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"When one experiences truth, the madness of finding faults with others disappears" - S.N. Goenka.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Forgive and Live

“If you think you’re enlightened spend a weekend with family and then reevaluate.” 

It was early in my yoga career the first time I heard that statement. The beginning stage is when everything is new and blissfully exotic; where you start to connect meaning with every movement and every breath.  This phase in a relationship is where the fantasy of the next encounter keeps a smile etched as a permanent expression on your face. Your eyes are glazed with a sweetness that permits a glimpse of perfection. The thought of this new romance causes your body to tingle and palms to sweat.   At that eager stage of my yoga affair, every morning began by chanting the sweet sound of OM in a class filled with equally fervent yoga students.  My mat time triggered new thoughts and lessons learned. 

On that day, that particular lesson resonated a bit deeper than usual.  The room erupted with a penetrating laughter immediately after the above quote left the instructor’s lips. It left everyone smiling for the remainder of the class.  We all recognized the truth behind the sarcasm.  As if to say – “the struggle to deal with our own inner conflict is challenge enough!   And when we think we’re on the brink of clarity – where we’ve finally met ourselves with truth and lived the pleasure of peace and joy – it is then that the angry and guilt-ridden relative appears.  It may be a test to push us even further toward growth and evolution or it may just be an annoying dilemma.” Could we bring an OM into that situation?  I think about that often, especially when surrounded by people who challenge me most. Those who leave me practicing what I often times preach in my own yoga class.  

This entry is written from my family’s villa in Italy’s southern island of Sicily, my childhood sanctuary (see blog entry  “Everything We Need We Already Have).  As I sit amidst the fruit bearing trees, the gentle breeze calms my mind and wraps me with tenderness.  The birds sing their old familiar tune as they make there way from branch to branch.  A bird catches my gaze, and with a tilt of its head it welcomes me.  Eventually they all take flight.  I watch them soar freely – their wings stretched wide against the deepness of the blue August sky.  They disappear into the glow of the hot sun and as I close my eyes, I imagine myself flying with them.  With a delicate glide I move gracefully above my world, letting faith safely guide me throughout the surrounding vastness. 

 It’s a liberating sense of freedom so rarely experienced when we’re bound to thoughts that prevent us from fully living. 

As a child, and well into my formative years, this hidden paradise was my place of refuge - where I inhaled deeply and exhaled freely without the constricting and gripping fear that prevented me from breathing fully back home.  Slowly, as life progressed to adulthood and the lessons it brings, my visits to this far away land became less of a reprieve and more of a retreat.   I finally reached a point where I stopped running or escaping something.  This left me more room to explore myself.  It took a while to recognize that no matter where I go, I end up taking myself with me.  Italy itself doesn’t have magic powers; it can’t transform me into a blissfully free flying robin.  Rather, it is I who lives and breathes differently here.  This simple yet profound observation helped blow the smoke away from my eyes - revealing with greater clarity what was always in front of me.  My Sicily retreats are still sacred – an absolute pleasure to experience with full attention, but now when my visits here end, I return home with a newfound sense of ease.   

This year’s trip has been different from my past visits.  Maybe it’s because the clutching need to keep this place holy – unharmed and unscathed – has finally dissolved.   Life itself is holy and sacred. If we fly high enough, we see that everything contains beauty.  To see it, we have to expand our view to allow for the entire scene.  Zoom out like the bird setting off to explore.  And then as we move closer, we zoom in.  We land on a peaceful and quiet branch and get a closer view – allowing for the finite details to come to focus.  Using a wider lens to see, I’ve made a few observations while here.  

Most Italians are filled with passion.  They communicate zest, love and affection.  They are passionate about family, friends, food, and fun - and those are just the Fs. They have a fire that burns within– and it’s continually fueled by life.  A fire that is not maintained burns with vicious abandonment, destroying everything in its borderless path.   I’ve witnessed this wild fire too many times within my circle of relatives and close family friends.  It is astonishing how quickly relationships can turn sour with ties broken.  Years of loyalty, trust and love melt away in a matter of minutes - only to be replaced with vengeful feelings of anger or disgust.  Holding tight to convictions that prevent you from seeing beyond your peripheral and bound to an ego’s need for gratification – to be right! This need sometimes goes beyond reason. 

My grandmother and her sister lived a kilometer apart their entire adult lives.  For thirty-years they barely uttered a syllable to one another.  At some point during those years they both forget why.  No one seems to know what exactly happened.  The locals just accept it as norm as they do with so many other familial conflicts.  Anger, rage, resentment  - all become a part of living. Slowly those bitter feelings gnaw lesions in their souls – leaving an aching need for relief. 

I’ve spent many years yearning for this relief and finally, thankfully have come to discover it.  My mother and I have gone through periods of estrangement throughout most of my life.  The average argument would prevent us from speaking for a typical two-years.  This last episode lasted five. I no longer view our relationship as something completely unruly or bizarre.  Now I better understand where our relentless need to win or be right stems from. Throughout this last disconnected phase much has changed. My discovery is profound essence buried deep in the word forgiveness

After five years of complete abandonment, my mother contacted me.  We spoke briefly.  She asked about her two granddaughters (she’s never met the second & saw the first at her birth) and then we discussed the weather.   This conversation was different.   Anger, disappointment, and resentment were barely present.  I met her with acceptance without expectations or judgment.  When told about our planned trip to Italy in the summer, she seemed happy about the news.  Three months later, a month before our departure, she called again with news of her own.   She was going to join us in Italy.  She wanted to meet her granddaughters and reconnect.   As she uttered those words, my entire body beaded with sweat, as my heart raced and my throat closed. All the progress I thought I had made – with amends, coming to terms with our relationship were gone in an instant. Things were better.  Still panic held me as tight as a vise.  Time stood still and the world fell silent as I stood frozen in disbelief.  Holding the phone to my ear, glaring at my overflowing vegetable garden beyond my backyard deck, my world spun out of control.  I managed to pull it together long enough to foster enthusiasm and say – “wow!  That’s’ great news mom.”  While inside I screamed – “FUCK! Are you KIDDING ME?!”  We hung up as my stomach clenched.  Inside on my way to the sofa I thought – “Ok…calm down and relax.  Instead of being completely consumed by panic, I for the first time asked, how can you turn this into an opportunity?”  Amidst the struggle and after much reasoning, meditating, and internal chatter, I decided to try to turn the situation into something positive.

Forgive - Stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake(Note – I would add ourselves to this definition.  We often times have a harder time forgiving ourselves than others).

Forgiveness is a healing gift we offer ourselves.  It’s not a condoning of wrong behavior or a favor done for someone else. I once believed that keeping a grudge would somehow punish the person I was upset with – when in reality the only person being punished was myself.  Giving ourselves the gift of forgiveness allows us to look at a situation in its entirety – by understanding not only our own perspective, but the perspective of someone else as well.   We’ve become so accustomed to keeping ourselves first in line.  We forget about the other point of view and often times don’t even consider it.  This alone may be enough to spark a release of hostility.

When I finally understood that forgiveness is not synonymous with forgetting.  I was able to embrace it fully. Why do we assume that when we forgive, we have to replace those ill feelings with something else?  In most cases, we believe we have to forget the incident in its entirety and replace the anger with love or affection.  On the contrary, we can release, without forgetting or replacing, finding peace and resolve in the situation and within.  When we’re unable to do this we create an identity around pain, and relive the trauma with every memory.  By cultivate thoughts that leave a wholesome effect, we remember without reliving.  Sometime we’re actually able to meet the situation with gratitude for the lesson it has taught us.

The initial thought of seeing my mother left me frantic. I wasn’t completely ready or capable of putting into practice all the lessons learned.  I managed to muster the courage and strength needed to brace for impact.  And it worked - without the need for sand bags or storm windows. Forgiveness helped me meet her with compassion and understanding.  Witnessing her through such a lens changed my entire perspective.  It didn’t happen right away.  Adjusting cost me a few sleepless nights but the difficult internal struggle ended in acceptance.   For the first time, I had no expectations.  I wasn’t interested in transforming her into my ideal mother and because of that I was the one who transformed.  By trying first to accept, she was affected.

My mother surprised me.  She gave as much as I believe she is capable.  Which is a big accomplishment.  She’s a woman who barely stands five feet tall, with tired eyes and a rigid soul. Bound to the familiarity of her world, she is unaware of what lies beyond her borders.  Change is her enemy.  Unable to adjust to circumstances that prevent her from accomplishing her regular routine, she keeps to a tight schedule while knocking down anything that stands in her way.  In spite of this, she managed to show affection and a willingness to try.  This has left me completely satisfied, filling me with gratitude.   I’m grateful to see my mother making an effort.  But I’m most grateful for my ability to accept.  Realizing that my future relationship with my mother will never flourish into something brilliant – and knowing that it’s perfectly ok.

My time here has provided many empowering lessons.  Transforming our world can be done by the flipping of a switch. We make choices. We can hold on to resentment and keep ourselves victim to our offender or we can relinquish our power and look at our situation through a wider lens. We can release our anger to make more room for joy, peace and love.

The other important lesson I’ve learned here is this – you can survive and thrive without internet access or texting!  It’s almost impossible to believe. But I am living proof that this can indeed happen.  Two weeks and I’m still thriving!


Peter said...

Dear Val,

What a beautiful story of forgiveness, acceptance and transformation. Thank you for sharing this.

Unknown said...

Ase! I especially apppreciate your commitment to keeping it Real. Spiritual evolution requires the heavy lifting in our moment by moment awareness and you are blazing a trail. My heart sings for you and your family and all touched by the ripple effect of your courage.

With great love,
Sala Saran

Rev Kate said...

Dear Val,

What a wonderful journey. It sounds like your relationship has "flourished into something brilliant" and since you were generous enough to share it with us...we can all benefit from the brilliance of it. Thank you.

I recently received an article that presented a unique perspective on life's purpose and our journey. I thought you might enjoy it.

With gratitude, Rev, K


How would your life change if you woke up one day and realized that the purpose of your life is merely one potential and that whenever you change how you view your purpose you also change its path? What? Does that mean it's not your life purpose to experience pain, have lack, be poor, confused or alone? That it isn't your life purpose to stay where you are, stuck in your experience and have to stick it out? Not at all. In fact, the state of your life right now is a life purpose, one of many you can choose. All you have to do to change it is to seek a new potential.

Our life purpose is one potential of many that are possible for us. We enter each life path with a purpose, to heal, learn, grow and transform. Then we can ascend into higher levels of energetic vibration and know life from a different perspective. This creates a new purpose where we can attain fulfillment at that level. When we complete that a new purpose manifests and the cycle continues. Purpose is a cycle of experience and closure that repeats itself throughout our life. We can stay within one purpose for as long as we like but it's much more fun to seek new ones.

Our purpose is closely tied to our karma so someone who has, for example, taken advantage of others in a past life will have a purpose to experience the energy they created for others by being taken advantage of. The objective of that experience is to release that energy, not to experience it forever but that is what often happens. They get stuck in the experience, think it's their purpose to suffer and be victimized, and never allow themselves to get out of it. Then they wonder why they feel powerless-there is no power in that experience because its purpose is to help them create a new level of power. Lessons in power always begin with our feeling powerless.

Can we find peace and comfort in knowing that our purpose is within our control? I think that at times we like the thought of our purpose being greater than we are, something that we can work towards and that may take a lifetime to fulfill, or that we will never achieve it. It's less comfortable to see our life purpose as changeable path that we control through our willingness to heal and be in our power. But when see our purpose in this way we open ourselves to the unlimited opportunities for expansion and living that are available when we are willing to transcend each level of purpose and view purpose as a tool that we can use to create our heaven on earth.

Anonymous said...

Valerie, as I read your story I could relate to it in so many ways. It was so beautifully written! It takes a lot of courage to write something so personal and I admire your honesty. Looking forward to your next blog.

Cara said...

I just finally got around to re-reading this so I could think about it. I'm having such a hard time right now with forgiveness and it's consuming me. Yet those I can't forgive don't seem to care and go about their merry lives. So you are undoubtedly correct in so many points, and I understand them. I just can't seem to DO it...

Valerie Vendrame said...

Cara - I totally hear your struggle and i can relate on all counts. It's so hard to put theory into practice. Think about this - instead of reliving the story with anger - ask yourself, how can I turn this situation into an opportunity? What lesson has this person taught me? what insights have i gained, and how can i become better through this experience? then replace feelings of anger and resentment with compassion and love. Fight the battle with love and people will respond. Starting with yourself. Hold yourself in light, love and compassion - and people will notice and follow your lead.

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