Choose forgiveness to be free

Forgiveness is the best form of offence. It frees you from suffering__caused by the pain inflicted by someone__and helps that someone reflect and repair from whatever they have done unto you. It’s a win-win.

Think deeply and you will agree with my perspective. Often times people hurt us with their actions, thoughts and utterances. They lie on us, they betray our trust in them, they speak ill behind our back, they take away what is rightfully ours and they leave us numbed. None of this feels good. The first, obvious, logical response, in all such situations, is to freak out, scream, kick, demand why, seek to know why were you betrayed…..and eventually, over a period of weeks, the angst morphs into a ‘certain coldness’ and eventually, you stop trusting people. While this may seem a normal and appropriate response in “self-defense” (so that you are not betrayed one more time), the flip side is it will leave you perpetually grieving. And how can you live fully, peacefully, if you are forever in a state of suffering?

Here’s a Zen story that will sensitize you to the perils of carrying the baggage of being ‘unforgiving’! Once there was a monk who asked his disciples to carve out names of the people they cannot forgive on potatoes, one potato for each name. Then the disciples were asked to put all their potatoes in a sack and carry it with them at all times for one week. The longer the time went by, the heavier the potatoes seemed to have become. To make the matter worse, those carved potatoes also started to rot and smell bad. It was such an unpleasant experience for the disciples. At the end of the week, the Master asked, “So, what did you learn?” At once the disciples told the Master that they now realized that holding on to grudges only brought negativity to them. Asked how they should go about correcting it, the youngsters said they should strive their best to forgive everyone that used to cross them and made them angry. The Master then asked, “What if someone crosses you again after you unload this present load of potatoes?” The disciples suddenly felt terrified at the thought of having to start all over again with new potatoes, week after week. “What can we do if there are still other people crossing us? We cannot control what other people do to us!” they confessed. At which point the Master replied, “So far we only discussed the conventional way to approach forgiveness, that is, to strive to forgive. Striving is difficult. In Zen, there is no striving.” Seeing the disciples completely at a loss then, the Master further suggested, “If the negative feelings are the potatoes, what is the sack?” The disciples finally grasped it. “Ah, the sack is something that allows me to hold on to the negativity. It is my inflated sense of self-importance!” replied one of them. And that was the lesson of this story. Once we learn how to let go of the sack, whatever people say or do against us would no longer matter.

In Zen, forgiveness is the conscious decision to get rid of the sack/sense of self-importance altogether, not just the potatoes/negative feelings. With the understanding of Zen, Life suddenly becomes effortless, elegant, and natural. Get rid of the sack, and there will be no more rotten potatoes. Even if we, lesser mortals, as we may erroneously imagine, stop carving potatoes, it is a small, humble beginning. But those of us who believe in a strategic, planned, precise approach to Life, may want to consider forgiveness as a tool and not just a spiritual concept. Former American President Bill Clinton once shared what he learned from Nelson Mandela on forgiveness. In one meeting of the two men, Clinton asked, “I wonder what you must have felt towards your jailers when you were walking out of that prison after those 27 years. Weren’t you angry at them?” “Yes, I was angry. And I was a little afraid,” answered Mandela. “After all, I’ve not been free in so long.” “But,” he added, “when I felt that anger welling up inside me, I realized that if I continue to hate them after I got outside that gate, then they would still have me.” With a smile, Mandela concluded, “I wanted to be free, so I let it go.”


So, for the thinking, strategizing, master-craftsmen and wonderful upwardly-mobile wise women of the modern world, I would say, choose forgiveness to be liberated, to be free. Also consider forgiveness as a form of offence in today’s world. A peaceful resistance to the crude, unethical practices that attempt to derail you, your career and your Life. None of this is my original hypothesis, let me hasten to clarify. Here are the words of Christ found in his teaching in Matthew 5-38-48: “But I say to you , love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use and persecute you.” Loving someone who loves you is easy. Loving someone who hates you is difficult. So, whether it is a challenge like an exciting new electronic game (like Angry Birds!) or a form of offence or a tool to freedom, forgiveness makes imminent sense. Only, of course, if you want it to!
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How do you want to be remembered?

How you want to be remembered can change the way you look at, and live, your Life. The truth is, whether you like it or not, you will be remembered. They key to how you will be remembered really lies in your hands and how you live your Life going forward.
All of us have goals. And we pursue them relentlessly. But, often, all our goals are self-centered. We focus on our financial stability, our families, our children, their education and so on. Some of us, miraculously, find the secret to leading our lives focusing not just on our own welfare, or that of our families, but of our societies too. Few among us dedicate ourselves to making this world a better place. And even fewer just exist – with no idea about ourselves or our world! None of these approaches to Life is wrong. Because there is no right way or wrong way in Life. There’s just one way – which is to do whatever it takes to live our lives fully!
Douglas Engelbart (1925~2013): Inventor of the Computer Mouse
An aspect that helps in instantaneously transforming your outlook to Life though is focusing on how you want to be remembered. Douglas Engelbart (1925~2013), the inventor of the computer mouse, who died a few days ago, answered this question, when he was barely 25, and engaged to be married, in 1950. He decided, in response to that question, that:

1.  He would focus his career on making the world a better place;
2.  Any serious effort to make the world better requires some kind of organized effort;
3. Harnessing the collective human intellect of all the people contributing to effective
    solutions was the key;
4. If you could dramatically improve how we do that, you’d be boosting every effort on the
    planet to solve important problems — the sooner the better; and
5. Computers could be the vehicle for dramatically improving this capability.
And so began his romance with technology – the invention of the computer mouse, the development of hypertext, networked computers and the precursors to graphical user interfaces. When the world remembers him today, and in the future, it will celebrate his leaving the world a better place – for without the mouse on our machines, our lives would be much more challenged than they already are!
An AFP story in the papers today talks about Nelson Mandela’s views on death and dying. It quotes a 2006 documentary on him where he was clear on how he wanted to be remembered: “I would like it to be said that ‘Here lies a man who has done his duty on earth’. That is all.”
There’s so much clarity in that simple definition. Everything in his Life ties in with that one line.
As we struggle through our daily lives, barely managing to earn a living, maybe doing some good along the way, maybe not finding time even for ourselves, pausing to reflect on how we will be remembered can help us refocus, reenergize and rededicate ourselves to living our lives fully. To make a difference, in our own small ways, to our world – making it a better place to live! And doing our duty on earth in a more fitting, meaningul and fulfilling manner!