If you had only one hour to live, what would you do? Would you not arrange what is necessary outwardly, your affairs, your will, and so on? Would you not call your family and friends together and ask their forgiveness for the harm that you might have done to them, and forgive them for whatever harm they might have done to you? Would you not die completely to the things of the mind, to desires and to the world? And if it can be done for an hour, then it can also be done for the days and years that may remain. Try it and you will find out.
J. Krishnamurti, The Book of Life
Unless you are terminally ill, I can’t imagine that many of us actually consciously consider time passing. We simply mark our days by the schedules and projects we set out for ourselves, while remaining faithful to our routine and personal habits knowing in the back of our minds that someday we will die but what’s the point in thinking about that anyway when there’s nothing we can do about it? Thinking in such a way, I wonder how much of this time we spend examining ourselves, our choices. Do we even make our choices consciously?
I suggest we make most of them unconsciously as if we are unaware of that part of our living system which informs the making of our choices, what Jung would call the psyche, then how could the choice be entirely conscious?
For example, are the obvious choices such as marriage, divorce, childbearing, relocation and career decisions indeed the hard ones? Are there others even harder of which we are completely unconscious, which shape our lives in such a way that we are altogether unaware?
I believe it is the harm we wreck upon each other by remaining unconscious to ourselves which impact these choices in such a way that they are in fact the harder ones.
I am endlessly befuddled by those who decide to take up a vegetarian or vegan diet so as not to bring harm to animals and yet, their relationships are in a state of complete disorder. Or so it is the case in my family of origin as we quarrel with little hope of reconciliation. This is what we have learned and this is what we do. We don’t contemplate another way because it is too painful. It is too painful to risk the injury all over again if we expose ourselves to either silence or contempt. So we eat well. My family is a beautiful one. If you dressed us all up, and lined us in a row, we could compete in a fashion magazine because we value this. We make choices to eat a vegan or gluten free or paleo diet because we want to live a healthy life. We don’t want to harm the animals and modern thinking tells us that gluten is bad so we comply wholeheartedly. We invest in creams and potions and injections and supplements so we will continue to look years younger than our actual age.
But underneath we harbour secrets and lies adding up to an uncountable figure. Not only do we lie to each other but we lie to ourselves. We pretend that everything is fine and yet we are angry, restless, cynical and most unforgiving.
We do not forgive in my family.
We do not forgive in my family.
Even those of us who are Christians do not risk the sacrament of forgiveness in fear of more harm, more pain and more confusion.
Of course, after years of Jungian analysis I understand why we can’t forgive each other and why we make this choice to dodge and duck from any opportunity to do so in spite of how frustrated and deeply saddened I become. But I understand because I was this way myself as I am part of my family and a product of this very inheritance. Part of the whole.
We have learned to fear the worst. We fear being different, one from the other. We fear opposing viewpoints to such a pathological extent that we don’t dare speak our own truth, again, for fear of rejection. Remaining faithful to the group and its collective code of ethics has been hitherto the order of the day.
However, I see changes. After years of estrangement, my brother and sister in law and I have made giant, conscious steps toward a new and loving relationship. It is not always easy because we are truly as different as night and day resulting in a kind of restraint. We make the choice to meet the other where the other is. At least this is what I try to do rather than impose my personal worldview construct onto them.
It is a first step in influencing the transgenerational patterns that are passed down from ancestor to descendent. As the elders of the family now, if we can manage to accept and love each other without compromising our own truth but listening empathically to the other and then be content to “agree to disagree”, this would be an inherent paradigm shift in the family from which our descendants can hope to benefit.
If you had only one hour to live…“would you not die completely to the things of the mind, to desires and to the world?”
When I lived in Scotland, I had the good fortune to work as a carer for the elderly. These seniors were sick, ill-tempered and in pain most of the time. When one approached them, it had to be on their terms. You could not, in good conscience, rush a ninety five year old woman to the bath faster than she could cope in spite of the time constraint placed upon you by your supervisor to do so; a choice I consciously made which cost me my job in the end. I couldn’t help it because not only was I completely intrigued by how these seniors had arrived at this place in time, to be sick, ill-tempered and in pain, it was also a choice of compassion. If I were in this same place, would I want someone who pushed me along like a shopping cart? The only visit some of them had twice a day was from me, a total stranger. What I learned from them is how life creeps up on us if we’re not paying attention to what society considers the smaller choices, like calling in sick and staying home to play with your children, giving an extra tenner to the homeless man on the corner or buying him a sack lunch (whichever your preference, but doing something) calling up someone who has offended you and invite them to meet you for coffee, not to seek “justice” or that your point of view be righteously put forth once and for all but to simply put the injury behind you and write a new narrative? To simply listen to another person.
When an old person, sick and ill-tempered, is sitting before you, it is a perfect opportunity to actually see the arc of life ahead of you as one day you might be sitting in that very chair. So can we die to the things of the mind? Can we die to our habits, our petty judgments, our biases, our ambition to be right? I think we fear that we would lose our integrity when in fact I feel we might discover a new layer, a new aspect of it. Do I gain by allowing space for another person and their story? I think so, yes. Even if it is not what I want to hear, I think so, yes. Even if I want it all to be different and on my terms?
Again, yes, I think so as I believe when we are able to create this space around us, within us, not crowding each other with our own projections, then perhaps the pain and suffering will not be as demanding of us down the road.
Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have been able to be this new kind of family member had I not had years of analysis which has companioned my journey into the soul in such a way that I am more conscious than I was twenty years ago.
I don’t always have to be right and I don’t have to be understood by the world anymore as I am content to know myself. I appreciate who I am, my precious soul, and I have the space to be compassionate to others.
I am writing this confessional because it represents a perfect example of the part of the whole, the component. I sense time is of the essence for complete disclosure. We live in dangerous times where we are more likely to hate and seek revenge than we are to hear the painful story of another and open our hearts to their suffering. At the root of our hesitation is fear, but I am willing to make myself vulnerable for the whole. If others reading this can recognize their own family patterns and are able to review themselves in relation to them, then I feel it has been worth the chance taken.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but until seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:21