Years back, I would go to a small pond not too far away from the town where I grew up. I went with my cousin Craig and tossed bread to the ducks and the geese.
This was a religious time of year for my family. These were the High Holy days in my family’s religion and a time for reflection. This was a time for atonement and to atone for the things we did to the people we love. This is time for amends; to become even with the house from a spiritual perspective. This was the Day of Atonement in the religion I grew up with.
There was a group that gathered here. They were all here for the same reason; to toss bread to the ducks and to the geese. The idea was that each piece of bread was a symbol of our toxic past.
Each piece of bread was a sin that we needed be rid of. Each piece of bread was a resentment that held us back. The bread symbolized regret; it symbolized guilt and shame and selfish pride.
The bread was an offering in a peaceful way. It was a transfer of action to toss away that which we no longer needed and to signify that we are free now to resume the rest of our lives.
I liked this tradition . . .
Years back somewhere in the late winter of 1989, I sat with my back to a kind man named, Father Anthony. I went here to discuss my sins but also, I went to see Father Anthony to follow up on one of my 12 steps that I use to create my new way of living.
In step 5 of 12, it says that we admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. The idea behind this is to relieve us from the bondage of guilt because guilt is a heavy weight and so long as there is weight in our heart it is impossible for our lungs to breathe freely.
I sat with Father Anthony, not as a religious leader, but more accurately, I sat with him to rid myself of all the lies which held me down. I wanted to rid myself of the unfortunately imposed truths and acted as followed.
I sat away from him and said, “Forgive me Father for I have sinned. I have never been to confession before and I don’t know much about confessions like this.”
“I just want to be free,” I told him.
“I don’t want this anymore,” and then I gave way. I let go and spoke out. I gave up my lies. I gave up my fears. I spoke out and honestly detailed my wrongs without any colors of self-serving grace. I realized that so long as I held each and every detail that destroyed me, it would be impossible to ever rebuild me.
We did not talk about God as much as we talked about the way I lived. We talked about the burden of guilt and shame. We talked about the weight of deceit and the degradation of lies and the way I treated myself.
I spoke honestly about myself, my self-sabotage, my self-harm, my ways of thinking, and my methods of manipulation. I gave this up to free myself. I gave this up like a transaction so that I could, A) rid myself of guilt and B) allow myself to finally move passed the sharp hooks that dug me in deeply to the meat of my past.
There is an old Sanskrit poem that I learned a long time ago from a man I will call Indio. He was a good friend and mentor in a fellowship that I have belonged to for quite some time now. The poem is as follows:
Look to this day:
for it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
the glory of action,
the splendor of achievement
are but experiences of time.
For yesterday is but a dream
and tomorrow is only a vision;
and today well-lived, makes
yesterday a dream of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day;
such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!
I use this poem as a reminder that I can never move forward so long as I keep looking back. Put simply, yesterday is gone. I do not live there anymore and tomorrow has not happened yet. Better take care of now though, otherwise yesterday will just happen again and tomorrow will be nothing more than the same thing.
One of my favorite quotes from the Bible (and this is not about religion or the belief in religion by any means) is a quote that comes from John 8:7 which says, “He among you who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” The truth is no one among us is without sin. And no one among us is fit to cast the first stone—but has this ever stopped anyone?
I think the answer is no. I think we are all quick to condemn. I think we are quick to judge. I think we act as a jury in cases without knowing, understanding, or caring about all the facts. And what does this do for us besides link us to something that weighs us down?
Of all things we use our strength to achieve; sometimes, the strongest thing we can do is equally the hardest and yet, simplest thing to do, which is to forgive, to pardon, to cease and desist all resentments, and to rid ourselves of the transgressions against us and pardon our trespassers as we pardon those who trespass against us.
In all, this is a transfer of action. This is just like tossing bread to the geese and the ducks and no different from my confession with Father Anthony.
The burden of guilt is heavy. Shame and regret are heavy upon us too. All of them are threats to our vanity, which is where ego steps in to protect us.
The truth is no one wants to be humiliated of feel exposed. No one wants their wrongs to come to light, which is why we hide them in the darkness of our secrets and lies. This is why we manipulate our memory. This is why we shade our stories with some kind of self-preserving lies so that we can come out on top.
But for now, let me write this is the simplest terms. The hardest person I have ever had to forgive is me. I cannot say or even consider what other people see or think about me. This is beyond my reach, and quite honestly, I am a lot less important than my ego leads me to believe.
Each time I wanted to find forgiveness was another way of me saying I just wanted to find peace. I wanted to be at peace with my past. I wanted to be at peace with my mistakes.
I wanted to be at peace with my inner feelings of emotional unrest and at peace with my character defects that show themselves when I am not at my best. But when this could not or did not happen, I sought through other methods to find moments of self-gratification.
I learned that so long as I have feeling and emotion; I have the need to find accountability. So long as I have a feeling about something I have done or something done to me; I use my energy to find some sort of accountability for this.
I need an answer for “Why” things happened. Who is at fault? Was it me for being imperfect or vulnerable? Was it me for being a victim or did I volunteer for the attention that led to the wrong path?
I spent decades of my life trying to find fault, but to no avail, and even in the cases when I did find fault; I held on so tightly that the weight upon my heart made it too difficult for my lungs to breathe.
To forgive is not to condone. No, this just means you don’t want to hold the sin anymore. This means you want to be rid of the problems and symptoms that come with the weight of all things which hold us back.
I struggle with this sometimes. But this is human. I hold myself responsible for others. I hold myself accountable for things that were beyond my control. I try to find fault but in all honesty; this is a time for personal inventory and not a time for debate or to search for accountability. This has to come back to me; otherwise, I cannot heal or move on..
I learned that I behave and act for a reason. I learned about the personal honor and my internal reward system and that the way I honor or reward myself is connected to a feeling, thought, or a need.
I go back to the memory I had with my cousin Craig and the last time we went to the pond to feed the geese and the ducks. The sun was out and the wind was warm.
I recall the sunlight dancing in the ripples of the pond. I recall the calmness of the others around me and the smiles on their faces. I remember the purity of this and the interaction of my concern for guilt.
The moment was quiet and the ducks and the geese were happily fed. I was struggling but oddly fine for the moment. I was fine to toss away that which was no longer necessary to me.
I was fine to realize that I cannot change what has happened to me or what I have done. I understand the wreckage of my past is beyond my control. I get that sometimes damage cannot be undone and relationships cannot always be reconnected or repaired. But I cannot hold this. I cannot wear my wrongs like a heavy coat that weighs me down. I have to breathe if I am to live.
People tell me acceptance is key. They say, “You have to accept what you cannot change,” but so long as there is guilt or shame or emotion of any kind; the mind will naturally try to find a sense of accountability; therefore, the mind will continue to use energy in ways that can drain us.
(This is why I liked going to the pond with Craig. This was a great way to replace thought with action.)
Until we forgive, however, and I mean until we honestly forgive us and those who trespass against us, we will always be off kilter in weight and misusing our energy that could better serve us in different directions of our life.
I think of the friends that I have done wrong and been dishonest with. I think of this with closed eyes, and I apologize in my thoughts.
I think of the mistakes I made and I apologize. I think of my wrongs. I think of my pride, which always gets me in trouble.
I think of my secrets. I think of my sins. I think of my fears of rejection and how I have behaved to defend myself. I think of the sins I have held against me and the wrongs I have committed against me or my loved ones and I apologize.
I think about my mistakes and realize that I am the one that makes mistakes and that my mistakes DO NOT make me.
If I want to find peace than I have to lose the emotional weight that holds me down; else, there can be no enlightenment and with all my heart, that’s all I want to be: Enlightened.
I have no idea where Father Anthony is these days. I hope he is well. I do not live near that pond anymore. But I do have a little pond near me. Sometimes, I skip rocks and envision each stone I toss is a sin that I want to be rid of. When I do this, I realize that forgiveness is nothing more than an internal action. This is a switch that says I will no longer hold this weight.
Sometimes the strongest and hardest thing to do is equally the easiest and the bravest—to be humble, to be honest in the face of our wrongs, to accept our own mistakes, and to relieve ourselves from the burden of guilt.
Truth is we can always nurture guilt. And so long as we do, guilt and shame will grow. Or, we can nurture a different direction. We can forgive ourselves and allow us to move forward. Either way, the choice is ours.
It always has been too.