For three months earlier this year I was in southern India effectively living in solitude. Meaning that I did not talk to anyone except for the essentials of maintenance. For many days I would hardly see anyone nor speak when I did. It becomes a state of mind eventually. Within that I was practising my meditation every day. I’d practise between maybe two and four hours each day. I did not have a specific routine because I discovered the enormous benefit of solitude. That is the feeling, knowledge, experience of continuity that went on unbroken all the time. So I sat when I felt like it, which was usually three to five times a day.
I might be working on a project from time to time, but in the background, unbroken and undisturbed by the activity, was the awareness of a thread that ran from one meditation sitting to the next. That tended to level out expectation and increase faith in an ongoing process that was looking after itself, if only I did not disturb it. Sometimes I would wait before sitting because I could feel something coalescing and I would have a notion of what direction the next sitting would take and let it take clearer form - because awareness is intelligent, in a different way from my intelligence. Watching for the direction is not the same as expectation, but expectation can be mistaken for awareness. Think about that.
With continuity and faith in the process (they help each other) awareness could go to places it never would have discovered if interrupted. And what happened was that many things from the past throughout my life came back… but in a different light. When we were younger, when we didn’t know what we know now, we thought and behaved differently from what we do today - and that process keeps on going so we will also eventually come to look back on today differently as well. We have done things in our time that we felt justified in doing according to the codes of age, culture, education, peer group and so on. Many memories like this came back, very clearly, very vividly, knowing what you thought, feeling what you felt, and therefore seeing again the motivation and then the justification behind it all, but now with that difference.
Everything was seen with a more neutral awareness and therefore the reasons and justifications did not stand up to the closer scrutiny. I think this is one reason why in a subliminal way we may fear our own awareness, because when it’s accurate it will not let us get away with anything, even what we have worked out for ourselves to clear our conscience. So thought, behaviour and justifications once acceptable appeared differently, crude, grotesque even, and clearly unacceptable. I’m not talking about really bad behaviour - unjustifiable in any light - but just a sharp focus on everyday things such as taking advantage of someone just because you can, just because they are weaker at that moment; or acting out of good intention but with an ignorance that led to something quite different from what was intended. We all know these things, I don’t have to spell it out.
Well it went on for some time, new things coming up, and stuff sitting around for some time. It got to be a regular trash can. But I was pretty confident that this was the way it had to be dealt with; this is the way, one way, that karma plays out. From within the solitude it seemed to me that so much of activity is not just to achieve, but also to prevent from having to face this stuff, because it bubbles up all the time doesn’t it, particularly in quiet moments. So quick, get active again, do something…
It had its own way of playing out and I had enough sense to let it, because it did not pass on politely just because I had become aware of it. It will stick your nose in it, and even then it seems to be waiting with more to say, and expecting something else of you, and you haven’t a clue what that might be. Then with all this trash still around, the memory went further back and it hit on childhood and inevitably the relationships with Mummy and Daddy. And what do you know, little grievances that had taken on huge proportions.
There is pain in every life. The one thing to remember is that the relationship between the act that causes and the effect that it has left may be not in be in the same proportion to each other. And it’s the stored memory that counts and it’s that that has to be dealt with. There’s going to be more about this another time because it’s so important to understand in dealing with our reaction to our own stuff. In the meantime here it is again, put another way: The relationship between the pain that we feel and the act that caused it may be in quite different proportions to each other. It’s the stored memory that has to be dealt with.
A seemingly innocent, even well intentioned act can have massive repercussions, and also maliciously intended acts may have less impact than you would have thought. Well that’s childhood in a way. Things that seem to shatter some childish illusion may have a devastating effect, like finding out there’s no Santa Claus! - what a strange notion, to build a beautiful illusion and then shatter it in the name of growing up. Well maybe not this for me, but there is something, there’s always something.
To come to the point, no parent is perfect. No parent in all of history ever got it all right. So likely we harbour some grievance or more from way back when that we never let go of, and may still rankle at some unfathomable depth. And it comes back at you. It does, it certainly should in meditation at some stage, or the meditation practice is not working properly.
I’ll give one example. I was sent away to a boy’s boarding school at the age of eight. The second day I was slapped across the face by the matron for some infringement of manners I didn’t even begin to understand. When telling that story years later I have talked about her standing over me and going at it with a right then a left and a right and a left. When I actually got to replay it in my mind I think what actually happened was it was a single slap and maybe not that hard. This was the early Sixties - before all the fun started and this kind of thing was common and accepted in schools like that then. There was more later, but that one was traumatizing and the memory that it left remained: sent away from home, mummy and daddy gone, left to be treated like this. And I hated them for it. Just an example - this is the situation, that’s the action, and there’s the result.
So back to solitude, this is what happened: My trash is still all around, and now I’m also getting these grievances come back which even till today seem to have very very good grounds for being there. But with the continuity of solitude and sadhana, the awareness could expand by itself. What you’re seeing through awareness one moment, when it expands then includes another facet, another perspective, which, when seen together, add up to a whole new understanding. It tends to silence the mind, at least at that moment, at least for a while. Which is a good thing, because in that moment you know what you need to know.
So I was being aware of the trash from things I had done, and at the same time feeling the strength of grievances of what had been done to me. Then you may ask yourself, which is more important? Even unasked (I only thought of that later) what actually happened was I found myself thinking with an inner conviction, It’s not their fault, It’s not their fault. They had their history, and a different set of influences. They had had things done to them that they will remember in the same way. And they had done well-intentioned things that had left their mark.
And that I guess is the foundation and beginning of forgiveness. Seeing that, understanding that, then looking around at all the lingering trash, and having started to forgive them that then, you realise that you forgive yourself for this too. Because you have to forgive yourself for things that have happened to you too. And then you can let go of it.
You have to forgive others, to forgive yourself, to let it go. It may seem like a mystery but the meditation of self-knowledge shows that the inner life works that way.