Freedom from the past requires forgiveness and accepting the lessons of our suffering
Author’s note: This is the first part of a 3-part series.
The keystones in the foundation of personal happiness are forgiveness and gratitude. For those of us over 70, the vast majority of our lives is our past. How we enjoy the last chapters of our lives depends fully on how we have chosen to interpret the past. Are we consumed by nostalgia, believing that the best of our lives is a memory? Do we harbor grievances with the past, perhaps holding resentments against those most responsible for our disappointments? Either way, nostalgia or grievances are interference patterns, impediments to our happiness and peace of mind.
Freedom from the past demands rigorous application of forgiveness. There are several levels of forgiveness. The first is the common acceptance that “he or she did the best they could with the information they had.” The grievance is still intact, but we feel somehow better by bestowing this gift of acceptance. Better still is the understanding that any disappointment served as a “pointer” to a better future. Many of us have even seen a severe devastation yield a certain level of peace, and then appreciation for the new freedom. The structures of judgment, what we once considered “good” or “bad,” become softer, more flexible.
Perhaps we come to embrace a level of spiritual awareness embodied in the words “all things are lessons God would have me learn.” Now here is the portal to true peace. Imagine that there was always simply “one thing” going on, that the universe was always conspiring for my highest good? Here we see forgiveness in a new light. My world was always giving me, showing me, what I truly wanted. An old acquaintance gave me a card when I was still quite young. The card read “when the world wearies and ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.” Oddly in my midlife I became a gardener and found a deep satisfaction in the soil, caring for plants, discovering my soul.
Like most, my life has had certain challenges and deep devastations. Truly my life has been defined more by failures than by successes. But the miracle is that often only in a deep experience of loss do we find something beautiful inside ourselves. Perhaps we feel a love, what some call grace that is not of this world. Perhaps a knowing arises inside our hearts, that no matter what, we are ok. Spiritual cliches abound that reflect this wisdom, about how our suffering can set us free. The secret, it seems, is to embrace suffering, rather than run away from it. Wisdom appears to be the result of a life fully lived. We come to see that all things come into a certain balance. And here is where the second keystone finds its place. We feel a deep gratitude for everything.
I will close this brief essay with a mention of one of my very favorite films, American Beauty. No film in my extensive experience of cinema has ever better demonstrated this lesson of life.
Louis Bourgeois lives outside of Cuenca with his wife and young daughter at the Oasis Center. He teaches courses in Conscious Living and Conscious Dying. He is planning a one-day intensive course, The OASIS Experience: How to Know God. He can be contacted at email@example.com