Spirituality, Liturgy and the Tao of Inner Peace
This past week I sat with a beautiful young lady, smart and with a heart of gold. As we talked about her future she began to confide in me her sorrow over mistakes made in her youth and how she did not feel good enough to face the congregation at church, how ashamed she was of her choices. Now I must tell you, as far as I know, she has made no “huge” mistakes or choices that would be known to those of us in her outer circles. Yes, I am sure that through adolescence she made choices that did not please her parents or went left when she should have gone right, but nothing out of the ordinary. I tried to encourage her and I couldn’t help thinking how sad that she felt that way at such a young age.
As I pondered her words, I was reminded that her story is not unique to the young or the old, male or female, it is common among us all. This thought that we are somehow “less than” or “not deserving of”; happiness, forgiveness, a joyful life. We somehow find a way to forgive others, but rarely ourselves. Whatever things we feel we have missed the mark on, we hang on to, in order to punish ourselves.
I too have experienced this prison of guilt and shame we build around ourselves. If only I had been better, if only I had not done “that” thing. In some ways, I think its like Linus’s blanket it makes us feel better to be in this martyrdom. Even if we tried our very best, received forgiveness from those we wronged, even prayed and know that God forgives us, we still feel that the beatings shall “should” continue! Reminds me of that old joke — “Beatings shall continue until morale improves.” A phrase we see the absurdity of, but yet continue to inflict on ourselves, sometimes daily! Think about it.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Psalms 103:12
It is our pride I think that keeps us down, thinking it would be better to wallow in our sorrow and mistakes that to take that bold leap to let them go. In our insecurities we think we deserve no better, we continue to emotionally flog ourselves in this prison we have created. I look in sorrow as those I love, cannot accept the love they are meant to have, the young lady avoiding the warmth of fellowship for errors only she remembers. We seem to forget that to err is human. As I explained to her, a journey without scars is a journey without growth, and a journey that inhibits us from helping our brothers and sisters. I know I have failed many, many times and often I feel,”less-than” or “stupid” for mistakes I have made, and continue to make. Yet, I remind myself what a great gift those trials have been, because I am able to help others who are on that same path. I am able to empathize with those that have or are hurt in the same ways I have been. My pains and mistakes are tools for my growth and instruments I use to help my neighbors. Thanks be to God.
When we hold ourselves prisoners to pass mistakes we miss so much of the blessings in front of us. We are not only hurting ourselves, which may be our intention, but we are also hurting our family and friends. When you are weighed down with anchors of your past you cannot be fully available to the ones you love. Also, you are not capable of receiving the blessings God has for you, you, WE are missing our best life. We have all fallen short of the glory of God, all. “..for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,..” Romans 3:23
Let’s see what my Buddhist friends say about this:
“…Things from the past come up, and we have to work with them. We may remember times when we treated others horribly–hurting their feelings, deceiving them, repaying their kindness with spite, manipulating them, cheating them. While regret for these actions is appropriate and necessary to purify these karmas, we often fall into guilt and shame instead. Guilt and shame are obstacles to overcome on the path, because they keep us trapped in our self-centered melodrama entitled “How Bad I Am.” Regret, on the other hand, realizes that we erred, leads us to purify, and motivates us to refrain from acting like that in the future. How do we counteract guilt and shame? One way is to recognize that the person who did that action no longer exists. You are different now. Is the person who did that action five years ago the same person you are now? If she were exactly the same person, you would still be doing the same action. The present “you” exists in a continuum from that person, but is not exactly the same as her. Look back at the person you were with compassion. You can understand the suffering and confusion she was experiencing that made her act in that way.”
–From Cultivating a Compassionate Heart: The Yoga Method of Chenrezig by Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron
This is an antidote (there are many) that especially spoke to me:
Reflect on responsibility. Often it may prove it is/was not my responsibility or fault! Blaming oneself for everything negative that happens is a form of ignorance and self-centredness. Obviously, if I am careless and intended to cause problems, then I should take my responsibility and see to it that I will not repeat this regrettable action. Instead, maybe I can do something to make up for it.
In conclusion I like an example that Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, gave about guilt — think of a past mistake you have made as a thin layer of cement above your head it smelly and gross and you can’t change that fact, but each time you obsess over it you add a layer to the cement, and if you are not careful you can entomb yourself in a lifetime of layers. And that my friends would be a sad way to treat this blessing we call life.
SO LET GO! LIVE! LOVE! Not only for yourself but for us! This world needs you, needs all of you – all the love and goodness you can give. We need you not chained to the past and regrets but with us fully in this blessing we call life!