A Season for Forgiveness

One of the things that I enjoy about organized religions is the way religions honor the extraordinary magic of life through ritual. These ancient, universal customs transcend individual beliefs and encompass the basic human elements that forge all relationships. They say to participants,

You are the fabric of this existence.

You are integral to the workings of life.

Notably, the season of Rosh Hashanah is upon us. It is a time of inner renewal and atonement for Jews. On a spiritual level, observers rest and remove stagnant energy from their psyches. Essentially, it’s a time to reflect on the past year, find peace with your life and loved ones and seek forgiveness from those whom you may have wronged and to grant it in turn. Obviously, these are not required practices for a non-Jewish person; however, for me, the benefit of honoring the practice brings peace and light into the world outweighs my allegiance to my particular faith. Central to these upcoming High Holy Days is a compelling call to harmonize with the self and one’s extended community, and it is a practice, which I wholeheartedly embrace.

JasonReyes
AJ‘s “Untitled” for Living Artist Project //  IG/FB:@agesimagery

When I first celebrated Rosh Hashanah with my Jewish friends in New York during my twenties, I remember being caught up in the spectacle of the ritual of a festive meal, chanting, and the lighting of candles. Now Rosh Hashanah holds significance for me that I treasure beyond those sacred memories of being welcomed into the intimacy of a private celebration. Rosh Hashanah is a time for me to get right in my soul. This period is a gift to me, a time to ask forgiveness from the people I’ve wronged, a chance to reflect on my words, my intentions and impact on the people around me. It’s also an occasion to atone for the unintentional harm I may have caused another, for even in innocence we can sometimes offend. It’s a habit that leads to grace—it helps me to say I’m sorry more quickly or more easily the next time around. It’s an invitation to hear when someone is struggling to make right with me. Rosh Hashanah allows me to let go of the outcome, release my ego and do my part to leave a blessing behind. The process makes my steps lighter, my heart ever more capacious.

Because we can’t change the past, it’s crucial we take the time to be present for our loved ones and atone for mistakes in an expedient manner. The unexpected death of my sister has taught me this lesson. The effort to seek forgiveness is a calling that requires humbleness, compassion and introspection. It is work done with a sincere heart; it is an observance with profound implications for everyone around us. There’s more room in our lives for tender moments when we don’t insist on carrying grudges. We can give and get forgiveness.

I still celebrate the Western calendar New Year on January First but find that Rosh Hashanah enriches my life with its heartfelt redemptive and renewing capacity. I’ve invited this ritual into my life in order to grow and expand my ability to love and co-exist with people who may not see the world as I do, which in an increasingly diverse world is becoming ever more critical. As I struggle with the right words and conditions to ask for forgiveness, I look to role models whose compassion and tenderness provide a guiding light. One source of luminous guidance for me is a mentor in the Order of Interbeing, who sent a beautiful email to her extended community. As I read her message, the words sank into my heart and touched the wounded part of me. I breathed in her words, and I let go of my hurt. Afterward, I filled that space with a tender hug and a salty kiss from my nephew and inhaled the sweet scent of my niece’s clean hair as I sent her to school. This I want to hold tight. The rest I’m willing to let go.

Agesimagery
    “A walk through the woods with Wootan” by Jason Reyes for Living Artist Project    //         IG:@heyjayrey

It’s clear that we could all use some tenderness and gentleness in these times of disaster, strife, misunderstanding and tension. In the spirit of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I share some of her words and intentions with you, my readers and extended community.

Let the healing begin with me. On this wonderful day, I offer you these words:

Hello Dear Ones!

During this month of September we honor the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In the Plum Village Community there are several mindfulness retreats, both general mindfulness, and those with specific focus on engaged awareness practice for racial equity and inclusiveness, and for caring for the earth, our planet home. May we find these trainings to be of nourishing support. 

Some of you I have not seen in awhile. Please accept my beneficial regret for any harm that my actions or inactions may have unintentionally caused. I ask your forgiveness with all my heart, and if I got it wrong before, I will do my best to get it right in the future.

With love on the path of Interbeing,

Edissa

 

 

Atonement: the Future of Good Relationships

A recent training with twenty-five women at Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic for low-income women with cancer made me think about how I love the people in my life. I was reminded that many years ago, when I volunteered and served as staff there, I was emotionally open to hold the space for women who were often suffering and always courageous, no matter what else was going on in my personal life. I would hug any woman who wanted to be held, and I would forget any of my own problems at the door. In that space, once again, where I was working from my heart and listening to the pulse of the women around me, I realized that I have not, for a very long, lived in this way. Too often I’m guarded (not without good reason, mind you!), and operating solely from my intellect, resisting my intuition and blocking my emotions. Yet, there I was, physically holding virtual strangers and asking myself, “How could I step into that space and be there for total strangers and not for my own sister?” This is the question I’m grappling with.

Like most people, I haven’t got the “relationship” thing down perfectly. I haven’t always been there for the people I care about in the ways they’ve wanted. At other times, I’ve come through with flying colors. It’s occasionally hard to tell when I’ve hit the mark or not. Lately, I’ve been listening better, but it’s still not entirely clear when I get it right. I’m drawn to people who articulate their feelings openly, or who trust me with their unspoken realities. Can I really afford to avoid those people who express themselves differently? I think that I cannot. This has me thinking a lot about atonement. Why don’t we have more rituals to help us make amends when we stray? I don’t mean legal recourse, which we have in spades, but rather authentic space for reconciliation in our everyday lives.

The Jewish tradition has a yearly Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. They have it right. I believe my life would be much better—I’d have far more peace in my heart—if I had had the chance to apologize, ask for forgiveness and make amends at regularly scheduled intervals throughout my life.

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many role models for this one. Martin Luther King inspires me, but his work seems to be from another lifetime. The training the Civil Rights Workers underwent in order to resist oppression without resorting to violence is ignored and underrated though there is much that can be learned from their displayed discipline in the face of adversity and violence. They literally trained themselves to turn the other cheek.

Why don’t Christians have a tradition of non-violence and reconciliation as a common practice? Oh, I’ve read on the Internet that Christians honor this tradition, because Jesus would have observed these practices, but I cannot recall personally attending even one such service in all my many years as a member of different churches. Perhaps we take it for granted that since Jesus died for our sins, we needn’t trouble ourselves to reconcile with others. That’s not the whole truth. Communion and silent confession have given me great peace and comfort, but what about the intentional righting of wrongs?

I’m a teacher, so it always comes back to training and practice for me. In my opinion, I can’t get good at a thing until I’ve had some practice. Learning to make amends is now moving into the priority range for me. Perhaps I’m more aware of my mortality now that my mother is seventy, and because I don’t have a healthy relationship—friendly communications, even—with my sisters. All this has begun to unsettle me. At the same time as I want to have a relationship with my sisters, I don’t want to ignore the very real problems that have led to our present impasse. I need a ritual that will let me heal the deep emotional wounds that only sisters can inflict on each other and address my concerns as well.  I’d like to have open communication with my blood family. I’d also like to remain sane through the process.

This week I’m co-facilitating a workshop to help young people unlearn internalized oppression, and it makes sense to me that atonement has to be part of the work we do to heal our communities. We can’t move on, heal, or feel good with guilt on our conscience. It’s critical that we learn to forgive ourselves and other people. We have to learn to say, “Sorry,” and then take steps to build trust. It’s essential that when we get a second chance, we use it to make peace. This is not the popular social paradigm of our times—possibly of any times. Generations of families have been known to carry grudges (Note: Romeo and Juliet, or the Hatfields and McCoys—fiction and reality are telling us a truth).

We have to make atonement part of the fabric of our society.

In the Buddhist tradition there is space to air and resolve grievances. It allows individuals to talk openly about their troubles and begin to repair damage with the help of the Sangha, the community of practice. The community both witnesses and mediates, with the goal of keeping the community intact. Thich Nhat Hanh also teaches the practice of atoning by writing letters. Sometimes it’s too hard to face someone who has hurt us and whom we have in turn hurt. In such cases, a letter may allow for the full expression of our emotions. I’m not just talking about forgiveness, which is often a personal practice that has noting to do with reconciliation, per se. I need the ability and skill to speak thoughtfully and compassionately to the people I love.

Now that I’m committed to my monthly service at Charlotte Maxwell, I see that I will pour the love I feel for my sisters, who I’m literally and figuratively afraid to touch, into these women, who want to be touched by me. Even my awareness is a powerful reminder that I am learning and growing because this matters to me. My ability to express  love in ways that are meaningful for the people in my life is important. I know my prayers and meditations are bringing me closer to the healing I desire. In the meantime, I want and need to be loved for who I am and the gifts I bring into the world. This can better happen when I’m open. In the meantime, I’m grateful for the exceptional gifts of love I’m able to share with friends, family and strangers.