which aligns with the ideas of a Secular Buddhism more than many expect (just keep reading and see for yourself).
If you haven’t read the first article, I encourage you to here: Part 1
I suspect that this article may not make as much sense without the background provided in “Part 1.”
I think the best way to structure this article is to jump right into the “meat” of what is in the Challenge and how I personally responded. The Challenge website is divided into “days,” so I am going to “copy-paste” selections from the days along with my responses where appropriate. It is my hope that by reading what was so eloquently written by the Tutu’s (A.E. Demond and his daughter, Reverend Mpho Tutu) and by following along with a person who took the Challenge (me), that readers here will see for themselves how forgiveness fits into a Secular Buddhist approach to the struggles we face in life and how it can positively impact those lives.
THE FORGIVENESS CHALLENGE: WEEK 1
For the next 30 days we will journey together along the Fourfold Path of forgiveness. This path is broken down into four steps—Telling the Story; Naming the Hurt; Granting Forgiveness; and Renewing or Releasing the Relationship. We will be exploring each of these steps throughout the challenge. This journey to forgiveness requires honesty, an open mind (and heart) and a willingness to try.
At the bottom of each day you will find “Today’s Challenge.” We ask that you do your best to complete each exercise—whether it’s listening to a meditation, writing in your journal, or reflecting on some aspect of forgiveness we have discussed.
Please write down what you want to get out of this 30-day challenge. Perhaps there is someone you want to forgive, or something you want to be forgiven for. It could be that you are just looking to understand forgiveness a little better. Or perhaps you don’t yet know. Sometimes we don’t know what we’ve been looking for until we find it.
I think I had already written this list before the Challenge had even started, but it included:
I want to forgive:
- My parents
- Everyone who didn’t do anything to stop my parents
- My ex-friends and ex-boyfriends
- Everyone at Americorp who had anything to do with 7 November 2012 and my disabling
I want to be forgiven by:
- “Alex Gonzalez who I stopped being friends with because my undiagnosed conditions made me over-react to something he did.” (The basic explanation was that we got into a fight around my birthday and I was so hurt that I stopped being his friend entirely. While some of my hurt was probably reasonable, I certainly reacted in an extreme because of my unknown mental proclivities to such reactions. The point here is – we went from extremely close friends to nothing and it was tragic.)
Also, there was a spot at the bottom:
Is there anyone you would like to invite to take the forgiveness challenge with you? If so, email them the link to the website – www.forgivenesschallenge.com – or share the invitation on social media with a picture or language from our sharing resources page. It is very powerful to have a partner or a group of people who take the Challenge with you, so you can support each other and discuss the journey that you are on.
I decided to invite via email some of the people I was trying to forgive. I thought that it would be beneficial for them to know that I was trying to forgive them and to get them thinking about it. Also, if they needed to take the Challenge for their own reasons, I wanted them to have that chance as well.
It talks about research into forgiveness.
2) Think of a time when you were unforgiving of someone close to you. What is it like when you see that person? What did it feel like in your body? Did your heart pound? Was your stomach upset? Did your body feel heavy? Did you feel depressed? Write about it here or in your journal.
3) Now think of a time when you forgave someone close to you. What did that feel like? Did you feel lighter? Did you feel happier? Less depressed or angry? Write about your experience here.
4) Is there someone in your life that you’d like to forgive but haven’t? How is this affecting you physically and emotionally? What is the cost to your emotional, mental, and physical health of not being able to forgive?
2)My first thought was of Alex and I never saw him again. I cut him out of my life. After a while, I missed him because he used to be the first person I spoke to every morning. But then I found out about something he said (I can’t remember) and I thought that he hated me / he hurt me and that there was no going back so I closed my heart and said to myself that I’m strong and don’t need him and “moved on.” I don’t remember much beyond that – I felt have felt a general “ill” feeling – like fatigued, upset stomach, a tingly-firey feeling?
3)I’ve thought about it a lot and I honestly can’t think of a time when I’ve really forgiven someone close to me. I just cut them out of my life or try to get “justice” so I can feel better. The closest things I have are me thinking of forgiving my parents as part of this challenge – but I wonder if I will really, truly forgive them or if there will still be negative emotions hiding somewhere afterwards? All I know is that the worst emotions aren’t there (or I’m not conscious of them) and I’d love for them to be able to get better so that maybe we could be a family some day.
The other example I have is Jordan, the manager at the Dollar Tree, who was mean to me and my dog, Happy. We aren’t close, but I decided to forgive him after being inspired by the challenge. I saw him the other day in a game store and told him so. That was a big step – talking to him directly. I recognize the good in that, but at the same time, I’m disappointed by his reaction. He was careful not to project that same attitude towards me as the day I got offended by him, but he seemed to not really care about the forgiveness at all. I don’t know. I know that’s a possible reaction that I have to accept, so I’m working on it. It doesn’t bother me that much; I just thought it was noteworthy.
4)For the most part, I haven’t forgiven (at least not fully) the people listed in day 1. My inability to deal with all that limits where I can go (because I don’t want to see them) and leads to my feelings of depression (lack of energy, concentration), PTSD (random memories of strong emotions that can overwhelm me), and general anxiety. These conditions, in turn, keep me from having the relationships I want, from being able to successfully work, and keep me a prisoner in my own home.I have to deal with the negative emotions from this all the time, at random. It affects my memory, my future, my hopes, dreams, thoughts.
Science is perhaps beginning to recognize what we in Africa have long known—we need each other. We are deeply connected to one another whether we recognize it or not. We call it “Ubuntu,” which is the understanding that we are who we are through one another.
None of us are saints. We all have times when we are unforgiving and not at our most compassionate. When this is the case, we often pay the price, physically and mentally. It is not, however, we alone who suffer. Our whole community suffers, and ultimately our whole world suffers.
We Are All Family
We are made to exist in a delicate network of interdependence, and we are all cousins really. To treat anyone as if they were less than human, less than a member of the family, no matter what they have done, is to violate the very laws of our humanity. When we can truly recognize our shared humanity, we have no choice but to forgive.
We Are All Flawed
Forgiveness is a choice we make, and the ability to forgive others comes from the recognition that we are all flawed and all human. We have all made mistakes and harmed someone. We will again. It is always easier to practice forgiveness when we can recognize that the roles could have been reversed. Each of us has the capacity to commit the wrongs against others that were committed against us.
Choosing to forgive does not erase the reality of an injury nor does it ask us to pretend that what happened did not happen. It is quite the opposite. Real forgiveness and real healing require us to be honest about what has happened. But first, we must make the choice.
For today, know that you do not need an apology to forgive. You forgive to set yourself free, not the other person.
Consider the person you have chosen to forgive during this challenge. Please write down what has held you back from forgiving him or her. Perhaps it has been a lack of apology. Perhaps it has been the idea that this would “let them off the hook” in some way. Or perhaps you believed that to forgive them would be a sign of weakness, or they have shown no remorse or willingness to acknowledge the harm they have caused you or someone else. Write down whatever barriers to forgiving them that you have felt up until this point.
Parents: they don’t acknowledge what they did or seek to change.
Those who did not report my parents: it’s less about them and more about the feeling I have that no one cared enough or was willing to do the right thing or was racist (and that’s why they said nothing).
Ex’s: I thought it was better just to cut them from my life. There’s been no conversation with them although I doubt they would see my suffering as important or would feel compelled to apologize
Americorps: I’ve been waiting for this challenge. I don’t think they will acknowledge what they did or say sorry. They might feel I’ve let them off the hook.
DAY 5: The Myths of Forgiveness
The idea that forgiving means forgetting is a myth. The idea that forgiving let’s someone off the hook, or prevents justice is a myth. The idea that forgiving someone shows weakness is also a myth.
Most of us aspire to be forgiving people. We admire and esteem those who find it in their hearts to forgive, even when they are betrayed, cheated, stolen from, lied to, or worse. The parents who forgive the person who murdered their child inspire in us something like awe. The woman who can forgive her rapist seems possessed of a special kind of courage. A man forgives the people who tortured him brutally, and we think he is a hero.
Do we think these people are weak?
We do not.
Forgiveness is not weak. It is not passive. It is not for the faint of heart.
Forgiving does not mean being spineless, nor does it mean one doesn’t get angry.
We have known people who have been able to be compassionate and forgiving, even under the most strenuous circumstances while undergoing the most horrific treatment.
It is a remarkable feat to be able to see past the inhumanity of someone’s behavior and recognize the humanity of the person committing the atrocity. This is not weakness. This is heroic strength, the noblest strength of the human spirit.
TODAY’S CHALLENGE is the most important part:
Now, please write down the best outcome you can imagine if you were to forgive this person or situation. Would your health improve? Would you feel freer to move on in your life in some way? Would there be an end to some sadness or grief you are feeling? Would you no longer be angry? How would your life be different? How would your relationships be different—both your relationship to the one who harmed you and your relationship with others?
If there was some kind of conversation where Sundee (Americorps person) recognized and acknowledge the unnecessary hurt caused and decided to change her outlook and ways to prevent further suffering and to mend any damage done to my reputation, that would be the best outcome. It would ease the suffering caused by my PTSD, depression, gen anxiety, and agoraphobia. I would be less anxious about running into someone around town who knows me from the past, so I’d be more free to move about in peace. I’d like to end the suffering I feel from the event and would take comfort in knowing I changed the danger to others. I would be more free. My relationship to Sundee et. al. would be resolved and let go of. As for others, I’m slowly realizing via this challenge that perhaps I’m not as hated by the entire town as I thought. it’s hard to admit that those thoughts and feelings may have been untrue because that feels like I didn’t have a right to hurt and I don’t want to delegitimize my suffering. But then again, that’s the nature of my illness – seeing more darkness than there is, so recognizing this truth is important. Maybe some relationships can be fixed to the point where I don’t have to freak out and run at the sight of those people from my past.
TODAY’S CHALLENGE is the most important part:
Think about a time when you have been hurt and have hurt back (or wanted to hurt back). How did you feel when you retaliated? Write down any thoughts.
Now think about a time when you chose not to hurt back when you were hurt. How did this feel? Write down your thoughts?
What about the person you hope to forgive during this challenge? Have you retaliated in some way up until this point? Have you withheld your love or your friendship? Have you sought to cause pain because you are in pain? How did this make you feel?
…ACTUALLY SUMMONED A RESPONSE FROM THE TUTU’S THEMSELVES
I posted this response in the forum instead of just in the private journal. It was something to the effect that I retaliated by telling everyone what the offender had done (with the aim of hurting the offender) – that it gave me “justice” and the ability to cut them out of my life and move on. When I didn’t retaliate (like I hadn’t against Americorps), I felt trapped (in my own home) and hurt every day. The Tutu’s helped me see through my own confusions. Maybe I did want my offenders to hurt back, but by telling everyone, that’s actually the first step of the Fourfold Path to Forgiveness (“Telling the Story”). In turn, not saying or doing anything led to my suffering. I was actually more forgiving that I had imagined.
CONTINUE ON TO PART 3 FOR THE NEXT DAYS OF THE CHALLENGE: Part 3