The theme of violence and vengeance is a fairly heavy one, but at the same time it creates the space for me to ask myself, “How do I get out of this mess?” No matter how much I’d like to offer the other cheek, I am not completely convinced of the effectiveness or enduring validity of that approach. And after ending up without cheeks from offering them so often, how can I really overcome those forces that keep being generated within me?
Going deeper, I have to recognize that sometimes my worst enemy is inside me. If I am my worst enemy, offering my cheeks won’t help me much.
Then I see more clearly the need to reconcile with myself, and with everyone who has harmed me. The path of reconciliation is arduous, but demands sincerity; and it is the only path that offers a way out of the vicious cycle of internal violence and resentment – the same cycle that makes others mistreat me and makes me mistreat myself.
So, considering all this, there arises within me the natural impulse of forgiveness. But forgiveness, while still important, is not enough. It is not enough because it obliges me to put myself in those totally unexpected situations where I pardon my aggressor and they don’t realize I’ve done so, and just go on being aggressive. Now, humiliated on top of being hurt, I decide that forgiveness isn’t very effective, since I find myself again resentful, but now doubly so because my forgiveness has not been gracefully welcomed. And even if, as in the best of cases, my forgiveness is accepted, I feel morally superior, and that’s the end of all my efforts toward a more interesting transformation. Besides, there remains an unanswered question: how do I forgive myself?
I need to go a little deeper inside… and unfortunately I can’t do that just by forgetting what happened. Forgetting doesn’t work very well, because the painful memory is still there, and no matter how hard I try to push it down, it surfaces and keeps bringing that situation back into my present awareness, even though I’ve tried to forget it. Sometimes just a scent or a color brings back all those memories I thought I’d forgotten, and again I find myself in a situation of resentment.
Little by little, and almost without any other options, I begin to reflect that the only way to overcome all this is through a deep and sincere reconciliation that begins specifically with myself. As has been said, this process begins when I accept that I have a problem, when I can admit that I don’t like myself as much as I believed, and sometimes don’t really like myself at all. This lack of affection for myself is complicated and makes me suffer, and its causes and origins are hardly important. What is important is that it exists, and is continually begging to be recognized and resolved. There I am with this burden that gets lighter only when I begin to treat myself differently, when I begin to see myself in a different way, when there appears within me a desire for a kind of transformation not linked to any feeling of guilt or desire to “improve” myself, or any requirements of that sort. A transformation where I simply see myself as someone with a lot of positive and negative attributes, with longings and hopes, failures and successes – a truly human being with all kinds of needs, and also someone who’s interested in others and in coexisting with them and loving them – and also in loving myself. When I can see myself that way, my future opens and I feel I can escape the trap of resentment.
Then I recognize the validity of not judging myself or anyone else. I recognize the need to transform my life and the lives of those around me, but not compulsively, or for any other reason than to overcome myself. Because I understand, although not always very deeply and not always completely, that this is an effort that is made without concern for retribution or reciprocity. In other words, it’s neither necessary nor important for others to respond in kind. It’s a kind of “unilateral disarmament” that I experience as internal liberation, as a sensation of lightness and coherence, something that fits internally.
Finally I can perceive that when, as I strive to reconcile with myself, I begin to achieve this unilateral disarmament, it reinforces in me the feeling of reconciliation with others. Now I can sometimes see how all those individuals who have wounded me are exactly the same as me. I can perceive them in their humanity, and this is possible because I am humanizing myself. So after going around and around on this issue, I realize that everything begins to transform when I make the decision to reconcile with myself.
It is that effort, and no other, that allows me to escape from the closed circle of violence and vengeance. The best thing about this whole process is the silent joy that begins to accumulate within me, and I feel a profound gratitude for all these teachings that we have received.
Portland, Oregon February 18, 2021