The recent surge of awareness about sexual harassment, sparked by the exposure of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, reminded me of something I wrote many years ago:
“In a time when the recollection and classifying of abuses has become a virtual industry, we have to be careful about proclaiming the specialness of our wounds.
The end point of remembering exactly how we have been damaged is to realize that we all share the deep common wound of humanity: being born into vulnerable bodies in a mysterious and dangerous world. Our particular wounds have a lot to do with who we are, and that history is important to understand.
But learning to forgive all our wounds, regardless of their severity, is what will speed us toward our potential. An unimagined creativity blossoms in every space within the heart from which pain has been released.”
That passage originally appeared in A Little Book of Forgiveness (released in a sixth edition this year as The Forgiveness Book). That book was essentially my answer to over 20 years of emotional abuse at the hands of my bipolar mother. She was still alive at the time, and I dedicated the book to her, which led to some interesting conversations.
While there was no miraculous transformation of our relationship, we did find more common ground and peace than we’d known before.
But then, something unexpected and profoundly moving happened. Within a year of the original book’s release, I received a letter from a young woman entering college, who was raped in her senior year of high school and had been on the verge of suicide. A counselor had given her my book; she then wrote me to say, “I’m in my first dorm room instead of my grave because of your book.”
At that point, I had a new choice about how to see my mom: as a still-hopeless, pitiable abuser whom I’d had the magnanimity to forgive, or as a powerful, transformative catalyst who inadvertently pointed the way for me to help others heal. For I would surely have never written about forgiveness, but for her presence in my life.
My primary spiritual discipline, A Course in Miracles, offers several meditative lessons in which students are challenged to bring to mind the most disliked or destructive person in their life and envision him or her as their “savior.” This exercise makes absolutely no sense at first, and in fact, it caused me to quit the course more than once. But a few years ago, long after my mother’s death, I found myself writing a memoir piece in her honor, entitled The Perfect Mother. Over the years, my perception of her changed from a “perpetrator” to the most powerful teacher of how to save my own sanity.
My point is this:
We’re all harassed or violated in one way or another from the moment of birth; it’s the nature of life on this planet (see Buddhism for more detail). The point is what you do with whatever happens to you. You can keep reviewing all the abuses and identifying the perpetrators, for there will always be plenty of them (from men to women to natural causes to God, depending on how you look at things).
Or, you can wrest something new and transformative from the recurrent pain of living.
Write, sing, dance, paint, put on a show, transform your workplace, or organize a community…whatever you can do to change pain into a gift that others can use.
Unlike the perpetrators of abuse, you can make the choice not to be driven by your pain.
The fact that earthly pain tends to be recurrent means you’ll have plenty of opportunities to transform it—even daily! But if you only keep waiting for other people—men, women, parents, police, presidents—to change enough to simply take away your pain, you’ll be saying “me too” for the rest of your life.
Author: D. Patrick Miller
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis