another man passing by stopped him in his tracks.
“What are you?” the man asked the Awakened One. “Are you a god?”
“No,” the Buddha replied, probably with a serene smile.
“Are you a wizard, then?”
“Are you a man?”
This last answer probably confounded the man. What was left? It annoyed me when I first heard it because a big draw of Buddhism is the repeated assurance that the Buddha is an ordinary human being just like the rest of us. His example is meant to inspire us. If he can do it, we can do it! And yet here comes the news that he is not like us. What changed after his enlightenment? It wasn’t what he gained but what he lost. The fear, craving, and distraction you see in most eyes…..the endless flight and fight and freezing out of pain that drives the ego and our lives…..was gone. Completely gone.
The Buddha was not a man in the sense that he was liberated from all the “hindrances” that give the rest of us our charming quirks and trip wires. The glow he emanated was utter relief. He woke up from the fever dream of fearful separation that most of us endure. Lightened of all his emotional baggage, all his defenses, he looked at everything as if it was family. This did not mean a snake was not a snake. It meant it was familiar to him. He saw it through and through, so he didn’t have to fear it. It could not take him by surprise by pretending to be a stick.
The Buddha is sometimes called a doctor. He knew the best medicine for poisonous negativity, for destructive emotions and inside and outside, is not positivity but warmth, acceptance. From that first walk, he expressed the ease of attitude and kind attention that literally shares a root with kin. He woke up to see all life was kindred, intricately and inextricably related. And he was part of it.
What is forgiveness? What enables people to forgive? Why do we even choose to forgive those who have harmed us?
Every wisdom tradition on the planet emphasizes that compassion and forgiveness are the quintessence of the holy……and to forgive is probably the toughest spiritual practice we will face in life.
I don’t like to talk about my own personal experience of forgiveness, although some of the things people have done or tried to do to me are close to what I’d consider unforgivable. I don’t talk about these things because I have witnessed so many incredible people who, despite experiencing atrocity and tragedy, have come to a point in their lives where they are able to forgive.
To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger. These emotions are all part of being human. You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things: the depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger.
However, when I talk of forgiveness I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred. Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator.
Forgive we must in order to release the caustic energy festering within us, making us sick, and separating us from our highest Self…..and from each other. Forgive because we recognize that we are all flawed, all broken to some degree, all traumatized, all human. Ignore the story and see the soul. The people who have hurt us may be assholes, but they are also children of God (the Universe……Brahma) like we all are.
So give them back to God. Pray they learn, heal, and open to love. It is this forgiveness that unites, and it is this forgiveness that heals. And just when you think you’ve fully forgiven, forgive again. This process takes time, but it’s worth it; in the end, you get your Self back. Fully and whole.
I could not transcend suffering until I forgave the people who have hurt me the most and every other harasser, manipulator, and abuser. Forgiving them never once meant that I condoned their behavior. Not even a little bit. Forgiveness means I refuse to carry them, their energy, their wounds, and their story within me. As long as I stay stuck in the story, bound to them in negativity, I can never break free. Our commingled pain will continue to influence my present and my future choices and keep me disconnected from my truth.
What revolution would unfold if we truly embraced the teachings of the mystics? The truth is that we are here to awaken to the light, to the God within us and within all. How do we do that? By experiencing all of life, without creating separation. By healing the fractured parts of ourselves and accepting the gifts every one of our relationships has to give. By seeing the soul of every being as a pure expression of that person’s own divinity. Finally, by letting ourselves love the whole messy, chaotic, and beautiful process of “being” that can bring us home to the God within.
May these thoughts benefit us all in our search for peace and understanding, for mercy and forgiveness.