“A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green, that otherwise would heal.” Francis Bacon (1561-1626) “Of Revenge”, Essays 1625
Show of hands: Who among us has not felt wronged by another at some time in the past?
I thought so. I grew up in a small family in which the phrase “forgive and forget” was never mentioned. Past offenses, even slights, were repeatedly dragged out and massaged but never, like old silver plate, worn through to the dull and unresponsive base. Always fresh, often even gaining in the retelling. But enough about the good times.
Forgive and forget. (Translation: I’m tired of your whining.) Such a facile, almost alliterative phrase. So often spoken with the same depth as, “Have a nice day.” And similarly, just as almost no one really cares if you have a nice day, one rejoins with, “Sure. Good advice.”
Reams have been written on the nature of forgiveness, rarely coming even close to either a standard or to a specific example which any given reader feels fits his circumstances. It’s Ho-Hum, and it’s so nice for the other guy. But we do not speak of this. That would be socially unacceptable, why even spiritually undeveloped. And who among us could withstand that charge?
I admit, right here on paper….or hyperspace, or whatever this floats around on that I do not forgive. I calculate the costs of retribution. When the CoR does not balance I simply enter a notation in that person’s file. But there is a lesson here.
Like classical Judaism, the philosophy of Buddhism teaches by aphorism, allowing the listener or reader to immerse the self in the story and, possibly, attain an enlightening moment. In Japan, for instance, these are known as koans.
Some of my favorite stories involve monks. Having spent years in monastic boarding schools from age 5, I have come to an understanding of and appreciation for monks. I can distinguish between those who were running from something and those who were running to something. Indeed, I am convinced that at least one of my alternate selves, living in one or more parallel universes, is a lifelong monk who very early had the sense to run to something. Maybe he’s adjusting his crimson robes and writing about me now, trying to describe and understand an eclectic, even dissipated life. Oh. Don’t give me that “past life” linear reincarnation crap; that’s for simpletons devoid of even the most basic understanding of mysticism and theoretical physics.
Here is a Buddhist monk story which is a common teaching tool: Walking back to their monastery after a heavy rain in Gopalpur, Govinda and Arjuna came to an intersection. Standing there was a lovely young maiden who, seeing the muddy water coursing through the street, was transfixed by a problem; she needed to cross, but doing so would muddy her sari unless she immodestly pulled it above her ankles. She was clearly in great distress.
As the two monks approached, Govinda silently scooped her up in his arms and carried her across the street. Setting her down on the other side, he kept on walking. Arjuna, walking alongside, was wringing his hands, turning to speak, and looking about. After a couple of blocks like this Arjuna said to Govinda, “You should not have picked up that girl and carried her across the street!”
Without turning, Govinda replied, “I picked her up, carried her across the street, and set her down on the other side. It is you who are still carrying her.”
Are we still carrying weights that should have been put down, in their place, long ago? Is my personnel file of unforgiven acts, even those of mine I do not forgive, a dead weight? How large is my “If I could do it over” file, a file so often kept by those of us slow to realize that second chances are never second chances, but only new chances that could be bettered by past learning?
To me, turning the other cheek is simply inviting the knock-out punch, or the more balanced kick in the ass. But as every pilot knows, aircraft performance can be greatly affected by baggage. How will a stored event, such as an unforgiven act affect my straight and level flight through life? And how, exactly, does one forgive one’s self? Do I have those terrible moments, those terrible memories? Yes. I have those terrible moments, those terrible memories. And I’m not keen on hearing “advice” from someone who has not been there, not that I would accept even that since I was there, and it matters not a rat’s ass if anyone were standing next to me. So, yes, the deep and private hurt is mine. Lots of it.
Ah, but let’s not forget the forget in forgive and forget. This is another glib excretion from the ambulatory orifices around us. How about the last time a tune got “stuck” in your head? How did that work out for you? Like it or not, we have memories – unless we have some disorder. Some of us may be headed for that disorder sooner rather than later.
Trying to forget is similar to the classic mistake made by many beginning meditators. As Eastern philosophies swept through the America of the 1960’s and ’70’s, not so much because they were recognized as intrinsically valuable but simply because they were different from the WASP centered authoritarian norm, Ravi Shankar ragas, incense burners, “yin/yang” posters, and meditation flowed into homes like Crazy Ants in Texas. Across the land people unwittingly near disjointed themselves adopting the Lotus Position, not knowing this is ill advised for those who have not practiced it from childhood. As the pain subsided the initiate then focused on not focusing. The simplistic belief, based on shallow 3rd or 4th hand hearsay from some recently self appointed New Age Guru was that Nirvana was a state of mindlessness, attainable through correct position, breathing, and effort. Sorry, Swami, there are problems.
1. Imagining a desired state is setting up a goal, with measurable progress toward that goal. Inevitably, we get meditators sitting there wondering, “Am, I there yet?” The same holds for trying to forget something; have I forgotten what I’m working to forget?
2. “Nirvana” is a portmanteau of nir (beyond) and vana (wind) Sanskrit. It never meant that one’s mind is completely blank of any ideas or images. Instead, it recognizes that the mind, even in the stimulus deprivation chambers also popular in the ’60’s and ’70’s, produces cacophonous imagery. This is known as “monkey mind”, the imagery being of a monkey flitting through the tree tops leaping from one branch (idea) to another. Nir vana is not the elimination of ideas; it is the calmness that comes from understanding the irrelevancy of the ideas and no longer chasing them.
So what about that irrelevance? Forgive, as in that never happened? Bullshit. Forget, as in do not learn from the event? Bullshit. The old saying, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it” carries meaning here. Yes, the memories and thoughts come. No, I will not take pharmaceuticals or chummy pseudo-therapy sessions to suppress them. The pain is a cautionary reminder to not let next events repeat the past. I can remember and observe, but I don’t need to chase.
Well, perhaps you can forgive me for writing this and forget you read it.