This is Your Lifetime to Get it Right: Forgiving Yourself and Others


The struggle to love and forgive is a heroic struggle. It will affect every other relationship in your life. And guess what? For me, all movement comes from forgiving and loving myself. Go figure. 

I wrote some of this piece years ago, while visiting my mother in upstate New York. I wanted to be the perfect daughter. But there’s something about dealing with our families that’s like taking acid. You go on a trip. Things come out of the blue. People sprout extra heads. Then you come back and you think-- what was that all about?

“Those who see themselves as whole make no demands,” teaches A Course in Miracles. Well, clearly, those who seem themselves as threatened wildebeests act accordingly. 

Being with my mother, I can’t believe how quickly I am triggered. I teach workshops in A Course in Miracles , a form of spirituality which emphasizes choosing love instead of “being right.” But as I hide away upstairs in the cutesy, cluttered guest bedroom of my mother’s townhouse, despising every artificial flower I see, I consider a different line of work. Maybe I could be the anti-Gandhi. Because my blood pressure is definitely higher than my consciousness.

The truth is I’m tired. I’m weakened. I don’t have it in me to be present and centered. I gradually work to forgive myself. I am trying. I am daring, I write in my journal.

I’m in the room , I tell myself. I’m facing my challenge. I’m not hiding out two thousand miles away in the safety of my therapist’s sanctuary or sitting cross legged, staring at a guru’s toenails. I’m not in downward dog. Hell, I’m in downward spiral. But I’m in the room. 

I’m right here in the middle of an experience, where I tend to lose myself. This is the apex of bravery. This pain is not a theoretical example or a Zen koan. Before I fled to this upstairs bedroom, this pain was sitting across the table from me, telling me stories about people I don’t know, judging freely, not a politically correct cell in her body and not an ounce of latitude. And of course, I am cutting her up into tiny pieces in my mind because she doesn’t know how to accept others for who they are.

I am back at that table in my mind. God, I am so wanting to do this scene in another way, but I can’t yet. The way she chews is destroying me, the sucking the teeth motion. I feel like my head is going to hit the ceiling. Is there anything in the Bhagavad Gita or Torah about this? What mantra works for the sucking of the teeth offense? Oh hell, I am long passed mantras.

Now, she has asked me 3 times about something. I know it’s because she hasn’t understood my answers. She is listening, but she doesn’t know where to put what I say into one of the clearly marked boxes in her mind. She has nowhere to put it, so she doesn’t take it in. It’s not how she sees the world. And my sadness takes center stage in this musical, moaning its theme song: I never fit in. When it comes to normalcy, I don’t make the cut. Oh, how I’ve longed to be seen by her in an exotic butterfly kind of way, not as a failed sparrow. But no. I am the interesting item in a novelty store that you look at for a moment, shake your head, and pass by. The item isn’t something you recognize. And since you have no idea what it is, you don’t value it. 

I know it’s not her fault. My mother is a simple person. She wants a daughter who lives a conventional success-- not someone who “follows an inner voice.” My mother doesn’t even like independent movies, much less, independent souls. She loves the Hallmark channel. She is not combing for meaning in this life. She is searching for the remote. But I sometimes want a mother who sees my courage and the success I have.

She is innocent-- I tell myself a thousand times.

But finally, finally, finally, somewhere, even in the midst of my fog of sadness, I realize: so am I. I am innocent.

It’s okay to be hurt or off balance even though I’ve taught A Course in Miracles . It’s not instructive or inspiring to turn spirituality into a stick with which to beat myself. There is still a little girl in me who will always want the “mommy of her dreams” the one who “gets her.” This is the hole I’ve fallen into a thousand times. I have also set myself free. Because I know when I embody my own self-advocacy and respect, I don’t need my mother to be different. But today I’m hormonal and worried about meetings where I have to be all grown up and I just want comfort, not growth. So, I’m feeling thrown off-- and then disappointed with myself for feeling crappy instead of happy. It’s a royal bitch to be conscious.

Then something amazing happens. It begins as I practice this compassion for myself. I just let things be as they are. I stop trying so hard to be the perfect saint-psychoanalyst-miracle-worker daughter and change my mother through the power of my ordained love. I also stop trying to get her to love me, see me, or be me. I also stop trying to get myself to be better, different, other than what I am. That’s when real forgiveness hits. I suddenly have this glimpse: nothing is wrong at all in this scene. Nothing is bad or needs to be changed. We are doing our dance. The more I accept myself for feeling what I feel, the more the fiber of the experience changes. I swear the room is infused with the flowered breath of spirit.

Somehow, I begin to realize that it’s all okay and only the love is real and the planet will spin and my mothers’ love and mine will mingle and my best intentions will join with her best intentions and our higher selves will forgive each other and giggle and run down the path holding hands. And at times, here on this imperfect planet, we will step on each other’s toes, misunderstand each other, do an awkward mismatched, out of harmony dance, but it’s all okay because the stars will surely align, our hearts will prevail, now, later, or in ten thousand other lives. We can’t get this wrong for long.

Because only the love is real. I know my mother loves me as much as she knows how. I love her as much as I know how. End of story.

Finally, I go back downstairs to be with my mother. I am stoked and armed with awareness. I remember now that A Course in Miracles teaches that we whenever we feel anger at someone else, we’ve attacked ourselves first. That means somewhere we decided to think less of ourselves. Then we feel betrayed by the person who triggered us into compromising our self-respect. 

So with each step down that staircase, I’m committed to opening up to myself, to paying attention to how I feel and what I need to do. I’m in a moving meditation. I am a swami of presence. And this time, instead of asking myself for perfection, I’m allowing myself to make mistakes. I’m allowing myself to have this experience, whatever it is. I’m proud of myself for daring. I want to be at peace. I want my mother to feel loved by me. I want to rise above my neediness, and I want to pay attention to my needs. I want to choose my state of mind rather than being boomeranged into defensiveness or attack. I am going in. I am showing up. I have radically loving intentions. And that is what matters. 

I know this is practice. This is where I craft a new experience, with patience, love, and fortitude. No matter how many times I get triggered, I know I can choose again. I can choose a do-over in the next instant. I can still choose peace. I always have another chance. I want peace of mind more than I want my disempowering stories. As I forgive myself, I forgive my mother. And vice versa. And I am gradually discovering who I really am, the Self that can choose love in any situation. There will be a time when I’m not knocked off my game in any circumstance. There will be a time where my light is unwavering. But maybe not today. Still, this is what this dance will teach me.

And my mother and I? We are going to get this dance right, somewhere and sometime. That’s a given.

P.S. I did get that dance mostly right in my mother’s lifetime. When she died, I looked upon every room in her townhouse, and every artificial flower with so much love. Everything became precious, illumined, and infused with her and my love of her. I am so grateful I took the steps I could take while she was here. I also believe we are still continuing our dance…

See the Good
Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: In Your Hand
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