Confronting Good and Evil
In these resources and exercises for recovering resilience, I like to offer simple, practical tools you can use immediately, every day, to cope more skillfully with the tiffs and tatters, the troubles and traumas of daily life, even repairing the impact of previous stress and trauma by rewiring the neural circuitry underlying that.
This post is different. I’m recommending the amazing Danish film, The Hunt, which explores the complexities of good and evil, of love and hate, of loyalty and betrayal, as masterfully as anything I’ve ever seen. And then an exercise on forgiveness to help us confront our own dance between good and evil.
Mads Mikkleson won the best actor award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal in The Hunt of a kindergarten teacher falsely accused of sexually abusing one of his students. Viewers can see clearly the tragic unraveling of a small, tight-knit community as deep friendships confront fear, gossip, malice, mistrust, rage. The false accusation is set in the larger context of many angles of sexuality, economics, religion, psychological stress. The resolution of the story has both redemption and lingering (unfair) lack of repair in it.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian writer who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1970 for his tireless criticism of Communist totalitarianism and exposure of it forced labor camp system, said, “It’s more comfortable to think that people are all good or all bad. But when you want to find the dividing line between good and evil, it runs through the center of every human heart.”
As the characters in the film discover, while it’s necessary to have a clear moral compass to guide our choices in challenging situations, our labels of good and evil don’t always neatly square with our assumptions of reality. And essential understanding of right and wrong can easily slide down the slippery slope into shame-blame-betrayal-anger-rage. The rebuilding of truth and the re-bonding of repaired connections requires great courage to be quietly response-able, not wildly reactive.
The exercise I’m offering to help you confront, and rewire, the dance between good and evil in your own heart is the excerpt of “Forgiveness: The Ultimate Repair” from chapter 9, Developing Relational Intelligence from Bouncing Back. It is based on the forgiveness meditation taught by Jack Kornfield. May its depth of compassion be useful in confronting good and evil anywhere.
Exercise: Forgiveness: the Ultimate Repair
Most of us will experience injury, injustice, disappointment, or betrayal at some point in our lives. Staying caught in those experiences can block our resilience and our relational intelligence from developing. Continuing to feel judgment, blame, resentment, bitterness, and hostility against those who have caused us harm can cause us pain and suffering ourselves. The same can be true if we haven’t been able to forgive ourselves for harm we have caused others or ourselves. In order to rewire the behaviors of complaining, criticism, disgruntlement, and contentiousness we can so easily get stuck in, we can use deconditioning to open ourselves to the genuine understanding, compassion, grieving, and forgiveness that are needed to move into resilient coping and relational intelligence.
When we drop below the level of story, below the level of our personal emotional pain, into the deep inner knowing of our own goodness, we can remember the inherent goodness in all human beings, regardless of the conditioning that overlies and obscures it. In the mode of defocusing where deconditioning takes places, we access inner states of kindness, compassion and good will; we evoke the state of processing of the brain from which it is possible to forgive.
Forgiveness does not mean condoning, pardoning, forgetting, false reconciliation, appeasement, or sentimentality. It is a practice, daily and lifelong, of cultivating our own inner pace and wisdom that allows us to see that our pain in part of the pain of all human beings universally, to resent our moral compass, and to remain compassionate even in the face of injustice, betrayal, and harm.
Let yourself sit comfortably, allowing your eyes to close and your breath to be natural and easy. Let your body and mind relax. Breathing gently into the area of your heart, let yourself feel all the barriers you have erected and the emotions you have carried because you have not forgiven – not forgiven yourself, not forgiven others. Let yourself feel the pain of keeping your heart closed. Breathing softly, begin reciting the following words, letting the images and feelings that come up grow deeper as you repeat them.
FORGIVENESS FROM OTHERS:
There are many ways that I have hurt and harmed others, have betrayed or abandoned them, caused them suffering, knowingly or unknowingly, out of my pain, fear, anger, and confusion.
Let yourself remember and visualize the ways you have hurt others. See the pain you have caused out of your own fear and confusion. Feel your own sorrow and regret. Sense that finally you can release this burden and ask for forgiveness. Take as much time as you need to picture each memory that still burdens your heart. And then as each person comes to mind, gently say:
I ask for your forgiveness, I ask for your forgiveness.
FORGIVENESS FOR OURSELF:
Just as I have cause suffering to others, there are many ways that I have hurt and harmed myself. I have betrayed or abandoned myself many times in thought, word, or deed, knowingly or unknowingly.
Feel your own precious body and life. Let yourself see the ways you have hurt or harmed yourself. Picture them, remember them. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this and sense that you can release these burdens. Extend forgiveness for each act of harm, one by one. Repeat to yourself:
For the ways I have hurt myself through action or inaction, out of fear, pain, and confusion, I now extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness. I forgive myself, I forgive myself.
FORGIVENESS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE HURT OR HARMED YOU:
There are many ways I have been harmed by others, abused or abandoned, knowingly, in thought, word or deed.
We have been betrayed. Let yourself picture and remember the many ways this is true. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this past. Now sense that you can release this burden of pain by gradually extending forgiveness as your heart is ready. Recite to yourself:
I remember the many ways others have hurt, wounded, or harmed me, out of fear, pain, confusion, and anger. I have carried this pain in my heart long enough. To the extent that I am ready, I offer you forgiveness. To those who have caused my hard, I offer my forgiveness, I forgive you.
Let yourself gently repeat these three directions for forgiveness until you feel a release in your heart. For some great pains you may not feel a release; instead, you may experience again the burden and the anguish or anger you have held. Touch this softly. Be forgiving of yourself for not being ready to let go and move on. Forgiveness cannot be forced; it cannot be artificial. Simply continue the practice and let the words and the images work gradually in their own way. In time you can make the forgiveness meditation a regular part of your life, letting go of the past and opening your heart to each new moment with a wise loving kindness.
OTHER PRACTICES THAT SUPPORT FORGIVENESS:
Letting go, grieving, and equanimity are three additional practices that complement the work of forgiveness. Each offers a wise and simple form, a gracious language to encourage the heart to let go, to heal, and to come to rest. Let your own intuition guide you as to which of the meditations to practice. Stay with it as long as it serves you, then return when you are ready to the ongoing practice of forgiveness.
Excerpted from the Art of Forgiveness, Loving Kindness and Peace, by Jack Kornfield