Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Forgiveness, Dealing with Resentment, and Growing Spiritually

For my write-up today on Circle of Life: Traditional Teachings of Native American Elders, I'll comment on something that James David Audlin says on page 176:

"Sometimes, however, adversity comes upon us because of the actions of others, either their inadvertent mistakes or intentional malevolence.  In the case of the former we bear the results without anger because no harm was intended, and remember that the person who made the mistake will learn from seeing the sad results.  In the case of the latter too, we respond with patience.  Many of us have had persons unjustly seek to impugn our honor with attacks on our reputations.  These experiences are not evil but a wakan kind of good, for they strengthen us.  Such experiences help build up the 'muscles' of our spirit.  So we are foolish if we get angry or upset when such adversities come upon us.  Instead, we should be glad for them.  Jesus teaches, similarly, that we should love our enemies, and do good to those who would hurt us.  Once I heard a Vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhist) lama say, 'I am glad when people persecute me!  I give thanks to them for their generosity, because they have given me this opportunity to learn better, through practice, the sacred hearts of love and forgiveness.'  He doubtlessly was thinking of the teachings of Gadamba Geshay Langritangba, about nine centuries ago: 'When others out of jealousy treat me badly with abuse, slander and so on, I will learn to take all loss and offer the victory to them.  When one whom I have benefited with great hope unreasonably hurts me very badly, I will learn to view that person as an excellent spiritual guide.'  Though Jesus and the two Vajrayana teachers come out of very different cultures, their understanding on this point is very similar to that of the traditional peoples of this continent."

I should clarify: Audlin does not believe that we should therefore hurt others to help them to spiritually grow, for he says later in the book that harm to others can knock things out of balance.  But I do think that he has a point that people who dislike us can provide us with opportunities to grow spiritually.  I have gotten upset about inadvertent mistakes, maybe because I worry about getting lost in people's perception and people not noticing me or remembering me, since being noticed and remembered is one way that people today advance.  Consequently, when I am unintentionally slighted, I tend to beat up on myself, and I am also mad at the person who slighted me.  As far as being intentionally slandered goes, I'm fortunate not to have experienced that (as far as I know!).  But I do get upset when people reject me.

Just speaking for myself, forgiveness is easier said than done.  I don't want to love my enemies.  But I know that taking revenge is not the answer, for it makes things worse----for myself and also for others.  One suggestion that people have made is that I should pray for my enemy's well-being every day for two weeks----that I should wish for him the same things that I wish for myself----and then my resentment will go away.  They testify that this has occurred in their own lives.  I usually have not had the will to undertake such a task, for I do not want my enemies to prosper, after they have hurt me (which is not to say that I will actively work to undermine their prosperity, for I won't).  But I can see how the task could help to alleviate resentment, for it puts me into the position of regarding my enemy as a human, with his or her own desires, hopes, and fears.  And I'm not praying that he might prosper while I do not, but rather that both of us might prosper.

I do try to see any affliction that I experience or feel as an opportunity for me to exercise my spiritual muscles.  Whenever I feel inward desolation, I see that as an opportunity for me to pray and to read my Bible more, for that relaxes me.  I would rather attempt to alleviate my bitterness with God's help rather than without it, for I myself am not a spiritual giant.  I'm not a Mohatma Gandhi, with the ability to transcend my emotions through a regard for the well-being of humanity.  I am where I am.  I'm sure that religionists could stand in line and tell me that's not good enough, but the reality of where I am remains.  I need God for support as I seek to love others and to forgive.

A number of Christians say that being in Christian community presents opportunities for us to grow, as we get on each other's nerves.  Perhaps.  I tend to think, though, that being in some communities is like beating a dead horse.  If you are in a community and you neither fit in nor find acceptance, then I think that it's perfectly acceptable to try out another community.  No community will be perfect, but some may be less toxic for you.

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