Radical forgiveness: purging our poisons

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” – Buddha

During liturgy, the last silent prayer is to pray for universal peace. After I’ve prayed for this, I focus my peaceful energy on forgiving and wishing happiness for some of the most difficult people for me to love: my abusive father, my rapist, and those whose political views endanger my life.

In the era of #MeToo, forgiving and wishing peace for your rapist is a radical position. Feminists everywhere are sharpening the tines of their pitchforks and rooting out the vipers’ nests that exist in our power systems, whether that be in the upper echelons of entertainment, politics, or business. I applaud this and I’m glad that we have the brave forces of women such as Dr. Ford, Stormy Daniels, Bill Cosby’s accusers, and many more.

But being angry at my rapist does nothing for me. It doesn’t get me through the day. It doesn’t help me care for my pets, finish my schoolwork, attend classes, prepare for my graduate exit project, write for my boss, or deepen my spiritual practice. Most importantly, it doesn’t bring me peace. And peace is what brings me the energy to live a balanced, loving life, moving me through all of those tasks and projects above.

What it does do is acknowledge the humanity within him and within me. Lifetimes of karma brought both of us to the point where our current lives intersected. I don’t think he is someone that I have prior karma with because he didn’t feel familiar or close to me at all, but he is someone who is deeply hurting, and who deeply hurt me. This act is karma that must be worked out over lifetimes, and the lessons that he will learn from it are momentous, ones that will change him forever. As for me, I don’t see it as a “punishment” but a huge wake-up call, mostly focused on how my heart is too open and trusting. This was a deep, forceful message from the universe to pay closer attention to how others affect me and how to protect myself in this saha world.

So I forgive him and recognize that however much it may have hurt me, he must have been in a very dark place to feel the need to exert such a primal, harmful power over another person. I cannot imagine the type of loneliness a person must feel that makes them believe it is better to force themselves on another human being rather than to develop loving, intimate relationships.

Forgiving my rapist and wishing him happiness doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in justice, or that I won’t participate in the legal process underway. Right after it happened, I had a rape kit completed and an investigation was immediately opened. A grand jury will be deciding whether to indite quite soon. Whether he goes to  jail or not is out of my hands, and I can only hope that he receives the fair judgment that he deserves, good or bad.

I don’t know what lessons are in store for him from what happened, but I know for me, that night has sent me on a deeper spiritual journey than I ever could have imagined, exploring the existence of the soul, the Mystic Law of the universe, and the depths of my own spiritual belief and strength. Because of my willingness to see this as a lesson rather than a punishment, I have gained so much more than I have lost. Being assaulted was an awakening rather than a devastation.

As I watch the #MeToo movement evolve from my own place of learning, I worry that it is focusing too much on narratives of revenge, punishment, and retribution. We are all humans, learning and suffering and struggling as best we can. I am not going to say that sexual assault is “just a mistake” or that other survivors must learn to forgive. We all heal in our own ways. But I do want to say that all voices must be welcome in conversations about consent and about healing, because we all have a stake in learning how to be kinder and more loving to one another.

Yes, of course prioritize the voices of survivors when discussing how to heal from sexual assault. But everyone has the right to discuss issues of consent, and those who have violated the boundaries of consent need to be included in these conversations too, because what they have to say about why they didn’t understand consent or how their thought process worked is vital! We need to understand what the problem is, and how it has come to be, before we can ever solve it.

Buddha, the great physician of hearts, would tell us that we must all talk openly and honestly with one another, without ego, without shame, to help one another learn how to treat each other gently, carefully, without harming each other with our love and desire.

And we must learn to practice forgiveness, any way that we can, where we are in our healing journey, for ourselves.

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