Consider forgiveness. Story Corps recently featured Oshea Israel in a very powerful story about forgiveness. Israel is a young man who recently completed a prison sentence for second degree murder. The woman featured with him in the story, Mary Johnson, is the mother of the boy whom Israel killed as a teenager. Together, they recount the challenges they each faced in coming to terms with the murder and their respective journeys from bitterness and blame to acceptance, forgiveness, and love.
It is clear from their dynamic that they have come to respect and cherish each other. They have adopted each other as mother and son. Theirs is a remarkable story of healing and transcendence. It can be accessed at http://storycorps.org/listen/stories/mary-johnson-and-oshea-israel/.
Their story is a potent reminder of the power and importance of forgiveness. In order to come to true forgiveness, it is necessary to transcend blame and drama, which are characteristic of the ego. Ego definitively casts us each as separate individuals, irreversibly alone and apart. In the illusion ego creates, we see ourselves as being separated from each other by an unbridgeable gulf of imposed isolation and supreme aloneness.
According to this ego-illusion, it is impossible to really know someone else and equally impossible to fully share yourself with anyone. From this perspective of isolation, it seems quite natural to hold another person accountable if that person does something (or fails to do something) that causes you pain, loss, or injury. Consequently, concepts such as blame, vengeance, and punishment seem quite reasonable. The “eye for an eye” perspective is thoroughly rooted in ego.
Forgiveness is another way. It has been said that forgiveness is divine. Great acts of forgiveness are often taken as demonstrations of the evolved or divine character of the one who brings forgiveness. Any number of sages and saints from traditions from the world over have practiced forgiveness. One of the best known examples is probably that of Jesus on the cross, interceding on behalf of those who put him there, asking for their forgiveness, but this is by no means the only example.
Throughout history great leaders – those with great spirit – have demonstrated the power of forgiveness. The benefits made possible by such forgiveness are many, however the process of forgiving has remained mysterious for the most part. It is commonly seen as something available only to evolved or enlightened individuals, but in fact, it is available to everyone.
One historical example is the attitude and policies that were adopted by the United States toward former enemies after World War II. Although most wars in history that ended so decisively were followed by protracted periods of prejudice and exploitation, the US chose instead to send aid to former enemies and build them up.
To be fair, there were many complex political and social considerations that also bore on these policies at the time. Nevertheless, the fact remains that instead of exploiting and oppressing Germany, Japan, and Italy, against whom vicious and ugly stereotypes had been cultivated during the war, the US chose to forgive them and help them heal. In doing so, Americans opened the door to forgive and heal themselves, too.
It seems odd at this point to even consider the possibility that the US response after WWII might have been punitive, however that has happened before, both in other countries and in the US. Recall what happened after the Mexican-American and Civil Wars, for example. A wise man once observed that it was miraculous that the American response after WWII was so enlightened and that because of it, the US must surely be blessed. Perhaps this notion of the US being a just nation with a relatively evolved sense of justice is part of that blessing.
Acts of forgiveness can indeed be miraculous. Forgiveness can open the way to redemption, as the historical example above illustrates. But forgiveness is available not only to nations and saints. It is available to everyone. The act of forgiving can heal not only the one being forgiven but also the one offering forgiveness. This is clear in the story that Oshea and Johnson share. Through forgiveness they have healed themselves and each other very deeply. Perhaps they have even healed beyond what they would have experienced had their lives not been tied together so violently and tragically.
Forgiveness is not particularly difficult or demanding. It does, however, call for transcending the ego’s illusion of separation because that is where the pain, outrage, and anger are rooted. These emotional reactions can form seemingly unbreakable snares but that adamantine aura is only part of the illusion.
As an illustration, grasp something. A pencil or pipe will do. Set the intention to hold onto it tightly and not release it. Then, without changing or lessening your resolve, try to pry the object from the first hand’s grasp with the other hand. This may seem silly, but it aptly illustrates where the apparent strength of the ego’s illusions comes from.
In order to practice true forgiveness, the ego and its illusions of separation must be transcended. In transcending the ego, one inevitably returns to an awareness of largeness and connectedness which many refer to as divine. From this expanded awareness, forgiveness is easy and instantaneous, yet no less profound.
Transcending ego is a process of remembering that you are infinitely larger and more powerful than your ego. The stories and illusions that ego plays in have power to hold you only to the degree you grant it to them. Remember the pencil in your grip. Let it go.
© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.
“Forgiveness” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.