If you follow my columns you will know that I sometimes disclose parts of my life that are not so pure and wonderful. Here comes one of those disclosures.
Picture me twenty years ago with an extremely difficult teenage son who had been excluded from three schools for attitudinal violence. I could hardly handle him. When he was younger he and I had been as close as two peas in a pod, but now we were enemies.
Then one day we were arguing and I tipped over the emotional edge. I found myself flying through the air, my arms and hands stretched out in front of me, ready to grasp his throat and strangle him. (I hope that my readers, particularly other parents, will not judge me, but feel compassionate sympathy for the state I was in at the time.)
As I flew through the air to attack him, time slowed down and I had one of those zen moments of awakening and witnessing what I was doing. A voice within me said:‘Perhaps now is the right time to take responsibility for my feelings. These feelings of anger are mine. They belong only to me. I cannot blame my son for my own anger. He is only the trigger. I have to take responsibility for my anger.’
My son and I stood facing each other, tense and flushed. I said sorry and backed off.
Feedback from a Friend
I had a good friend with whom I could chat about everything. I phoned him and told him what had happened. It was the first time that I had owned my anger and it was the first time that I had shared with someone how violent I could feel with my son. ‘Well William,’ his soothing, deep voice reassured me, ‘I do indeed think you have some responsibility here. It’s a soul contract, isn’t it? Are you not there to heal him? Did you not contract to be his father?’
The following day in meditation, some thoughts and images surfaced. I saw myself dressed in priest’s robes, standing high up, blessing soldiers beneath me as they went to war. It could have been Europe in the Middle Ages or perhaps Japan. ‘Bless you, my children. May God grant you victory. Be strong and brave for God is with you.’
In this meditation I could see that my actions as a priest were not innocent. In my blessing, I was sanctifying and encouraging war and violence. I was a godfather to the machinery that sends young men into battle. In this meditation I saw also that my son was one of the young men I was blessing. I was encouraging this young man to kill or die.
In the meditation I could now see the obvious. Following the normal laws of karma, of cause and effect, the violence that I had created and encouraged was now coming back to me. The violence was mine, not his.
I spent a while contemplating all this and taking responsibility. As best I could, I absorbed my violence from the past and also sent it healing. Following a deep instinct, I then began to apologise and ask for forgiveness. For several weeks — and to some extent still today — I repeated my apologies and my request for forgiveness. Slowly over months the family atmosphere began to shift. My son and I are again the best of friends.
A decade later I attended one of the most meaningful workshops of my life, led by Dr Ihaleakala Hew Len. In it he taught the fundamental strategies of the Ho’oponopono healing strategy from the Hawaian Kahuna tradition. (Ho’oponopono is Hawaian for forgiveness.)
He spoke about how his job had been that of an educational psychologist, who was called in to troubleshoot school crises. He described how, as soon as he received a phone call giving him a new case, he began to say the Ho’oponopono prayer, which is very simple. It is spoken to spirit, to the mystery of the cosmos, to God, to Goddess. The prayer is simple. You mentally face the situation in front of you, and you pray and affirm: This is my responsibility. I am sorry. Forgive me.
The moment that he received a new case, he would begin to silently say the prayer of forgiveness. This is my responsibility. I am sorry. Forgive me. How can it be your responsibility, I asked, when you know nothing about this new case and have had nothing to do with it ever?
He replied, ‘If this difficulty, this crisis, has come to me, then in some way – some way that I do not understand – it must be my responsibility. Why else has it come to me? So far no one else has been able to deal with it. It has come to me. It must be mine.’
I could see how this teaching applied to my history with my son and many other situations. I could see so many possible threads of connection. In some way we are all connected with everything, with everyone and with each other. So why ever run away from taking responsibility?
This is a very mature and grand action. Without being disempowered or guilty or shamed, to be big enough to take responsibility, apologise and ask for forgiveness. Knots of suffering are healed by this maturity and generosity of spirit. Denial is melted.
Imagine. In that row with your family or relative or colleague, you stop blaming and go into forgiveness.
When someone makes me cross I no longer blame – at least not for long. I sink into the prayer of responsibility, apology and forgiveness, which sings with the same message to be found at the heart of many faiths, such as Christian forgiveness, Muslim charity and Buddhist compassion. It trusts the healing benevolence and grace of the cosmos. It is a simple strategy, but profoundly powerful.
I am responsible. I am sorry. Forgive me.
All my love, Willliam