A path to self-acceptance, compassion and closure
by Aziza Founder Laila Ghattas
To listen to an audio recording of Laila Ghattas presenting this article click here
During a recent retreat at the Nirarta Centre for Awareness in Bali I had opportunities to chat with the owner, author and psychologist, Peter Wrycza. Over dinner on the verandah while the crickets and other evening chirpers sang away, he mentioned a belief posed to him while he was in India by the spiritual teacher, Ramesh Balsekar: We do not exercise free choice as we move through life.
This was a provocative statement to a Westerner attached to the perception that exercising free will is my right and the means by which I move through life. Upon some consideration, this understanding of the statement emerged: If we embody all of our life experience up to and including the moment of a decision, then we can only reflect who we are consciously and unconsciously at that moment in our chosen action.
No matter how closely related two options seem to be, there is only one course of action open to us based on what we've experienced so far in life. The idea that we could have just as easily chosen the other option is an illusion. In fact, we have no option other than to act in the way that reflects the sum total of our life's influence on the decision we make in any given moment. It is like looking into a mirror; You see reflected back to you only what you are wearing in clothes and expression at any given time. You cannot see what you will change into the next moment, or even what you imagine. You can only reflect one image of yourself based on what you've brought to the mirror in that moment. Your decisions are like your reflection in the mirror, informing you of where you are right now in thought and deed. One moment at a time.
'Live and learn' manifests when the integrated consequences of that choice are considered next time.
If this theory is true, people who are awake and aware, who live consciously in their bodies and as they relate to their immediate environment, enjoy great advantages. They can respond to options more appropriately and reflect the wisdom that they've gained up to that point in their life choices. They feel less regret. Less baggage. Less confusion. Less doubt. Clarity is available to inform them. It is a persistent act of will to be awake in this world. Paradoxically that is a choice in itself. Using the age-old prescription 'Know thyself' as a decision making tool becomes attractively practical.
If all decisions are the result of who I am in the moment they were made, there is inherent invitation and support to be less judgmental and critical in hindsight, and to accept my process as it unfolds one decision at a time. I have the option to relax rather than fret over doubts that easily emerge from second-guessing and regret. Self-compassion becomes a possible alternative to self-criticism. Lessons learned can be applied next time. Full personal accountability remains. Understanding that everything I do is the only thing I could do simply affords a gentler perspective, and solid ground for self-acceptance. Significant benefits follow.
If this is true for me, then it holds true for you. Rather than critically judging others' actions, compassion can be afforded for the only decision they were actually capable of making, however inappropriate it seems from the outside, however painful the consequences. 'Live and let live' now has a viable forum for expression. All our decisions, ideal or not, appropriately reflect the truth of who we are at any given moment.
Peter confirmed that openness for self-compassion and willingness to afford more compassion to others was compatible with the ideology that supported that spiritual tenant posed by Ramesh Balsekar.
Encouraged, I continued to ponder: If all those who have crossed my path, those who have behaved in ways experienced as painful, if they in fact were doing the only thing they could choose to do as a result of the sum total of their life experience in that moment, there are a few startling conclusions to consider.
First, the action by the other, no matter how inappropriate, no matter how painful my experience of it was, it ultimately wasn't personal. The action was a reflection of them, about them and not me. Bad days will be few and far between at home, work and play if words and actions are taken less personally. All that energy used being defensive is now available for more creative endeavours.
Second, after moving through the emotional process resulting from the experience, after the healing, there is the empowering option not to feel like an emotional victim. When this perspective is applied earlier, closer to the time of the encounter, self - empowerment is felt sooner and circumvents the emotional fallout of feeling like a victim, with the option not to be one at all. Alternative responses are now based on a healthier self-perception.
Third and most profound emerged an option for closure that wasn't perceived before. Self-compassion, self-acceptance, and compassion for and acceptance of others lead me to the unfamiliar doorstep of forgiveness. I can now exercise the act of forgiving myself for past decisions that didn't reflect my best interests, didn't meet my needs, and that hurt others. By the same token I can now choose to forgive others their trespasses against me.This choice does not deny entitlement to any active feelings that resulted from the injury. It does not deny the time needed to get through that healing process. It doesn't negate necessary and appropriate measures taken to ensure accountability for the action. It does not deny guilt or remorse.
Forgiveness applies after the fact. Sometimes long after. It is the last stop of a long journey and cannot be rushed if it is to be authentic. This is when it is good to remember that time, in and of itself, is value neutral.
In the personal growth process, forgiveness attends to nagging residual negativity, the debris of unfinished business often left neglected in the corners of the psyche. Previously associated with a sense of obligation from religious or other imposed values, I resisted exercising forgiveness believing that in some cases it ultimately wasn't deserved.
I held to the illusion that withholding forgiveness actually compensated for the power I thought I'd lost back then. This experience in Bali, however, demonstrated an alternative, self-empowering conclusion that seemed to be simple and clear.
Curiosity now challenges blame- what if what happened was the only thing we could have done? With that option, this last frontier of forgiving the past and those in it can be traversed- equipped with an open mind and more importantly an open heart. Reviewing and accepting all actions experienced as painful from this new logical vantage point culminated in a cathartic release. My decision to forgive transcended all the old rules, melted my resistance and became an inspired private act. My heart was unburdened of residual and ultimately useless, damaging bitterness.
The most unexpected gift descended when the decision to forgive simultaneously transported me to the confounding and elusive Eastern prerequisite to enlightenment: the experience of true detachment, a state of emptiness where suffering doesn't exist. Detachment is the reward when blame is truly released. Blame serves no constructive purpose and, by hanging on to, only propagates self-induced suffering and disharmony. Through forgiveness liberation from the other and from the event is found in the experience of letting go. Detachment delivers the quiet miracle of inner peace. Harmony is born out of that choice. True closure is achieved. I am free.
Old habits die hard and usually put up quite a fight. I'm not suggesting any of this is easy. It's sort of like starting new exercising routines after long inactivity. A daily intention to practice something different. However, consciously applying these alternative perspectives to everyday life and practicing acceptance as often as possible results in an effective tool to combat the build up of emotional baggage. The habitual default position of judgment and annoyance with regards to words and actions is now challenged by the novel thought- it's the only thing we could have done- tempering criticism and inviting a response from that informed perspective. Imagine lightening up and pioneering a different, compassionate choice for behaviour. Equipped with this new paradigm it's so much easier to get through the day.
The simple cliché
"Love conquers all." never seemed more possible or true.
Toronto, March 2004
Laila Ghattas is an artist, Gestalt therapist and Reiki practitioner. She is an author, public speaker and the founder of Aziza Healing Adventures. Laila combines creative self-expression with psychotherapy in programs designed to heighten awareness, inspire personal insight and improve the life of those who participate. She holds therapeutic workshops in Toronto, and draws on her worldwide outdoor adventure experience to facilitate international healing retreats for women, couples, mixed groups and corporations. Photos by Laila Ghattas.
For a proposal on applying these ideas to a corporate environment click here.