If you had the opportunity to free yourself from an emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical jail would you? That may sound like a strange question, but it is one, which requires some reflection. Over the course of our lives, we experience things, which can create painful memories on various levels (emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically). As long as we hold on to the pain of those memories, we create an energetic tie to the moment in which they occurred or the cumulative effect of painful memories over time.
As I have shared in previous reflections, I learned of some amazing people in this world who model forgiveness and its liberating affect in their lives, while watching a documentary called The Power of Forgiveness. One of those women was Alexandra Asseily. She has a rather eclectic background having been born in Russia, raised in England, and having lived in Lebanon and England. She has gained a deep understanding and appreciation of Islam and Christianity. In reflecting on her life, she speaks about how “she became increasingly aware of the effect that the memories of our parents or grandparents, passed down through observation and conversation, have on us and on perpetuating emotional and psychic pain. She could see the role such painful memories still play in Lebanon’s history - ruled first by Phoenicians, then conquered by the Roman Empire, then a site of the bloody Crusades in the Middle Ages, later home of warring sects of converts to Islam and Christianity and more recently a flash point for Britain, France and Russia with the Ottoman Empire. Since World War I the violence has continued. Today warring factions are at a dangerous stalemate.
Alexandra is overseeing, through the help of the construction company re-building war-torn Central Beirut, Solidere, a Garden of Forgiveness on a site where archeological excavations show historical layer after layer of ruins from all these invasions and conquests. The Garden will be a place where people can confront these ancestral memories and rid them of the pain they still contain through the act of forgiveness.
Alexandra believes that we can keep our memories, indeed, that they are a core part of who we are. But, through forgiveness, we can rid those memories of the pain they hold. In doing so, we pass on to the next generation only the memories, not the pain.”
For some of us, the pain is not collective, but part of our own personal lives. A few months ago, I was speaking to someone about the liberating power of forgiveness and how it is a gift to ourselves. She, like the warring factions that Alexandra Asseily spoke about, was at a dangerous stalemate between living with the memory of child abuse and living with the pain, hurt, and anger about having been abused. So much of her energy is invested in being angry at her abuser and at the same time keeping herself tied to other abusive situations. Although she is not conscious of it, she is creating historical layers of invasion and conquest in her own life, each layer holding on to the pain.
When we forgive, we break the energetic ties to our past. We do not forget the memory, but we release the pain. Forgiveness is not about saying that what someone did was right, it is about giving us the freedom to live in the present and to separate the pain from the memory. When we can do this then our past has diminished control over our present and future. We also find ourselves with a replenished amount of energy. So often we do not realize how much of our personal energy is invested in holding on to the past. It takes energy to continue to hate, to fear, to hold on to feelings of resentment and injustice. So today, may we continue the process of setting ourselves free by letting go of the energy we are using to hold on to the past. May we do so remembering that letting go, frees us to live in the present.