Last week, I quoted Wayne Muller’s as saying that we must be careful how we name ourselves. That naming will shape our lives for good or ill. He adds that, regardless of our life’s experience, “there is a potent inner luminosity that is never extinguished and that is alive in us in this instant.” To describe our fundamental, spiritual nature, he concludes: “we must look deeper, to where words do not come easily, to where essential truths are uncovered more easily with poetry and prayer, with quiet, with music and dance, with loving embrace of things beloved, with prayer and meditation.”
I have stressed throughout these reflections that it is essential to be in touch with and allow ourselves to feel all our feelings, even the difficult ones, but in a safe place. Yet there is the person beneath the feelings, who is more than and not reducible to these feelings. An essential task is to name that deeper self, that core identity, and to feel it as sacred, as having an inner or intrinsic worth. This worth goes with being the person we are. It is there from the beginning, and so has a gift character. It can be lost sight of, but not lost. It can be betrayed, but not destroyed. It remains as an impulse and challenge to be in touch with and live from that worth in self and others.
At the same time, from many sources, from family to culture, we can be given the impression that something is wrong with us. It can be conveyed not only that we have done something wrong, but that we are wrong; not only that we make mistakes, but that we are a mistake. This experience is commonly labelled as shame.
San Keen has written that the task of a lifetime is to change the unconscious myth for a conscious autobiography. We might reword that expression to say that the task of a lifetime is first to let go of the script of unworthiness. Then, behind that inherited or imposed script, to uncover and follow the script of our own sacred worth, of our true identity from within.
As an example we might note that one of the strongest way to score points in an argument is to drag in something out of the past. Someone can say to us that some weeks or even years ago, we did such and such that was very harmful. If that is something that we have done, we cannot refute it. What is really being said, however, is much deeper and more insidious. It is saying that what we have done in the past has trapped us forever. It is inescapable, it is forever part of us, it defines who we are.
Forgiveness expresses the opposite reality. To forgive a past wrong is to say that we are not reduced to that wrong, but are more than that wrong. That wrong is distinct from who we are, it does not define who we are. As a result, we are not trapped in that wrong, but can move beyond it. As I have said before, we are more than the worst thing that we have ever done, or that has been done to us. In this context to forgive someone–or ourselves–is to free someone from the burden of the past, and so, the subsequent dread of the future, so that we can live creatively in the present.
This is simply another way of saying that our sacredness is deeper than our wrongness. In fact, any wrong we do or that is one to us, can be described precisely as a violation of our sacredness. But it cannot destroy that sacred worth. In this perspective, something is wrong not because it breaks a law, but because it breaks a person, because it violates or goes against the worth or dignity of that person. In fact, it is the conviction of our sacred worth, so hard to feel at times, that allows us to admit any wrongs and to struggle to grow beyond them.
In a similar vein, to forgive another need not imply denying the wrong done not even establish a relationship with them. It is to let go over the hold their script has on us. Otherwise we remain forever linked to their script, often by hatred. Their past becomes our future. As has been said, the first victim of hatred is the one who hates.
The challenge is let go of any toxic links, and to discover our own authentic script from within. It is to realize, perhaps anew, a sacred worth, deeper than all else. It is to uncover our basic orientation to wisdom and compassion. It begins with a compassionate understanding of ourselves which gradually extends in wider and wider circle. It takes into account all our feelings, and even our betrayals, but as contained within and undergirded by our sacred worth.
May you respond to all the challenges of life, but with a deeper awareness of your sacred worth and in accordance with your authentic script.
April 10, 2023