Sunday, September 13, 2020

Forgiveness as an act of Ahimsa in our Soma

Matthew 18:21-35

People Glory to you, Lord Christ. Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Ahimsa - do no harm
Samskaras - old scars
Namaste - the good in me bows and honors the good in you
Nidra – sleep
Forgiveness -
Synonyms: absolve, acquit, clear, discharge, exculpate, exempt, exonerate, free, liberate, pardon, pardon, release, set free
Antonyms: accuse, bind, charge, compel, condemn, convict, impeach, inculpate, obligate, oblige

I study tai chi and hapkido. These martial arts would seem to be opposites of each other: tai chi is a soft martial art and hapkido is a hard martial art. Yet one informs the other. Both have exposed me to various feelings in my body. Some feelings are wonderful, and some bring up memories I would prefer to forget. But can we ever forget anything? Or should we?

Many people report spontaneous events of memory or samskaras. Some people wonder if they are real. I know they are, at least for that person. This happens in yoga classes occasionally too. Suddenly someone is crying, and they don't know why. They will often talk about something completely unrelated to the class. My belief is that some movement or feeling or sensation in their body (soma) recalled a memory long buried and thought to be forgotten.

What can we do about this? In a word forgive. But as Jesus explains above it’s not always so clear cut. We find at the beginning of this gospel Jesus being asked to explain the concept of forgiveness.  His story opens with a king to which a slave owes ten thousand talents, one talent equals about one year’s salary. This amount of money is extreme, and the king orders the slave to be sold along with everything he holds dear.  But the slave asks for time and promises to repay, a near impossible feat, which the king must have recognized, but a feeling of pity overcame the king, perhaps somatically, and he chose to forgive the slave.  Later this same slave feels no pity on another man and instead “seizes the man by the throat” and, for a much less amount owed, throws the man in prison. When the king hears of this his feelings of pity turn to anger and the sensations in his body changed.  The result was a different outcome for the slave. Jesus concludes by turning the tables. We may start off thinking we are like the king, but we are indeed like the slave who chose not to forgive and as a result was not forgiven, karma some might say.  Forgiving is not easy, but it is necessary.

Why should we forgive? We should do this for ourselves, to let go. It can be difficult where a crime was involved. But for our own mental health we must forgive. If we don't forgive (and not forget) then the memory, emotion, thought, etc. goes undercover deep in our bodies to be held until something, perhaps a yoga or martial arts class, brings it all back up.

What happens to us when this memory comes back up? We go straight to fight, flight or freeze, the sympathetic nervous system (sns).  Our heartrate and respiration increase as all energy goes to the circulatory and respiratory systems. Bodily systems not needed for immediate survival go offline, notably digestion and reproduction.  Cortisol increases in the body via the HPA Axis. We go on high alert. For our own health, and once the danger has passed, we need to move into rest and digest or the Parasympathetic nervous system where we digest things, heartrate and respiration slow, and cortisol is lower. But how do we make this transition? How do we let go of these bad memories, emotions, or thoughts?

This holding of memories in the physical body is known as the “issues in the tissues,” somatically we hold on to trauma. Recognize and bring mindfulness to how our thoughts effect our body (soma). When we think of a horrific thing that happened to us, what do we notice? Perhaps our stomachs ache and feel tight, or we clinch our jaws or fists. Perhaps your head/brain tingles when you get mad. Recognize these feelings in your thoughts and body - the somatic connection, forgive them, then, perhaps bring to mind an opposite feeling or thought and begin to notice how this is reflected in your body. Breath in forgiveness or a synonym, breath out an appropriate antonym in the bible story perhaps 'bind' would be appropriate.  In yoga we refer to doing no harm as Ahimsa. Finding forgiveness is ahimsa. Yoga Nidra Meditation can be immensely helpful in forgiveness. I personally practice iRest as my yoga nidra.  This could also be done in martial arts by gathering chi (life energy), and letting chi go.

Once you develop mindfulness toward the sensations and what [memory] they represent, then you can self sooth your way back to equanimity. This is hard, and no one is perfect. Look at the rich man in the gospel reading, although he could forgive through the emotion of pity, he struggle with others not doing the same as him, which is a different issue and emotion, perhaps anger, and I would hypothesize was a different somatic feeling in his body.

Most of the above was written before attending church this Sunday. It was announced that our Associate Rector, Mother Melissa, passed way of a non-Covid cause. The soma in my body went to the other people in my life that have recently passed, and I was grief stricken, my stomach got tight, my body shook, and tears flowed uncontrollably.  I am still feeling a queasiness in my stomach.  I recognize this as grief.  And soon I will meditation on this grief trying to find its opposite. Not forgetting this moment or this gifted person but honoring her memory and steadying myself for the days to come.

“O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our sister Melissa. We thank you for giving her to us, her family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Amen.  BCP P 493

“O Almighty God, who brings good out of evil and turns even the wrath of your children towards your promised peace: Hear our prayers this day as we remember those of many nations and differing faiths whose lives were cut short by the fierce flames of anger and hatred. Hasten the time when the menace of war shall be removed. Cleanse both us and those perceived to be our enemies of all hatred and distrust. Pour out the spirit of peace on all the rulers of our world that we may be brought through strife to the lasting peace of the kingdom of your Son; Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
-Episcopal Diocese of New York Proper for September 11th.


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