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I, Virginia Bergman, pledge not to vote for a male presidential candidate in 2016 just because he's male.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Sacred Act of Breathing In and Breathing Out


We define and sustain ourselves in community. And whether introverts or extroverts, we’re most likely to experience growth in the midst of our relationships with others.

I participate in community in several areas of my life including my neighborhood, my Unitarian-Universalist fellowship, the seminary I once attended, old friends, my political party, and sometimes even out here on the World Wide Web.

But whatever the community, the stimulus toward growth can sometimes touch tender spots in the depths of our souls. I noticed a little sensitivity in my own soul last Sunday morning as I listened to our speaker talk about forgiveness.

Both the presentation and follow-up discussion were far ranging, from the need for forgiveness between tribal entities and nations at war to the road to recovery for innocent victims of domestic abuse. We agreed that when the victim’s emotional or physical health is at risk, forgiveness does not necessitate reconciliation.

It seemed to me later on that we’d spoken mainly from the perspective of those needing to forgive, rather than from those in need of forgiveness. And as I recall, the difficulty of a child forgiving a parent was mentioned more often than any other relationship.

As one who has lived out the dual roles of parent and child, I’ve experienced from both directions the necessity to forgive and the longing for forgiveness with its heavy burden of unresolved grief.

Mending relationships is a particular gift of Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, whose writing is accessible and useful to most readers, regardless of their backgrounds. As mentioned by our speaker last Sunday, Hanh’s book titled Anger teaches the path to forgiveness and “being peace” under the most difficult circumstances.

It seems obvious that we should avoid confrontation when anger is rising within us, but not so obvious are the careful instructions Hanh provides for using mindfulness energy to first privately quench the flames of outrage before attempting to communicate with a loved one.

Hanh tells the story of a young man named David whose behavior has alienated everyone in his life, including family and friends. Now David is entirely alone. He begins communicating with the mythical Angelina who is both beautiful and loving, but eventually, she, too, abandons him. Finally, the young man looks deeply within himself where he finds insight and compassion as he recognizes the damage he has caused to the people around him.

Mindfulness meditation can allow us to examine how we’ve treated the Angelinas in our own lives, whether a friend, parent, child, other relative, or anyone else, to discover why things are deteriorating, Hanh explains. He goes on to say that meditation can tell us exactly what to do and what not to do to relieve mutual suffering and restore harmony.

Wherever we happen to be in one or more troubled relationships, there may still be hope. Hanh advises us to continue meditating, even when communication has been cut off for years, listening deeply to ourselves and taking responsibility for our own actions. He also suggests that we focus the healing power of mindfulness energy on the injured child we carry within each of our own hearts.

So it was last Sunday morning that I took away from our gathering a whisper of hope and a renewed commitment to continue the sacred act of mindfully breathing in and breathing out, while putting one foot ahead of the other on the path to forgiveness and long-awaited reconciliation.

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