At the beginning of this
year, I started a new job working with agencies that serve eight
ethno-linguistic groups in the Greater Toronto Area. My primary
responsibility is to co-ordinate public awareness messages about family
violence (spousal, elder and child abuse) in the ethnic broadcast and
print media. Although family violence cuts across all socio-economic,
racial and cultural barriers, the immigrant communities have some unique
vulnerabilities. In many cases, there is an ingrained cultural perspective
which believes that the man is entitled to dominate and physically
‘discipline’ his dependants. Changes in family dynamics when men are
unemployed and have to rely on money women bring in or when children take
on the role of translators, as well as isolation in an unfamiliar
environment add to the stress leading to domestic abuse. Being unfamiliar
with how law enforcement and the court systems work, and being uninformed
of their rights in Canada act against both the victimizer and the victim.
I am not a frontline worker so I am spared the heartache of directly
hearing stories of assault and abuse, but reports trickle down to me. I
found relief in talking to the counsellors at my centre during lunch
breaks in an effort to understand the wounds human beings inflict on one
another, often while professing to love them. One of the counsellors
showed me a poem that she shares with her clients:
Do you want peace?
Forgiveness offers it.
Do you want happiness,
a quiet mind,
a certainty of purpose,
a sense of worth and beauty
that transcends the world?
Do you want a quietness
that cannot be disturbed,
a gentleness that can never be hurt,
a deep abiding comfort,
and a rest so perfect it can never be upset?
All this forgiveness
Schucman in A Course in Miracles
My instinctive reaction was
to be awed by the beauty of the thought, but then my rational mind took
over and I started questioning it. My colleague is a Catholic and I saw
the obvious link between what the poem reflected and the Christian
principle of “turn the other cheek.” I couldn't reconcile my very
Zoroastrian mind filled with concepts of order, fairness and
accountability with the thought of unconditional pardoning. So, I went
back to talk to her, and I am glad I did because I learned a few things
about the healing powers of forgiveness.
The first thing I learned was that forgiveness is not “turning the other
cheek” or acting as if no wrong had been committed. Forgiveness doesn’t
relieve the people who hurt others from accountability for their actions.
Nor does their repentance. One of the immutable laws of Asha is “as you
show, so shall you reap.” However, forgiveness is helping the victims take
control of their own behaviour. Many times in a therapy process, a
client’s ability to move forward hinges on their ability to let go of a
painful experience of the past. Each moment that you cling to past trauma,
you generate an
entirely new sequence of thoughts, emotions, and actions. This constant
re-living of painful experiences may contribute to substance abuse,
unnatural weight gain, suicidal tendencies or other kinds of difficulties.
This kind of self-destructiveness, distrust and pessimism spills into
relationships within the circle of friends and associates, and the
negativity multiplies causing more grief. Studies have shown that victims
of abuse often grow up to become abusers themselves, thus continuing the
cycle of anger, betrayal and destruction.
The cycle-breaker is for the victim to answer the question, “What next?”
The choice lies between re-living the memory over and over again, and
releasing the incident from having any further effect. Forgiveness is
completely letting go of the past, its pain, anger, and grief. Forgiveness
is operating in the present where the hurt and anger no longer hold power.
It ties in with the Zoroastrian principle of
Fravarane or free choice. The words of one of the most profound
prayers I know say it all — Astuye humatem mano, Astuye huktem vacho,
Astuye hvarshtem shyaothnem, or “I choose to think good thoughts, I
choose to speak good words, I choose to do good deeds”.
Gary Zukav is one of Oprah Winfrey’s frequent guests and the author of
The Seat of the Soul. His words echo this principle. “The decisions
that you make and the actions that you take upon the Earth are the means
by which you evolve. At each moment you choose the intentions that will
shape your experiences and those things upon which you will focus your
attention. These choices affect your evolutionary process. This is for
each person. If you choose unconsciously, you evolve unconsciously. If you
choose consciously, you evolve consciously.”
Of course, this all easier said than done. It is a long, difficult journey
to let go of hurt the magnitude of sexual abuse, physical assault or a
continuous betrayal of trust. My colleague asks her clients to “fake it
until you make it”. According to her, if you consciously make an effort
to turn away from negativity the minute it creeps into your awareness, and
if this step is repeated often enough, it can lead to a transformational
experience. The more you focus your attention on the healing properties of
“letting go”, the faster the pain and the chaos leaves.
One of the things I learned in our discussions was that forgiveness is a
learned process; we are not born with this ability. It is also a process
that wrong-doers can learn. Self-forgiveness, too, is the first step
towards healing, but this kind of forgiveness comes with additional tasks:
taking responsibility for one’s action and making amends. As mentioned
above, contrition does not excuse one from paying for the hurt caused.
Unlike many other spiritual beliefs, where doing penance, performing
pilgrimage to holy places or sacrificing animals can absolve one of any
number of sins according to Zarathushtra's religion the abuser is
accountable for his actions, sometimes according to the laws of the state,
always according to the laws of Asha. But Asha is impartial, and once dues
are paid, the slate is wiped clean. According to Zarathushtra, the purpose
of life is to reach the state of perfection embodied by Ahura Mazda, as
well as help the world in its progress towards perfection. One mistake, or
even numerous breakdowns on this journey, does not entitle you to eternal
damnation. All you have to do is learn from your mistakes, put them in
your past, and move on. That is the healing power of forgiveness.
Appeared in the Summer issue of HAMAZOR, publication of World
Zoroastrian Organization, Mrs. Toxy Cowasjee, editor